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.

Suspended A&M assistant Jim Turner no stranger to controversy

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 17:  Offensive line coach, Jim Turner, of the Miami Dolphins coaches his players before their game against the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium on November 17, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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When it comes to being offensive, Jim Turner seems to have all of the bases covered.

Turner was one of two Texas A&M assistant coaches suspended two weeks without pay by head coach Kevin Sumlin Friday for a train wreck of a presentation at a women’s football clinic.  Photos leaked to various media outlets showed a slide show with various “pass-blocking rules” that included such helpful tips as “spread your legs,” “enter-front/not-behind, “get erect,” “stay erect” and “bang him hard.”

Turner came to the Aggies after a two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins.  Turner was fired by the NFL club after getting swept up in the maelstrom that was the Dolphins’ bullying and harassment scandal.  Turner subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming “his reputation and career have been unfairly affected” by the reports commissioned by the NFL.

One particular portion of the report has been making its way around the Internet, and it casts and more negative light on the current situation involving Turner.

Turner was aware of the running “joke” that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting. Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male “blow-up” doll. [Jonathan] Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, “I can’t remember.”

“We want to sincerely apologize to the passionate Aggie fans and to women everywhere for our failed attempt at humor during this week’s Aggie Football Chalk Talk and fundraiser,” a statement from Turner and the other suspended assistant, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks, began. “We clearly understand now that our comments and slides were not appropriate or consistent with the values of our football program or our Department. We must do better, and we will.”

Ex-A&M All-American Antonio Armstrong, wife shot and killed, 16-year-old son charged with murder

Antonio Armstrong
Texas A&M athletics
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Sadly, tragedy has hit the Texas A&M football program in one of the most gut-punching, heartbreaking ways imaginable.

Early Friday morning, Houston police were called to the home of Antonio Armstrong to investigate a shooting.  At the Bellaire-area home, police found Armstrong’s wife, Dawn, dead and Armstrong critically wounded with a gunshot wound to the head in their bed.

Armstrong was taken to a local hospital and was initially listed in critical condition before succumbing to the injuries later on Friday.

Adding to the tragedy, police have charged the Armstrong’s 16-year-old son with two counts of juvenile murder.  The daughter of Antonio and Dawn was in the home at the time of the shooting, but she was not injured.  A third child was not believed to be in the home.

Homicide investigators have said there was no history of domestic violence, and police had never been called to the home.

Armstrong, who went by the surname “Shorter” for the first three years of his Aggie football career, played at A&M from 1991-94, earning first-team All-American honors his senior season.  He was also a semifinalist for the Butkus Award that year, and was named All-SWC twice.

“Antonio was a special young man,” Armstrong former head coach, R.C. Slocum, said in a statement. “He was an All-American and an outstanding player, but he was an even better person. He was such a positive influence on his teammates. He always had a great big smile and was a joy to coach.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Antonio Armstrong and his family and the entire Aggie family,” a statement from current A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin began. “Our strength coach Larry Jackson was a teammate of Antonio’s and thought the world of him.

“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts are broken.”

After injuries ended his pro career after a few seasons, Armstrong went on to become a fitness instructor, motivational speaker and associate pastor.  He and his wife ran First Class Training, a gym in Bellaire.

Below is Armstrong’s A&M bio provided by the school:

Was a cornerstone of the Texas A&M Wrecking Crew defense for four seasons from 1991-94 … Earned first-team Associated Press All-America honors as a linebacker as a senior in 1994 and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to college football’s top linebacker … earned first-team All-Southwest Conference honors in 1993 and 1994 … Earned Defensive Player of the Game honors in the 1994 Cotton Bowl (vs. Notre Dame) … was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 … Armstrong never lost a game on Kyle Field and helped the Aggies extend the nation’s then-longest home winning streak to 26 games … Armstrong led the SWC in QB sacks and tackles for losses as a senior in 1994 … finished his career with 154 total tackles, including 18 QB sacks and 31 total tackles for loss of yardage.

Shaq Davidson goes from FBS Gamecocks to FCS Gamecocks

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Shaq Davidson may have left South Carolina, but he’ll still be a Gamecock in 2016.

Davidson first hinted on Twitter then confirmed to 247Sports.com that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at Jacksonville State.  A member of the JSU coaching staff also confirmed the move in a tweet.

As the Gamecocks play at the FCS level, the wide receiver will be eligible to play immediately in 2016.

According to Richardson, he also considered Tennessee-Chattanooga, Furman and Winston-Salem State, but a visit to JSU last week sealed the deal.

“I felt at home,” Davidson said. “They came on late for me but they came on strong.”

A four-star member of USC’s 2014 recruiting class, Davidson was rated as the No. 5 player at any position in the state of South Carolina and the No. 30 receiver in the country.

Richardson never lived up to that lofty recruiting pedigree, however, as he took a redshirt as a true freshman and tore an ACL last August.  Then, he was reportedly dismissed by first-year head coach Will Muschamp this past February.

A&M got down & dirty — and crude & sexist — at football clinic for women

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 21:  Fans of the Texas A&M Aggies proudly stand in the Home of the 12th Man during the NCAA football game against the Virginia Tech Hokies on September 21, 2002 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. The Hokies won 13-3. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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And boy, did they ever.

Myriad football programs across the country have, for many years, put on football clinics specifically targeted for women in an effort to help that gender better understand the game of football.  As Raekwon McMillan can attest, some women take the sport very seriously.

At Texas A&M, meanwhile, they used what was titled “Chalk Talk for Women” to get their sexual innuendo on this past week.

Scout.com was on the receiving end of some photos from a slide show at the A&M women’s clinic, attended by 700 females, on what to do and not to do in run-blocking and, suffice to say, they left little to the imagination.

A&M 1

A&M 2

A&M 3

Additionally, A&M decided to “tweak” the words to the “Aggie War Hymn” and, suffice to say, it didn’t go over all too well as some viewed it as overtly sexist.

Very smooth, A&M.  Very smooth.

I, personally, think it’s very forward and progressive thinking to allow 12-year-old boys to handle at least a portion of such a high-profile presentation.  I’m sure all of your mothers and wives would be very proud.

Given the burgeoning uproar over the event, head coach Kevin Sumlin subsequently issued a statement in which he revealed that two of his assistant coaches responsible for the presentation, offensive line coach Jim Turner and special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks, have been suspended for two weeks without pay.  Additionally, the two will serve 20 hours of community service.

“There is absolutely no place in our program or in our University community for inappropriate conduct or degrading comments towards women, or anyone, regardless of intent,” Sumlin said in a statement. “On behalf of Aggie football, I want to apologize for the comments at Chalk Talk and also for my failure to review their individual presentations.”

“We want to sincerely apologize to the passionate Aggie fans and to women everywhere for our failed attempt at humor during this week’s Aggie Football Chalk Talk and fundraiser,” a statement from the assistants began. “We clearly understand now that our comments and slides were not appropriate or consistent with the values of our football program or our Department. We must do better, and we will.”