No Division 4 for NCAA, yet

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With the future stability of the NCAA a hot topic in collegiate athletics, most notably in football, one member of the NCAA’s board of directors is not seeing any potential split by the power conferences that drive the sport. Not yet, at least. Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest and chairman of the NCAA’s board of directors, says the goal is still to have one top division in collegiate athletics.

“From what I’ve heard in the association, I think people would like to have one Division I, but in some ways, a structure that will make certain differentiations between small conferences and big conferences,” said Hatch, according to a report from USA Today. “I think people like having one division.”

Ideally, yes, that is the ultimate goal moving forward. Some powerful people in college football have begun to draw a line with the NCAA, challenging it to make some serious changes before the conferences join together to take it upon themselves. SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby all figure to be smart enough to a new strategy if it does end up getting to that point. American commissioner Mike Aresco has said before if a split from the NCAA does come in to play that his conference would expect to be a part of the mix. The idea of Division 4 was a major talking point in each conference during the summer’s media days for football and has continued to crop up in recent weeks as basketball season is getting set for the upcoming season.

One of the major concerns the conferences have is in the NCAA’s inability to enforce their rules, with a lack of consistency from case to case around the country. The NCAA is aware how important it is to address enforcement changes.

“There will have to be some give and take as we go down the road, but the fact that all 351 (Division I) athletics directors are speaking out of the same hymnal, it’s the first time in my 20 years,” said Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke. “I think we recognize there are unique demands, pressures and resources (on the big schools), so there has to be some autonomy on some select issues, but there’s an awful lot of commonality.”

The idea of a Division 4, which would hypothetically include the top conferences in college football such as the SEC, Big Ten and Pac 12 splitting from the existing NCAA model to form their own governing body and allow for a new vision and experience. While the frustrations from conference to conference tend to stem on how the NCAA is managed and how rules are enforced, money is also a big topic around college football.

When money talks, conferences could walk.

Oregon lands commitment from nation’s No. 2 player

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Mario Cristobal got the biggest win of his Oregon head coaching tenure on Saturday, the Ducks don’t play again until New Year’s Eve.

Oregon landed the commitment of 5-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on Saturday, a 6-foot-4, 239-pound defensive end out of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thibodeaux announced his pledge on ESPN during halftime of Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl drubbing of North Texas.

Thibodeaux is rated the No. 1 player in ESPN’s rankings and No. 10 by Rivals and 247Sports. Those rankings put him at No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, trailing only IMG Academy defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit.

Oregon beat out Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Thibodeaux’s services.

“There were a lot of reasons why I chose Oregon,” Thibodeaux said, via 247Sports. “I have a great comfort level with the coaching staff and I know I can go in there and get developed. I’ve known coach (Keith) Heyward since I was just a freshman and I really like coach Joe (Salave’a, DL coach) a lot. He’s a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country and I can’t wait to learn from him.

Thibodeaux will be only the third 247Sports Composite top-2 player to sign with a Pac-12 school in the past decade, following USC’s Matt Barkley in 2009 and UCLA’s Jalean Phillips in 2017. As a cautionary tale for all in Eugene, neither player really lived up to his respective billing. Barkely did not lead USC back to the elite of college football and has thrown just 174 passes as a mid-round NFL draft pick, while Phillips is reportedly leaving the team after two seasons at UCLA.

With Thibodeaux now in the fold, Oregon’s 2019 class now ranks No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, a 20-man class that includes 11 4-stars and now a 12th blue chip player in Thibodeaux.

Morningside College claims first NAIA national title

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A 16-yard touchdown pass from Trent Solsma to Connor Niles with 1:29 remaining handed Morningside College its first NAIA national championship on Saturday, capping a 35-28 win over Benedictine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Morningside College is located Sioux Falls, Iowa, while Benedictine College is in Atchison, Kan.

The Solsma-to-Niles connection was massive for Morningside. Solsma completed 19-of-36 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions, with the bulk of the damage going to Niles, who caught seven passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.

The game started with a Shaefer Schuetz 26-yard touchdown pass for Benedictine, as the Ravens held leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 20-14 — all in the first half. But the Morningside defense stepped up in the second half, allowing the Mustangs to take control of the game with two Solsma touchdown passes, the first an 80-yarder to Niles, then a 19-yard score to Reid Jurgensmeier, putting Morningside in front 28-20 at the 9:53 mark of the third quarter.

Benedictine forged the game’s third tie with a 1-yard Frank Trent rush with 5:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, then had a chance to take the lead again after forcing a Morningside punt, but a holding call killed the Ravens’ drive and then disaster struck when a botched punt snap handed Morningside the ball at the Benedictine 18-yard line with two minutes remaining. On a 3rd-and-8 from the 16, Solsma found Niles for the winning score.

“It was going to him no matter what,” Solsma said. “He’s made big plays his entire career. This was no different.”

Niles’ catch, the last of his career, saw him finish with 6,175 career receiving yards, the most in NAIA history.

“I just remember catching it and then going to my knees,” Niles said. “After that, it was all cameras and teammates mobbing me. This is absolutely amazing.”

Morningside had been on the cusp of their first national title for the majority of the decade; the Mustangs lost the NAIA title game in 2012 and then fell in the NAIA semifinals in four of the past five seasons. The semifinal round saw Morningside avenge its 2016 and ’17 playoff losses to the University of Saint Francis — who would go on to win those seasons’ national titles — in a 34-28 overtime thriller.

“I’ve been motivated to not let this season end,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “The toughest part for me was that, at the end of the night, the year would be over. I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished. It ended the way we were hoping … I’m ecstatic.”

Report: Former No. 1 recruit Jaelan Phillips leaves team at UCLA

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UCLA linebacker Jaelan Phillips has left the team and is unlikely to return, according to a report from BruinReportOnline.

Phillips, a Redlands, Calif., native, was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He enrolled in January of that year but has yet to make an impact one would expect of the top overall player in his class. He started his first game as a Bruin as well as three more in 2017 and finished the year with 21 tackles, seven TFLs and 3.5 sacks.

He appeared in just four games as a sophomore, posting 20 tackles with one sack, while battling a number of injuries.

According to the report, Phillips is considering quitting football altogether, but if he does transfer and play elsewhere — he would have two years of eligibility remaining — it would be at a school that offers a music production/technology degree, which UCLA does not.

 

Valdosta State wins fourth Division II national championship in thriller

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The best game you (probably) didn’t see on Saturday went down in McKinney, Texas, where Valdosta State (Ga.) took down Ferris State (Mich.) in a thrilling Division II National Championship.

In a back-and-forth game that saw the lead change hands seven times in the second and third quarters, Valdosta State seemingly seized control when Rogan Wells hit Travis Taylor for a 1-yard touchdown toss, handing the Blazers a 42-31 lead with 4:25 left in the third quarter.

Ferris State pulled back within 42-38 by the end of the third quarter, though, through this acrobatic touchdown grab by Keyondre Craig.

Wells’ fifth touchdown pass of the game put Valdosta State in front 49-38 with 11:36 to play, but a Ferris State field goal cut the lead back to single digits, and then a turnover on downs at the Ferris State 34 gave the Bulldogs a chance to send the game to overtime. A 5-play, 66-yard drive gave Ferris State the touchdown it needed with 40 seconds left, but the requisite 2-point try was no good.

“When I saw the ball high and wide, that was a great feeling,” Valdosta head coach Kerwin Bell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“This was the first one we pulled out (this season) — 0-for-1,” Ferris State head coach Tony Annese told the Detroit Free Press afterward. “In the end, I told them it was my fault we lost because we probably should have had a better two-point conversion play.”

Valdosta State’s defense held, and the 49-47 win gave the program its fourth Division II national championship.

Wells earned MVP honors for Valdosta State, hitting 19-of-31 passes for 349 yards and five touchdowns. Ferris State’s Jayru Campbell — winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II’s Heisman Trophy equivalent — completed 10-of-18 passes for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception while posting a game-high 22 carries for 122 yards and a score.

Valdosta State, picked fifth in the Gulf South Conference in preseason, completed the first undefeated season in school history at 14-0. The national title is Valdosta’s first since 2012; the Blazers also won national titles in 2004 and 2007.