Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State

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Penn State’s — and state lawmakers’ — prolonged fight with the NCAA over historic sanctions levied on the football program is about to bear some fruit.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that, “[d]ue to Penn State University’s continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity,” its executive committee has agreed to gradually restore scholarships the football program had lost in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The move to restore scholarships, arguably the most crippling of the sanctions, was based on a recommendation by George Mitchell, who had been hired by the NCAA as an independent “integrity monitor.”.

The original sanctions called for a cap of 15 scholarships beginning in 2013 and running through 2016; the NCAA limit at the FBS level is 15.  Additionally, whereas FBS programs are permitted 85 scholarship players, the Nittany Lions would be allowed just 65.

The new directive from the NCAA, however, will allow Penn State to increase by five its scholarships in 2014, increasing to the full allotment of 25 the following year.  The program will be back up to its full allotment of 85 scholarship players beginning in 2016 — at least two full years ahead of what the original sanctions had called for — after moving to 75 in 2014 and 80 in 2015.

“The decision is the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure we reached the most appropriate outcome,” said Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired the recent Executive Committee meetings regarding Senator Mitchell’s annual report and chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “During our discussions, we had the benefit of engaging with Senator Mitchell’s expert perspective and the views of our Big Ten colleagues.”

Other sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine, remain in place, although the press release stated that the NCAA “may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress.”

Even if the bowl ban remains in place, the restoring of scholarships is by far the biggest win for the football program in general and head coach Bill O’Brien specifically.  That specific sanction has crippled O’Brien and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail; the additional scholarships will now allow the program to make bigger inroads in the recruiting game, the lifeblood of any program, and begin scaling back its “run-on” program beginning as early as this recruiting cycle.

O’Brien has been a big part of the progress over the past couple of years as Penn State continues to climb out of the hole created by the Sandusky scandal.  That progress was noted by embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert.

“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said Emmert in a statement. “The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett was happy with the NCAA’s decision.

“I am pleased that the NCAA is recognizing the important changes and reforms that the university has undertaken and will continue to make moving forward,” he said.

Grueling workouts put multiple Oregon players in hospital, per report

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head Coach Willie Taggart walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes on September 28, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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The Willie Taggart era at Oregon is barely a month old, and already the first crisis has arrived.

A report from The Oregonian uncovered that at least three Ducks football players have been sent to the hospital after undergoing grueling workouts administered by new strength coach Irele Oderinde, who followed Taggart from South Florida. Offensive linemen Doug Brenner and Sam Poutasi and tight end Cam McCormick are in “fair condition” at Springfield’s PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend, where they have remained since late last week.

Poutasi has reportedly been diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a soft tissue condition triggered by overwork that can lead to kidney damage.

While those three players remained hospitalized, The Oregonian reports the rest of the team was required to complete the same workouts this week:

The sources said that some players “passed out” and others later complained of discolored urine, which is a common symptom of rhabdomyolysis. After testing, others were found to have highly elevated levels of creatine kinase, an indicator of the syndrome.

“The safety and welfare of all of our student-athletes is paramount in all that we do,” Oregon said in a statement to The Oregonian. “While we cannot comment on the health of our individual students, we have implemented modifications as we transition back into full training to prevent further occurrences.

“We thank our medical staff and trainers for their continued monitoring of the students and we will continue to support our young men as they recover.”

Taggart visited the players in Riverbend before leaving the state to recruit, the paper reported.

Brenner is entering his senior season, while Poutasi and McCormick redshirted last fall.

Phillip Fulmer reportedly a candidate for Tennessee AD job

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Phillip Fulmer of the Tennessee Volunteers gives a thumbs up after winning the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Nashville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Tennessee is still in search of its next athletics director, which has become a point of contention lately — and especially over the past 24 hours.

Alabama hired Greg Byrne away from Arizona without ever letting the job hit the open market, which begs the question, just what the heck are they doing in Knoxville? Outgoing AD Dave Hart has been outgoing since before football season started. Getting outmaneuvered by their rivals to the south — their immensely more successful rivals to the south, at least in the sport that matters in Tennessee — has created turmoil for an athletics department that majors in it.

As an apparent slice of red meet to the fans, the Vols let it be known Monday Phillip Fulmer is a serious candidate for their AD job.

“Fulmer has grown close to Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and a group of influential boosters have been working behind the scenes to help install him as Dave Hart’s replacement, according to people close to the situation,” Wolken writes.

Fulmer has exactly zero athletics director experience, but he is a harken back to the glory days of yonder for the Volunteers. He went 152-52 in 17 seasons with six top-10 finishes, three SEC titles, six SEC East crowns and a national championship in 1998.

In fact, even the “bad” Fulmer seasons — a .531 SEC winning percentage with one top-15 finish and one SEC East championship from 2005-08 — compare favorably with the marks of his three successors. Lane KiffinDerek Dooley and Butch Jones have collectively posted a .349 SEC winning percentage with zero top-15 finishes and zero SEC East championships in the eight seasons since Fulmer’s dumping.

It’s not clear what Fulmer brings to the department beyond a familiar face and a living, breathing link to the glory days, but perhaps those attributes are good enough at Tennessee.

Missouri State RB Richard Nelson fatally shot in front of home

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Missouri State running back Richard Nelson was fatally shot in the back while attempting to break up a fight on Saturday night. He was 18 years old.

According to a description of the altercation from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nelson was at his home in his native Las Vegas when he attempted to break up a fight between his older sister and “several individuals” when one of the individuals shot Nelson multiple times. Officers responded to a call and transported him to Sunrise Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“I saw blood and everything,” Nelson’s girlfriend Christina Martinez told the Review-Journal. “The next thing I know, I look at him in the eyes. I touch his head and his eyes are closed. I heard his last breath and I just cried and cried,” she said Sunday. “I knew at that moment that I should have done something more. I wish I could have hugged him one last time. I wish I could have kissed him and said goodbye.”

Nelson planned to fly back to Missouri on Sunday to begin preparations for his redshirt freshman season in 2017.

“Our Missouri State football family is in shock and mourning at the loss of one of our family members,” Missouri State coach Dave Steckel said in a statement. “Richard is like a son and a brother. It is a tragedy that he lost his life defending what is right. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in Las Vegas, and we know he is in a good place with God. We ask everyone to respect the privacy of our football family at this time as we begin the healing process.”

“Richard is like a son and a brother,” added Missouri State AD Kyle Moats. “It is a tragedy that he lost his life defending what is right. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in Las Vegas, and we know he is in a good place with God.”

College football records highest-ever scoring season in 2016

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 03:  Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers looks to pass the ball during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The average college football team topped 30 points per game for the first time in the game’s history, according to data compiled and released by the NCAA.

The typical team scored 30.04 points per game this fall, busting the record of 29.7 points per game per team set last fall. The Big 12 led all conferences with an average of 33.58 points per game. Western Kentucky led all teams with 45.5 points per game.

Consequently, the 2016 season also set the record for the longest average game time in FBS history.

As Dennis Dodd for CBS Sports notes, this is the seventh time since 2000 the average scoring record has been broken. That same record was broken 19 times in the previous 63 seasons.

This season also saw records broken for average total offense (417.5 yards per game), yards per play (5.83), yards per pass attempt (7.39) and touchdowns per game (3.82).

However, teams did average 182.99 rushing yards per game, the highest number since 1979.