North Carolina’s 2012 signing day class

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(North Carolina’s press release on its 2012 recruiting class.)

Kanler Coker
Quarterback, 6-4, 205
Flowery Branch, Ga. (Flowery Branch)

Has already graduated from high school • Considered the No. 72 quarterback prospect in the country by • Played football, basketball and baseball in high school • Became the starting quarterback at Gainesville (Ga.) North Hall High School as a junior • Transferred to Flowery Branch for his senior season and completed 173 of 290 pass attempts for 2,809 yards and 31 touchdowns • Also rushed 119 times for 837 yards and 15 touchdowns • Amassed more than 3,800 yards of total offense • Averaged double figures in basketball • Attended North Carolina’s basketball camp as a youngster • His father played middle linebacker for Georgia Southern • Played in the Georgia North-South All-Star game in December • Finished in the top 10 for Georgia’s High School player of the year voting • Won the team’s academic award for football and basketball • Named the Atlanta Touchdown Club Back of the Week award • Played in the North-South All-Star game • Born April 30, 1993.

Kedrick Davis
Wide Receiver, 5-10, 165
Charlotte, N.C. (Berry Academy)

Pronounced KEE-drick • Rated the No. 48 multi-purpose athlete in the country by and the No. 24 player in North Carolina • Considered the No. 32 player in North Carolina by SuperPrep • Ranked among the top 50 athletes by recruiting analyst Tom Lemming • Won the NCHSAA 2-A state championship in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.47 seconds • Has also been timed at 21.64 in the 200-meter dash • Averaged 25.7 yards per reception as a senior and caught 20 touchdown passes over the last two seasons • Had 38 receptions for 780 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior • Coached by Andrew Howard • Son of Brenda Davis • Born Dec. 10, 1993.

Quinshad Davis
Wide Receiver, 6-4, 185
Gaffney, S.C. (Gaffney)

Parade All-America • Also named to Rivals, MaxPreps, US Air Force and Sports Illustrated high school All-America teams • Named South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year • Member of South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team • Ranked the No. 2 player in South Carolina by SuperPrep • Caught 108 passes for 2,009 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior • Named a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football • Considered the No. 2 player in South Carolina and the No. 34 wide receiver in the country by • Member of the Rivals250 team • Helped lead Gaffney to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the state championship game as a senior • Listed by as the No. 51 wide receiver in the nation • Caught 94 passes for 1,481 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior • Coached by Dan Jones • Son of Quinzetta Posey and James Davis • Born May 24, 1994.

John Ferranto
Offensive Lineman, 6-5, 270
Burlington, N.J. (Township)

Pronounced Fuhr-ANN-toe • Considered one of the top eight offensive linemen in New Jersey by • Played both offensive line and defensive line at Burlington Township High School • Competed the first two years on defensive line, but moved to left tackle as a senior • Selected first-team All-South Jersey by Philadelphia Inquirer and first-team All-Area by Camden Courier Post • Named to the All-Group 3 team • Key part of an offensive line that paved the way for 1,900 yards rushing and a 7-3 record • Also is expected to compete as a deep snapper in college • Was named the MVP of the New Jersey Ultimate 100 as a defensive lineman • Put on 50 pounds after his freshman year of high school • Also competed in track and field • Two-time second-team all-conference • Academic all-county • Coached by Tom Maderia • Son of Julie and John Ferranto • Born Nov. 16, 1993.

Junior Gnonkonde
Bandit, 6-4, 220
Lakeland, Ga. (Lanier County)

Pronounced non-KHAN-day • Ranked the No. 39 weakside defensive end in the country by and the No. 51 player in Georgia by • Posted 119 tackles as a senior, including nine sacks, and had two fumble recoveries • Also had 10 receptions for 169 yards and carried three times for 159 yards • Made 89 tackles, had nine sacks and recovered two fumbles as a junior • Recorded 68 tackles, six sacks and six fumble recoveries as a sophomore • Coached by John White who is also his legal guardian • Moved to the United States from Africa four years ago • Speaks four languages • Also competed in the shot put in track and field and played basketball • Was a track region champion in the shot put three consecutive seasons and was the anchor of the 4×400 meter relay team • Four-year starter on basketball team who averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds • Three-time all-region player and named the region’s defensive player of the year • Born Aug. 4, 1993.

Clint Heaven
Safety, 6-0, 190
Palmetto, Fla. (Manatee)

Ranked the No. 30 safety prospect in the nation by and considered one of the top 100 players in Florida • Considered the No. 59 safety nationally by • Rated the No. 72 safety prospect in the country by • Helped lead his team to the Florida 7-A state championship, its first since 1992 • Recorded 80 tackles, including 50 solo stops, and five passes defended as a senior • Had a sack in the regional final • Was a three-year starter and played in two state championship games at Manatee • Had a season-high 14 tackles against Palm Beach in the state semifinal and had 10 against nationally-ranked Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) in the season opener • Coached by Joe Kinnan • Also competed in track and field • Son of Clinton and Tundra Heaven • Born Jan. 5, 1994.

Jon Heck
Offensive Lineman, 6-6, 290
Jacksonville, Fla. (The Bolles School)

Ranked among the top 100 prospects in Florida by • Member of the Jacksonville Times-Union Super 11 and Super 24 • Helped lead Bolles to a 13-1 record and a state championship come-from-behind victory over Booker T. Washington as a senior • Listed by as one of the top 100 tackles in the country • Named second-team all-state • Missed his junior season with a foot fracture • Has a large frame and long arms • Coached by Corky Rogers at The Bolles School • Also competed in basketball and throws the discus in track and field • Originally from Charlottesville, Va. • His father, Andy, was a first-team All-America offensive tackle for Notre Dame and played on the 1988 national championship team in South Bend • Andy coached three seasons as an assistant coach at Virginia and recently concluded his ninth season with the Jacksonville Jaguars • Son of Andy and Jennifer Heck • Born Feb. 5, 1994.

Joe Jackson
Safety, 6-2, 210
Jacksonville, Fla. (First Coast)

Member of the Florida Times-Union Super 11, Super 24 and was an All-Coast and All- Gateway selection • Posted 105 tackles, including 18 for losses and seven sacks, as First Coast advanced to the 7-A state championship game • Also had two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries • Listed as the No. 41 outside linebacker in the nation by • Considered the No. 82 outside linebacker prospect in the country by • Ranked one of the top 110 players in Florida by SuperPrep • Coached by Marty Lee • Son of Barbara and Joseph Jackson • Born Jan. 6, 1994.

T.J. Jiles
Cornerback, 5-11, 165
Cape Coral, Fla. (Cape Coral)

SuperPrep All-America • Ranked the No. 20 player overall in the state of Florida by SuperPrep • Member of the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida Top 100 • Won MVP honors for the South at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star game • Considered the No. 26 cornerback prospect in the country by • Rated the No. 50 cornerback in the nation by • Listed by as one of the top 100 cornerbacks nationally • Named third-team all-state by The Associated Press • Played quarterback as a sophomore and played on both sides of the ball as a junior and senior • Had more than 1,000 yards receiving as a senior • Coached by Brad Metheny • Son of Marqui Church • Full name is Tyreece Isia-Berna Jiles • Born May 3, 1994.

Terrance Knox
Tight End, 6-2, 240
Concord, N.C. (Concord)

Enrolled at North Carolina in January, 2012 • PrepStar All-Atlantic Region • Listed by as the No. 21 tight end prospect in the country • Ranked the No. 31 prospect in North Carolina by SuperPrep • Considered the No. 33 tight end prospect in the country by • Posted 32 receptions for 426 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior • Two-time all-county • Coached by Glen Padgett • Son of Charles and Priscilla Knox • Born Feb. 20, 1994.

Dan Mastromatteo
Linebacker, 6-2, 215
Absecon, N.J. (Holy Spirit)

Pronounced mass-troh-muh-TAY-oh • Listed by as the No. 53 outside linebacker prospect in the nation • PrepStar All-East Region • Considered the No. 72 outside linebacker prospect in the country by • Named first-team all-state and all-non public group II by Newark Star-Ledger • Was an all-South Jersey first-team pick by the Philadelphia Inquirer • Posted 99 tackles and six sacks for the South Jersey state champions • Recorded 90 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown as a junior • Also returned an interception for a touchdown • Coached by Charles Roman • Son of Albert and Michelle Mastromatteo • Born June 19, 1993.

J.J. Patterson
Offensive Lineman, 6-4, 330
Roanoke Rapids, N.C. (Roanoke Rapids)

Member of the PrepStar All-America team • Ranked the No. 9 player in North Carolina by • Listed by as the No. 22 offensive guard nationally • Rated the No. 18 player in North Carolina by SuperPrep • Considered the No. 30 offensive guard prospect in the country by • A four-year starter on the offensive line at Roanoke Rapids • Played in the Offense-Defense All-Star game in Dallas, Texas • Two-time conference lineman of the year • Started on both the offensive line and defensive line during his last three years • Posted 62 tackles and a sack as a senior defensive tackle • Coached by Russell Weinstein • Son of Jerome Patterson.

Caleb Peterson
Offensive Lineman, 6-5, 310
Auburn, Ala. (Auburn)

Considered the No. 11 offensive guard in the nation by and is a four-star prospect • Ranked the No. 21 senior in Alabama by SuperPrep • Considered the No. 27 offensive guard prospect in the country by • Ranked the 14th best senior in Alabama by The Birmingham News • Selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game • Played in the Offense-Defense All-Star game • Named first-team all-region and all-state • Auburn went 8-2 his senior season and advanced to the state playoffs • Member of the Scout300 as one of the top players in the country • Two-year starter • Named all-state and all-area • His brother, Taylor, plays at Southern Miss • Coached by Tim Carter • Son of Marjorie and Steve Peterson • Born Dec. 22, 1993.

Shakeel Rashad
Linebacker, 6-2, 215
Jacksonville, Fla. (Episcopal)

Enrolled at North Carolina in January, 2012 • Member of the PrepStar All-America team • Member of the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida Top 100 • A four-star prospect by, which lists him as the No. 35 outside linebacker prospect in the nation • Considered the No. 57 outside linebacker prospect in the country by • Member of the Jacksonville Times-Union Super 11 and Super 24 teams • Posted 82 tackles and eight sacks as a junior • Also played basketball and ran track • Holds the school record in the 400 meters • Coached by David Hess • His older brother, Shareff, played football at UCF • Son of Shareff and Sharon Rashad • Born March 17, 1994.

Jessie Rogers
Defensive End, 6-4, 240
Arlington, Texas (Bowie)

Considered the No. 80 defensive end prospect in the country by • Two-year starter on the defensive line • Helped lead team to a 9-4 record in 2011 and posted 51 tackles, 12 sacks and 6.5 tackles for losses • Also had five quarterback pressures, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one safety • Recorded 61 tackles, including 15 for losses and four sacks, as a junior • Coached by Kenny Perry • Son of Lisa and Jessie Rogers • Born July 1, 1994.

Malik Simmons
Cornerback, 5-11, 180
Lehigh Acres, Fla. (Lehigh)

Pronounced muh-LEEK • Played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and safety for Lehigh High School • Considered the No. 40 cornerback prospect in the country by and the No. 57 cornerback by • Listed by as the No. 85 athlete in the nation • Scored 12 touchdowns – seven rushing and five passing – as a junior • Coached by Peter Fominaya • Also competes on the track team and plays basketball • Son of Saundra and Andre Simmons • Born Dec. 29, 1993.

Kendrick Singleton
Wide Receiver, 6-2, 200
Macclenny, Fla. (Baker)

Played a variety of positions for Baker County High School in Glen Saint Mary, Fla., including wide receiver, running back and quarterback on offense and safety, cornerback and linebacker on defense • Helped lead Baker County to a 7-3 mark his senior season • Made 60 receptions for 1,085 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior to become the school’s all- time leading receiver • Earned second-team all-state honors • Caught 24 passes for 524 yards and four touchdowns as a junior • Also ran track • Son of Kendrick Singleton and Joyce Farmer • Born Oct. 13, 1993.

Nathan Staub
Linebacker, 6-2, 210
Buford, Ga. (Buford)

Pronounced STOB • Listed by as the No. 43 inside linebacker prospect in the nation • Considered the No. 8 fullback prospect in the country by • As a senior, Buford went 14-1 and advanced to the state finals before falling to Calhoun • Buford had won four consecutive state championships • Son of Kayanne and Eddie Staub • Coached by Jess Simpson • Born May 21, 1993.

James Summers
Quarterback, 6-2, 200
Greensboro, N.C. (Page) lists him as the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country • Considered the ninth-best prospect overall in North Carolina by • PrepStar All-Atlantic Region • Ranked the No. 23 player in North Carolina by SuperPrep • Described by SuperPrep as “undeniably the best senior quarterback in the state” and “is the ideal player to run a spread attack” • Completed 93 of 188 pass attempts for 1,506 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead Page to a perfect 15-0 season and the state 4-AA championship • Also ran for 1,631 yards on 185 rushing attempts and scored 22 times • Had 247 total yards of offense in the state finals • Member of North Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team • Amassed 2,890 total yards of offense and accounted for 37 touchdowns as a junior • Completed 102 of 207 attempts for 1,623 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 1,267 yards and 16 touchdowns • Son of Tonia Davis and George Carter (stepdad) • Born June 12, 1994.

Monte Taylor
Defensive End, 6-3, 235
Springdale, Md. (Flowers)

Played defensive end and tight end at C.H. Flowers High School • Posted 109 tackles and 12 sacks as a senior and helped lead his team to the state playoffs • Also had 15 catches for 372 yards and six touchdowns • Played in the Crab Bowl state all-star game • Considered the No. 32 player in Maryland by • Earned all-county honors and was a second-team all-metro performer • Selected second-team all-state • Coached by Mike Mayo • Son of Mo Taylor and Tina Tillman • Born March 24, 1993.

Justin Thomason
Defensive End, 6-4, 240
McDonough, Ga. (Eagle’s Landing Christian)

Named Class A first-team all-state after posting 109 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles as a senior • Also played tight end on offense and had 10 catches, including one for touchdown • Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy went 12-2 in his senior season, and advanced to the semifinals of the Class A playoffs • Played every position in the front seven • Named the region’s defensive player of the year • Rated one of the top 100 players in Georgia by SuperPrep • Also played basketball • Coached by Jonathan Gess • Son of Dennis and Linda Thomason • Born May 19, 1994.

Damien Washington
Wide Receiver, 6-1, 180
Kannapolis, N.C. (A.L. Brown)

Ranked the No. 35 prospect in North Carolina by SuperPrep • ranks him as the No. 100 athlete in the nation • Played running back in Brown’s spread offense • Member of North Carolina’s Shrine Bowl team • Played quarterback, wide receiver and safety • Returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to start his senior season • Rushed for 992 yards on 85 carries despite missing four games with a knee injury • Also had 17 receptions for 291 yards and completed two passes for touchdowns • Coached by Mike Newsome • Son of Bryant and Judy Foster • Born Damien Shamar Washington on Jan. 6, 1994.

Phillip Williamson
Linebacker, 6-3, 210
Durham, N.C. (Jordan)

Considered the No. 50 safety prospect in the country by • Among the top 100 outside linebacker prospects in the nation by • PrepStar All-Atlantic Region • Registered 162 tackles as a senior, which ranks near the top of the national charts • Also forced 10 fumbles • Ranked the No 27 player in North Carolina by SuperPrep • Began his career as a defensive back, but moved to linebacker as a senior • Earned all-conference as a defensive back and was named all-area by the Durham Herald-Sun • Was an all-districk wide receiver as a sophomore • Coached by Mike Briggs • Also participated in basketball and track • Son of Linda and Tim Williamson • Born Phillip Jamal Williamson on Oct. 21, 1993.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge


President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union


Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

MAC football
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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”