Indiana blazes a student-athlete ‘Bill of Rights’ trail

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Just as the O’Bannon trial, which could (eventually) completely alter the landscape of collegiate athletics forever, is mercifully winding down, one university is taking a B1G step toward giving their current and future student-athletes a few morsels of what’s a very big and ever-growing Power Five financial pie.

In a press release titled “Indiana University Announces Unprecedented Student-Athlete Bill of Rights,” the school revealed what it describes as “a groundbreaking, 10-point document that sets forth the University’s commitment to student-athletes during their time at IU and beyond.”  The unveiling comes a couple of days after a statement from the Big Ten which said that they, along with other conferences across the country, must provide greater benefits to their student-athletes.

The conference wrote, in part, that “[w]e must guarantee the four-year scholarships that we offer” to those participating in collegiate athletics; as part of IU’s 10-prong rollout, and in what’s described as a “central feature of the Bill of Rights,” the school will, moving forward, provide what it calls the Lifetime Degree Guarantee. From the release:

Under the “Hoosiers for Life” program, Indiana University will pay the tuition (plus books and fees) for an IU undergraduate degree for any scholarship student-athlete who leaves school early to tend to a family emergency, pursue a professional athletics career, or for any other reason. This program is open to any former student-athlete who was eligible for at least two seasons, left IU in good standing, did not transfer, and is readmitted under university rules.

That is part of the overall commitment the school is making to provide, as its conference has “suggested,” guaranteed four-year scholarships to its student-athletes in — and this is the most important aspect — every sport, non-revenue and revenue sports alike.

IU Athletics is also making a Four Year Scholarship Commitment to every full head count scholarship student-athlete regardless of sport entering Indiana University to ensure that they have the time needed to earn an undergraduate degree. No athletic scholarship will be reduced because of injury, illness, physical or mental condition, or on the basis of a student-athlete’s ability, performance or contribution to the team’s success. While four-year scholarships were made permissible by the NCAA in 2011, most member schools have only selectively provided them.

Other aspects of the “Bill of Rights” include what’s being called a formal Collective Voice in which student-athletes will be a part of committees, including, but not limited to, search or advisory committees for new head coaches or athletic directors; IU student-athletes will also have access to cutting edge technology, including every student-athlete being supplied an iPad; and a Comprehensive Health Safety and Wellness program that only covers their illnesses or injuries while on scholarship.

(For all the minutia, click HERE)

“For all of its nearly 200 years, Indiana University has been a higher education leader in teaching, research, academic freedom and international engagement, as well as athletics including producing the first African-American to be drafted into pro football and breaking the Big Ten’s color barrier in men’s basketball,” said IU president Michael A. McRobbie in a statement. “That visionary leadership continues with today’s publication of the first ever Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.”

“We are proud to be the first higher education institution ever to publish a Student-Athlete Bill of Rights,” athletic director Fred Glass said. “We developed the Bill of Rights to identify not only what we were currently doing for our student-athletes but what we should be doing. We have committed to this extensive set of benefits and set it out transparently in writing, so that we can be held accountable for them by our student-athletes and other stakeholders such as our faculty and trustees. While no other school has done this, we hope that others will follow for the betterment of the student-athlete experience.”

While it’s a laudable step taken by IU — one that every other school should follow — it has little relevance when it comes to the most important pieces of the collegiate athletics puzzle moving forward: the O’Bannon trial and the Northwestern union push. Those twin facets, not autonomy or too little, too late benefits being showered on student-athletes or anything else, will determine the face of college sports in the future.

Ken Sparks, fifth-winningest coach at any level in college football history, dies at age 73

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College football has lost a coaching legend of the sport that you may never have heard of.

Carson-Newman announced Wednesday morning that its legendary former head football coach, Ken Sparks, passed away earlier in the day at the age of 73.  Sparks had been battling prostate cancer since being diagnosed in 2012, but doctors stopped treating him in January of this year.

According to WBIR-TV, Sparks had been in hospice care for the last several weeks.

Sparks was the head coach at Carson-Newman from 1980 through November of 2016, when he stepped down because of health concerns. During his time at the Div. II program — the first baker’s dozen years they were an NAIA school — the Eagles went 338-99-2. Sparks laid claim to five NAIA national championships and qualified for the Div. II playoffs 15 times in 24 years, although they failed to win a title at that latter level.

The 338 wins for Sparks are the fifth-most at any level of college football, behind only John Gagliardi (489), Joe Paterno (409), Eddie Robinson (408) and Bobby Bowden (377).

Alabama won’t be rushing Bo Scarbrough back this spring

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Not surprisingly, Alabama is going to err on the side of caution when it comes to one the most productive horses in its backfield stable.

On a second-down carry late in the third quarter of the national championship game loss to Clemson, Bo Scarbrough went down with an injury that turned out to be a fractured bone in his lower right leg.  The rising sophomore running back has recovered enough to be a participant in the Crimson Tide’s spring practice during some drills, albeit in non-contact mode.

Following the fourth practice of the spring Tuesday, Nick Saban made it clear made it clear that, while Scarbrough is getting some work in, the football program won’t be pushing him.

“Bo is doing more and more every day,” the head coach said according to al.com. “He did quite a bit today in practice, non-contact stuff, but he’s sort of gaining confidence. Our goal for Bo is by the end of spring, he’s fully confident that he can do everything he needs to do. Whether he ever scrimmages or is really something that we’re not that concerned about.”

It’s expected Scarbrough, barring a setback between now and then, will be fully recovered well ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

Scarbrough’s 812 yards rushing year was second amongst Tide backs, while his 11 rushing touchdowns were second on the team.  He ran for 180 of those yards and two of the touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Washington, then had 93 yards and two more touchdowns before going down with the injury in the title game.

Western Kentucky hoops star to give Hilltoppers football a try

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Coming off a season in which he was the best player on Western Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, Justin Johnson is going to try his hand at another sport.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Johnson will practice with the Hilltoppers football team for the remainder of spring practice. The 6-7 forward will, not surprisingly, spend his time at tight end.

At the end of practices this spring, a WKU official told CFT, both sides will determine what if any future Johnson has in the sport.

Johnson admitted in one interview earlier this basketball season that he grew up wanting to play linebacker for Ohio State, and he did play two years of football at his Kentucky high school. Despite the fact that both Kentucky and Louisville had interest in him as a tight end, he ended up signing with WKU’s hoops team in 2014.

That decision has worked out well for both parties as Johnson has led the team in scoring and rebounding each of the past two seasons. He led Conference USA in the latter category as well as double-doubles, and was named second-team all-conference after his junior season.

Victim of alleged WKU football attack plans to file charges

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A former Western Kentucky fraternity member says he was attacked by a group of Hilltoppers football players and plans to file charges.

Jerald Armfield, an alum of WKU’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, told WBKO-TV he was caught in an ongoing feud between the fraternity and the football team:

“I went to the house in the best interest of the fraternity and Western as a whole to prevent any type of violence from occurring. We got up there and realized they were all hiding behind garbage cans, trees, and buildings.”

“I never in my wildest dreams thought they would attack me in the manner that they did. They all started surrounding me. One of them threw a rock at me. It was within a few seconds that one of them punched me in the face.”

“I fell down. I was kicked several times. The whole time they were beating me, I was begging them to stop, telling them I wasn’t here the night before, I had nothing to to do with it, like please stop, please stop, and they didn’t.”

Armfield said between nine and 10 people ultimately attacked him; it isn’t known for sure how many of that group are on the football team, though the program’s involvement in the incident is being investigated.

“We are aware of the allegations involving a few members of our football team,” the program said in the statement when word of the altercation broke three weeks ago. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities. However, at this time, we have not received a police report and cannot provide further comment.”

While the status of the investigation is currently unknown, Armfield told WBKO he would like it to end with multiple charges. “I made it very clear that night when the police arrived on the scene that I wanted charges pressed,” he said. “As far as I know a detective from Bowling Green Police Department has it. As it stands right now, I still want charges pressed. They need to be held accountable for what they did not only as citizens but as students at Western.”