Vanderbilt Commodores

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Vandy’s Derek Mason gets extension, bigger recruiting budget; staff gets raises

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It’s a win-win-win all around for Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt football program.

In January, it was reported that Vanderbilt was working on a new contract for its head football coach.  Tuesday, that work publicly came to fruition as athletic director David Williams confirmed to The Tennessean that Mason has signed a three-year contract extension with the school.

Mason is now signed through the 2021 season, with a university option for 2022. The newspaper writes that “Williams did not provide Mason’s specific pay, but he said it was a raise above his previous compensation, which included a base salary of about $2.5 million in 2015, according to the most recently available tax records.”

Additionally, and per Mason’s request, the head coach’s assistants will receive unspecified raises as well.  Finally, part of Mason’s new contract calls for an increase in the recruiting budget.

The Commodores are 13-24 during Mason’s three-year tenure — they’re 5-19 in SEC play — and have never finished above .500 in any of those seasons.  They did qualify for the postseason last year for the first time since 2013, although a loss in the Independence Bowl left them at 6-7.

“We went to a bowl game in his third year, but it’s not only that. You could see the growth in the program overall,” Williams told the paper. “This year will be the first year that we actually have the type of depth that we would like to have, and I think Derek is a master at developing players.”

SEC to enact NCAA practice policies, eliminate two-a-days

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Two-a-days in the Deep South are officially a thing of the past.

Last month, the NCAA Division I Council also voted to eliminate “multiple contact practices a day” — aka two-a-days — in summer camp.  The SEC announced Friday that the conference “will adopt recent practice recommendations set forth by the NCAA Sports Science Institute in the sport of football.”

Moving forward, and after the standard five-day acclimation period that kicks off preseason camp, any given seven-day period will have to include at least three non-contact/minimal contact practice sessions as well as one day where there is no practice, period.  Additionally, the next practice after a scrimmage will have to be one of the non-contact/minimal contact periods.  While two-a-days are no longer permitted, teams can, if they so choose, run “[a] second session of no helmet/pad activity [that] may include walk-throughs or meetings; conditioning in the second session of activity is not allowed.”

To make up for the lost practice time, teams will be allowed to start camps one week earlier than previously allowed.  That extension will “help ensure that players obtain the necessary skill set for competitive play,” the NCAA said in its release.

As for in-season practices, the biggest change is going from allowing two live-contact/tackling sessions per week to one of those plus one described as “live-contact/thud.” The standard for non-contact/minimal contact practices remains the same at three.

As for the postseason, below are the NCAA’s recommendations:

  • If there is a two week or less period of time between the final regular season game or conference championship game (for participating institutions) and the next bowl or postseason game, then in-season practice recommendations should remain in place.
  • If there is greater than two weeks between the final regular season game or conference championship game (for participating institutions) and the next bowl or postseason game, then:
  1. Up to three days may be live-contact (two of which should be live contact/thud).
  2. There must be three non-contact/minimal contact practices in a given week.
  3. The day preceding and following live contact/tackling should be non-contact/minimal contact or no football practice.
  4. One day must be no football practice.

“We believe these measures will enhance the health and safety procedures SEC universities have already established to support their football programs,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Student-athlete well-being will always be a priority for SEC member institutions and, as the NCAA Sports Science Institute has developed and provided guidance on the structure for football practice, everyone associated with this great sport must continue to adapt to keep the game safe while played at the highest competitive level.”

The conference’s presidents and chancellors as well as its athletic director, incidentally, voted unanimously to accept the NCAA practice recommendations.

SEC commissioner hints at review of rules regarding alcohol sales in football stadiums

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The prohibition of alcohol at football stadiums has undergone one interesting about-face in college athletics the past 15 years or so. While various suite levels at stadiums across the country have generally had access to a few adult beverages, there’s been some very large programs that have opened up the taps in the general seating areas the last few years.

From West Virginia to Texas to Ohio State, more and more programs are selling beer and/or liquor across the board and raking in hundreds of thousands (if not millions) in added revenue while doing so. One conference that isn’t jumping in on that trend however has been the SEC, which has numerous restrictions on where those types of beverages can be sold. That may be about to change in the near future however according to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

“At some point, I’m relatively certain, there will be further review of the prohibition,” said Sankey on Monday, per The Tuscaloosa News. “That doesn’t predict any outcome.”

While you may think that the league is close to opening the floodgates on alcohol being served at stadiums across the conference, you probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions on the matter as Sankey seemed to hold his ground and stand firm on keeping things as is right now.

“The conference has a policy that says that we’re not selling alcohol in the general seating area,” he added. “Now, you can agree or disagree with that policy, but that’s the policy. The basis for changing that or maintaining it is one that’s developed in the conversation.

“I think we were at like 98 percent ticket sales in football… So is that one-percent margin a trade that we’re going to make?”

It’s no secret that of-age fans can easily find a few beverages at SEC tailgates prior to games nowadays but it seems momentum is slowing building in the conference to allow fans to buy some during a game. It might not happen anytime in the very near future but the conversation is certainly going to keep popping up each year with many more schools across the country jumping in on this trend.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.

College football spring games: Dates, TV times

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As the calendar flips from March to April, the rush of college football spring games commences in earnest.

On the Power Five side alone, there are nearly 60 spring games scheduled to be played in the month of April.  Last year around this time, Urban Meyer was urging Ohio State fans to show up en masse; the Buckeye faithful responded with a record-breaking turnout.  That six-figure record should be safe — maybe.

Channeling his inner Urban, James Franklin earlier this month very passionately challenged fans to attend Penn State’s spring game to showcase to recruits and the rest of the country that “football is a very, very important part of Penn State.” Texas seemingly has momentum, what with Tom Herman replacing Charlie Strong as head coach, and that hire could cause a spike in interest and spring butts in the seats.  Clemson, coming off its first national championship in three decades and with some question marks given key departures, will certainly see a surge in attendance, although the official seating capacity of 81,500 at Memorial Stadium would preclude them from doing anything other than (barely) cracking the Top 10 in all-time spring game attendance.

Alabama historically fares well in spring attendance — four of the Top 10 — although the last huge crowd was six years ago.  Coming off the first title-game loss under Nick Saban, don’t expect a big jump this year either.

With those storylines in mind, below is the complete slate of spring games for the next four-plus weeks.

FRIDAY, MARCH 31
Arizona, 9 p.m. ET

SATURDAY, APRIL 1
Northwestern, 11 a.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
South Carolina, noon ET (SEC Network)
North Carolina State, 1 p.m. ET
Michigan State, 3 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Texas Tech, 4 p.m. ET

FRIDAY, APRIL 7
Florida, 7 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

SATURDAY, APRIL 8
Ole Miss, noon ET (SEC Network)
Purdue, 1 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Auburn, 2 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Iowa State, 2 p.m. ET
Oklahoma, 2 p.m. ET
Texas A&M, 2 pm. ET (ESPNU)
Clemson, 2:30 p.m. ET
Florida State, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
North Carolina, 3 p.m. ET
Wake Forest, 3 p.m. ET
Mississippi State, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
TCU (time still to be determined)

THURSDAY, APRIL 13
Indiana, 7 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

FRIDAY, APRIL 14
Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

SATURDAY, APRIL 15
Ohio State, 12:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Louisville, 1 p.m. ET
Minnesota, 1 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET
Utah, 1 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
West Virginia, 1 p.m. ET
Kansas, 2 p.m. ET
Missouri, 2 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Nebraska, 2 p.m. ET
Oklahoma State, 2 p.m. ET
Texas, 2 p.m. ET (Longhorn Network)
USC, 3 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Stanford, 4 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Arizona State, 5 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

FRIDAY, APRIL 21
Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. ET
Wisconsin, 7:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Iowa (time still to be determined)

SATURDAY, APRIL 22
Syracuse, 10 a.m. ET
Boston College, noon ET
Maryland, 12:30 ET (Big Ten Network)
Notre Dame, 12:30 p.m. ET
Baylor, 1 p.m. ET
Cal, 2 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Georgia, 2 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Kansas State, 2 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. ET
Alabama, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Penn State, 3 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Washington, 3 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Rutgers, 5 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Washington State, 5 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
LSU, 8 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

SATURDAY, APRIL 29
Arkansas, 1 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Oregon, 2 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Virginia, 3 p.m. ET
UCLA, 4 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

*Neither Miami nor Michigan will conduct traditional spring games.
*Arizona, Duke, Illinois, Oregon State and Vanderbilt played their spring games in March.