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.

Former LSU QB Brandon Harris announces commitment to UNC

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Former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris has found himself a new home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Harris announced via Facebook and Twitter he has chosen to commit to North Carolina.

“Obviously, it has been an important time for me, looking for a great situation and another opportunity to grow as a young man and as a student as well as a football player,” Harris said in his statement. “After my [official] visit this weekend to the University of North Carolina, I’m going to get that opportunity. With that being said, I’m fully committed to UNC this upcoming year and I look forward to the opportunity to play for coach [Larry Fedora] and UNC.”

Harris will be eligible to play for UNC immediately this fall after graduating from LSU this summer, and the timing may not be better for Harris. UNC is losing its starting quarterback (Mitch Trubisky) to the NFL and has a wide open spot to fill in the starting lineup as a result. But the job will not automatically go to Harris upon his arrival at UNC after missing out on spring practices at North Carolina.

Harris played in just four games last season, in which he passed for 139 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Since the season-opener against Wisconsin, Harris was reduced to backup duty and did not play in any of LSU’s seven final games of the 2016 season, including the bowl game against Louisville. Harris announced his decision to transfer in February, which was pretty much expected given how last season played out amid a coaching change.

Report: Foot injury puts Georgia WR Riley Ridley on sideline for spring

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Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley has not been practicing this spring, but it has nothing to do with his offseason misdemeanor from a couple of weeks ago. Instead, a foot injury appears to have sidelined Ridley for the spring.

According to a report from Gridiron Now, Ridley has been out due to the foot injury. When the foot injury occurred is not reported. Even if his foot was not injured, it remains unknown if Ridley would be participating int he spring, at least at this point. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has said Ridley will be internally disciplined for his misdemeanor pot possession from earlier this month.

“He’ll receive discipline,” Smart said. “We are very disappointed in his decision. We do not condone that behavior. I think Riley is going to learn a valuable lesson from this mistake.”

When Ridley may be available again remains unknown, as does what exactly the punishment to him will be from Smart. A one-game suspension is the expected result for Ridley according to the university’s student-athlete handbook.

USF DB Hassan Childs in stable condition after overnight shooting incident

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USF defensive back Hassan Childs was injured in a shooting incident overnight. Fortunately, Childs is currently said to be in stable condition, according to USF.

“We are deeply concerned that an incident occurred overnight in which one of our guys, Hassan Childs, was injured in a shooting,” a statement from USF head coach Charlie Strong said. “Thankfully, Hassan is in stable condition and being well cared for, and no one else was injured. There is an ongoing investigation of the incident and we are in the process of gathering further information.”

The shooting took place off campus, but details about the incident have not been reported.

Childs played in eight games for the Bulls last year. He recorded 16 tackles and returned two punts for three yards in a backup role.

Turner Field on schedule to be ready for Georgia State season opener

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The Atlanta Braves opened the doors to their brand new baseball stadium over the weekend to fans as the baseball team gets ready to open the 2017 season in their new digs. Meanwhile, at the old home of the Braves, Georgia State University is moving along according to schedule in downsizing and renovating Turner Field to serve as the permanent home of the football program. So far, so good, as the university fully anticipates the stadium will be ready to go for the season opener on August 31 against Tennessee State.

The job that’s being done is incredible,” Athletic Director Charlie Cobb told 11Alive. “Each and every time I walk in, I see something new being done.”

Renovation and construction at Turner Field got started in February. The entire project will be done in phases as the university plans to develop around thew football stadium for an expanding university. As far as the stadium goes, the seating capacity will be retrofitted to hold a capacity of 23,000 fans. That will be the first phase of the master plan, with a second phase to complete building the rest of the stadium and add additional seating for fans.

“We plan on doing some unique things capturing the history of the stadium, but also creating a football facility that speaks to Georgia State,” Cobb said. “One of the stories we want to tell is the fact that it went from being an Olympic venue, to the home of the Braves, and now to the home of Georgia State. I think we can write that third chapter.”

Georgia State previously played its home games in the Georgia Dome, the now former home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. The Falcons are also moving into a new football stadium this season. The Falcons’ new home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also welcome some college football action to the stadium this season with the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff will move to the new stadium from the Georgia Dome. This year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff features Alabama and Florida State on September 2 and Georgia Tech and Tennessee on September 4. The SEC Championship Game and the Peach Bowl will also be hosted in the new stadium and the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game will be played there on January 8, 2018.

Georgia State may have their new home, but perhaps one day they will get to play in the new stadium too.