Big Ten to give expansion an exploratory group hug

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Both Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema stumped to varying degrees this offseason for the Big Ten to fully and wholly embrace the idea of expanding to twelve teams.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the two coaches — and any other proponent of expansion — could be closer to seeing conference growth coming to fruition.

Citing an unnamed league official, the Tribune reported that the conference will release a statement today in which they will announce that expansion has moved to the front burner, as the paper puts it.

This past Friday, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, another supporter of expansion, hinted that something could be in the offing, saying that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany “is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it. I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators.”

And Alvarez, as well as the Tribune, could not have hit the nail on the head any cleaner as the Big Ten administrators did indeed release a statement this afternoon outlining the league’s intentions to explore expanding the league from 11 to 12 teams.

According to the release, commissioner Delany “has been asked to provide recommendations for consideration” by the league’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) “over the next 12 to 18 months.”

The conference office has been asked, the statement read, “to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions.”

The statement added that “[n]o action by the COP/C is expected in the near term.”

A move to twelve teams would allow for the league to be split into two six-team divisions and a championship game to be held at the end of the regular season.  Additionally, it would allow the conference to remain part of the national landscape well after Thanksgiving.  As currently constructed, the conference is a non-entity from, basically, before Turkey Day until the bowls start rolling around.

Should the conference ultimately approve an additional team, there are three questions that would need to be answered:

WHO?

If the Big Ten had their druthers, Notre Dame would’ve been a part of the conference years ago.  They are a perfect fit academically and athletically, and would likely be pursued yet again.  And would likely rebuff the league yet again.

Short of the Irish, several schools have been bandied about as possibilities as a twelfth: Cincinnati, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Louisville.

WHERE?

Once a 12th team is decided upon, you would need to split the conference into two divisions and decide which teams go where.  Rivalries such as Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan-Michigan State and the like would need to be preserved, but there could be some annual match-ups that may be forced to the wayside, at least on a yearly basis.

Here’s one way the conference could look, although it would need to be tweaked depending on the location of the additional team:

EastMichiganMichigan St.Ohio St.Penn St.PurdueIndiana

WestIllinoisIowaMinnesotaNorthwesternWisconsin(new team)

Missouri and, maybe, Louisville would make solid additions to the “Western” division, while Cincinnati, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia would fit in the “Eastern” division.  Indiana could be the swing team regardless of which school joins.

WHAT?

As in, what would you call the conference?  Well, they have eleven teams and are still called the Big Ten.  Would an additional team really necessitate a name change?

[Writer’s note: This story has been edited and given a new headline to reflect the fact that MSNBC.com requested it for their front page.  I obliged.]

Notre Dame LB Te’Von Coney pleads guilty to marijuana possession

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Notre Dame linebacker Te’Von Coney on Tuesday pleaded guilty to marijuana possession as part of a case stemming back to 2016. Coney was one of five Irish players arrested on Aug. 19, 2016, when an Indiana State Police trooper made a traffic stop for speeding and discovered marijuana and an unregistered handgun in the car. Notre Dame safety Max Redfield, wideout Kevin Stepherson, cornerback Ashton White and running back Dexter Williams were also arrested.

Through a plea deal, Coney was sentenced to 363 days of probation and had a 180-day jail sentenced suspended down to time served.

White, Redfield and Stepherson were either booted from the team or transferred, while Coney and Williams have gone on to shine in South Bend. Williams rushed 39 times for 360 yards and four touchdowns last season and is expected to split starting duties this fall, while Coney was Notre Dame’s leading tackler a year ago, collecting 116 stops and 12.5 TFLs.

A Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native, Coney’s plea is not expected to impact his status on the team. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this month he expected Coney, who is taking summer classes at Notre Dame right now, to play this fall “if he takes care of it (the court case) in the manner I expect him to.”

Wake Forest adds pair of graduate transfer kickers

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Wake Forest was active on the graduate transfer market Tuesday, picking up two kickers to add to its 2018 roster.

The Deacons announced Darren Ford as a transfer from Division III Hope College in Michigan and Eric Osteen from Army.

Ford connected on 25-of-38 field goals and 99 PATs at Hope while also averaging 40 yards per punt over the past two seasons. He also handled kickoffs for the past three seasons at Hope.

Osteen is a rare case; he graduated from Army back in 2013 and recently completed a 5-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army. He will kick for Wake Forest while pursuing an MBA. He was the Black Knights’ kickoff specialist in his former career, totaling 40 touchbacks in 110 kickoffs from 2011-12. He recorded five kickoffs in six tries during Army’s 2012 game against Wake Forest.

Ford and Osteen figure to slide into starting roles for the Deacons’ 2018 squad. Mike Weaver, a senior, handled place-kicking and kickoff duties for Wake Forest a season ago. He made 21-of-25 field goals and 52-of-56 extra points and posted 33 touchbacks in 83 total kickoffs.

WATCH: Netflix releases “Last Chance U.” trailer

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Netflix’s smash hit “Last Chance U.” is back next month for its third season, but in a way it’ll be its first. After following East Mississippi Community College and its firebrand head coach Buddy Stephens for two seasons, college football’s answer to Amazon’s “All or Nothing” has moved to a new subject. After considering a number of schools, “Last Chance U.” will follow Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, coached by Jason Brown, for its third season.

“Last Chance U.” will follow the Pirates as they navigate the entire 2017 season, which concluded with a 9-2 record, a Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference championship and a win over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the Midwest Bowl.

The new season premiers July 20.

FCS team suspends head coach amid probe into ‘alleged violations of university policy’

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We don’t normally do much with the FCS level of football here at CFT; when we do, though, it normally doesn’t trend toward the positive.

Such is the case in this instance, with Stephen F. Austin announcing Monday night that head coach Clint Conque has been suspended.  In its statement, the university wrote that the suspension is “pending an investigation into alleged violations of university policy.”

The alleged violations weren’t detailed.

“The investigation is expected to take several weeks,” the school’s statement read, in part. “No comments will be made by the university until the investigation is complete.”

The Magnolia Reporter wrote that “Conque’s suspension comes two weeks after SFA appointed Ryan Ivey as the new director of Athletics – a position he is set to officially assume on July 1.”

Conque has been the head coach at SFA the past four seasons.  In that span, he went 21-25 overall and 17-18 in Southland Conference play.  Since going 8-5 and qualifying for the FCS playoffs his first season, the football program has gone 4-7, 5-5, 4-7 the last three years.

Prior to that, Conque was the head coach at Central Arkansas from 2000-13, with the last seven of those years spent in the Southland Conference.  During his time with the Bears, he went 105-59.

In a statement released by that university in July of 2010, prior to the start of his 11th season with that FCS team, Conque admitted to what he described as “an inappropriate relationship” that stemmed from “some poor personal decisions.”

During a period of time in my life I made some poor personal decisions. I had an inappropriate relationship in the past that I regret and these mistakes and missteps have hurt the ones that I love the most. While we have been dealing with these issues privately, I regret that we must now deal with this in a public manner.

“I take sole and complete responsibility for my actions as my family and I continue the process of healing and rebuilding. I want to once again sincerely apologize first to my family, also to the university community, the administration, the university’s athletic staff, and to our football staff and team. I will emerge from this a better man, husband, father and coach. I appreciate the support that I have received from the Board of Trustees, President (Allen) Meadors, (Athletic Director) Dr. (Brad) Teague, and the university during this extremely difficult time.

“I would genuinely appreciate everyone extending Angele and my three sons the privacy and compassion needed to move forward in our personal lives. I look forward to the 2010 football season and the beginning of fall practice.

Conque remained on as the head coach at Central Arkansas for four more seasons, going 32-16 in that post-admission span and qualifying for the FCS playoffs twice for good measure.