UMass bracing for life as an independent, but for how long?

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Times are rough for the college football independents, unless you happen to be Notre Dame. With BYU finding out the hard way the evolving world of college football will not be looking upon the program in a very positive light, the Cougars have been tied to the seemingly annual discussion about joining a conference (Big 12? Mountain West Conference?) to find stability as a football program. But even BYU’s perceived troubles may be something a program like UMass would dream of having. Entering the final season as a football associate member of the MAC, the Minutemen are now bracing for the realistic possibility of playing as a football independent until a more permanent solution can be concocted.

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon addressed the possibility of moving forward as an independent, but the long-term goal remains to find a suitable conference home.

“There will come a point fairly soon where we feel like if we don’t have a conference we have to build an independent schedule for a couple of years and we’ll have to get on top of doing that,” McCutcheon said in a report by Daily Hampshire Gazette. “It’s an option. It’s not something you want to do indefinitely, but it may be a necessity just in terms of timing to make sure we don’t get caught short. … I know people want answers and guarantees, but you just can’t give them all the time. It may be necessary for us to get an independent schedule for a few years and show that growth in the program to open some doors. The conference shift has never ended. It never will end. Somewhere an opportunity will emerge for us. It’s just where and when and that I feel confident about.”

The biggest problem for UMass is the realistic or worthwhile options for a conference home just are not to be found at the FBS level. The ACC and Big Ten have no interest in a program like UMass and despite the idea floating around before, the Sun Belt just makes no sense from a fiscal standpoint for the UMass football program. The best option the school may be hoping for at some point may be the American Athletic Conference, but that does not appear to be in the fold either. The AAC will be adding Navy as a football member in 2015, when the conference will have 12 football-playing members. That means the conference has no need to expand just for the sake of expansion (to start a championship game).

The move up to the FBS for UMass is looking more and more like a misguided one, but would the school actually contemplate dropping back down to the FCS? If it can swallow the pride, UMass should at least consider it as an option. It may be the best option left standing.

NCAA could approve all athletes to transfer without penalty as soon as April

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Presently, all college athletes except those in football, basketball, baseball and men’s hockey can transfer to another institution and play immediately. That could soon change.

The NCAA on Tuesday announced the Division I Transfer Working Group will consider granting all student-athletes a 1-time waiver to transfer without penalty, and if approved the change could come in effect in time for the 2020-21 academic year.

“The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape,” said working group chair Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

The news comes on the heels of the Big Ten proposing the current rules be scrapped, a proposal that was endorsed by the ACC this week.

If approved, the NCAA would now allow athletes to transfer without penalty as long as they: A) receive a release from their current school (and the NCAA has greatly restricted schools’ ability to restrict transfers in recent years), B) leave their outgoing school academically eligible, C) maintain eligibility at their current school, and D) are not suspended by their outgoing school.

The NCAA in 2018 liberalized its waiver process on a case-by-case basis, but those cases ended up boiling down to whose families had the money to hire the right lawyer, and often had nothing to do with the merits of their case. Rather than try to officiate that byzantine process, the NCAA is moving toward scrapping it.

“More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring,” Steinbrecher said. “This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”

The Transfer Working Group will solicit feedback from NCAA membership in advance of a vote by the Division I Council in April.

 

Texas’ recruiting director Bryan Carrington undergoes successful surgery

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One non-playing member of the Texas Longhorns football program is recovering from a surgical procedure a few months in the making.

During summer camp last year, Bryan Carrington was injured in a car wreck.  In a lengthy Twitter post Tuesday morning, Carrington explained that he recently underwent surgery to repair damage to his hips.  Per Carrington, he “tore both of my labrums that surround my hips” in that automobile accident.

Despite the injuries, Carrington continued his duties as the recruiting director for the Longhorns.  The staffer stated that he had “postponed my surgery until after the February signing period.”

I’ve been sleeping in and out and on medication for the last 24 hours, so I apologize I haven’t made an update sooner. Long story short, when I was 13, I broke both of my hips, also dislocating the right. Doctors put one screw into my left hip and two in my right hip. After an 18-week rehab, I was fully healed and free of any complications. I went on to letter in four sports in high school. This past August I was in a car accident that gave me a plethora of complications. It tore both of my labrums that surround my hips, which was painful and made me very unstable standing or sitting. I had trouble positioning myself to be comfortable when sitting, laying down or driving. I couldn’t stand or sit for long periods of time without pain and discomfort. I basically felt immobile and handicapped in my lower extremities.

“Similarly to athletes, I fought through the pain, discomfort, psychological and emotional stress for the [duration] of the season and postponed my surgery until after the February signing period. Yesterday, I had hip arthroscopy on my right leg with labral repair and osteoplasty to remove the impingements. Despite the hardships, I remain positive and in good spirits. I’ll be back better than ever. Thanks again.

Carrington was hired away from Houston not long after Tom Herman was named head coach in November of 2016.  This past National Signing Day, Texas Longhorns football finished with the top-ranked class in the Big 12 and the No. 9 group nationally on the 247Sports.com composite board.

Clemson, Georgia to open 2021 season in Charlotte

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The good news is that the rivalry between Clemson and Georgia will resume earlier than previously anticipated.  The not-so-good news?  It’ll be played off-campus.

Monday, both Clemson and Georgia announced that the two football programs will kick off the 2021 season against each other.  The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Sept. 4.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” said UGA head coach Kirby Smart. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

To make room for this non-conference game, Clemson canceled a previously-scheduled matchup with Wyoming while Georgia did the same with one against San Jose State.

Along with the addition of a new home-and-home announced in April of last year, the Tigers and Bulldogs are now scheduled to face each other six times between 2021 and 2033, including the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.  There’s also a previously announced home-and-home series scheduled for 2029 (in Clemson) and 2030 (in Georgia).

The two football programs have met 64 times previously, the first in 1897 and the most recent in 2014.  UGA leads the all-time series 42-18-4.

“The eyes of the nation will be on Charlotte as we start the 2021 season,” said UGA athletic director Greg McGarity. “It is yet another opportunity to strengthen our schedule and provide an opportunity for our supporters to enjoy another huge matchup. We will now have at least two Power 5 opponents on our schedule through 2033.

FCS head coach Brad Laird placed on unpaid leave after DWI arrest

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Courtesy of Brad Laird, it’s neither a player nor someone from the FBS level that’s at the center of the latest off-field issue in college football.

In 2018, Brad Laird was named as the head football coach at FCS Northwestern State.  Saturday night, Laird was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in Natchitoches, LA.  No details of what led to the arrest have been released.

However, Northwestern State announced Monday that Laird has been suspended without pay for a week.  The school did confirm, though, that Laird will retain his job moving forward.

The school also issued a pair of statements addressing the off-field development.

NSU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR GREG BURKE
“Brad Laird informed me on February 16 that he had been charged with a DWI the previous evening. The university takes misconduct by any employee seriously and especially one with the level of responsibility of a head coach. The university immediately investigated and confirmed this incident.

“I met with Coach Laird on the morning of February 17 and informed him that he would be suspended for one week without pay. He was also issued a letter of reprimand informing him of consequences that could result from any future misconduct that would violate the conditions of his contract with the university. The letter also outlined additional measures to address this incident. Having known Coach Laird for many years, I respect and was not surprised that he expressed regret about his lack of judgment in this incident and stated that it is his desire to learn from this matter and move forward as a better leader for the young men in the NSU football program.”

NSU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH BRAD LAIRD
“On Saturday night, February 15, I made a poor decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking alcohol. It was a poor and selfish decision, and I apologize to everyone who was unknowingly put at risk. I am extremely disappointed in this decision as this is not the type of behavior I instill in my players and staff. This was a lapse in judgment, and I take 100 percent responsibility for my actions.

“There are so many that are affected by my selfish decision. I would like to apologize to my family, Dr. Jim Henderson and the University Louisiana System, Dr. Chris Maggio and Northwestern State University, Mr. Greg Burke and the Northwestern State Athletic Department, and to the Northwestern State football players and coaches – past and present. As a role model for this great University and the players and coaches, I am disappointed as my actions were not in the best interest of my family, University, players and coaches. I completely understand there are consequences for all actions, and I accept the disciplinary terms that come with the decision I made Saturday night.”

In two seasons with the Demons, Laird has posted an 8-15 record.  The school went 5-6 in 2018 and 3-9 in 2019. In between his first and second seasons, Laird added two Power Five transfers and another from BYU.

Laird actually played his college football at the FCS school.  He also began his coaching career at his alma mater in 1996 as a graduate assistant.

In the ensuing years, the ties to NSU only deepened for Laird.  From 2003-05 and again from 2008-11, Laird was the Demons’ defensive coordinator.  Prior to being named head coach, he was the coordinator at NSU in 2017.