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Alabama relents, grants Maurice Smith a release; decision on Georgia move now in SEC’s hands

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It appears Maurice Smith‘s extended nightmare — and Alabama’s national embarrassment — has nearly come to an end.

Pending SEC approval, TideSports.com first reported, UA’s athletic department has granted Smith a full release to transfer wherever he wants, including inside of the conference.  Smith has very publicly stated that he wants to transfer to Georgia, but head coach Nick Saban had steadfastly refused to grant a release to another SEC program.

Wednesday, however, Saban acknowledged that he had relented, leaving any decision moving forward in the hands of the conference.

“We have done everything that we can do institutionally to allow the conference to make the decision about whatever they decide is in the best interest of the conference and the SEC rules relative to Maurice Smith,” Saban said according to al.com. “So that is past us now. It is beyond us. We don’t really need to talk about that anymore and I don’t have any other comments to make about it.”

A source confirmed to al.com that Smith has already applied for a waiver with the SEC that, as a grad transfer, would grant him immediate eligibility at Georgia if approved.  UGA has already kicked off summer camp, and Smith still needs to apply to and be accepted at a grad school at the university; in a statement, the SEC said that the “[t]he intent is for the waiver process to be handled in an efficient but deliberate manner, so the timeline for resolution of a waiver request varies with each unique situation.”

Below is the SEC’s full statement:

As part of the SEC waiver process, a due diligence procedure ensures that pertinent information from the involved parties is gathered. This information is gathered for the purpose of a thoughtful and appropriate consideration of the particular facts associated with each case. The intent is for the waiver process to be handled in an efficient but deliberate manner, so the timeline for resolution of a waiver request varies with each unique situation.

“The SEC does not provide waivers of SEC rules absent circumstances that demonstrate a clear reason for granting an exception to those rules. Each waiver request is reviewed on a case by case basis.

The situation involving Smith has renewed the debate once again as to why coaches are free to move about the country whenever they so desire — restricted only by their or their new employer’s ability to pay a buyout — but players, especially players who have already graduated, are restricted by arcane bylaws at both the NCAA and conference levels.

Petulance is never a good look, especially for a profession that makes millions of dollars off the backs of student-athletes who are treated like employees but don’t enjoy the same benefits.  Or respect when it comes to moving on.

Jimbo Fisher doesn’t ‘know anything about’ report alleging NCAA violations, injury mishandling

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Not surprisingly, Sgt. Schultz showed up at the podium in College Station Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, a report surfaced in which Arizona’s Santino Marchiol, a transfer from Texas A&M, is seeking a waiver from the NCAA that would give him immediate eligibility with the Wildcats in 2018 if granted.  The details of Marchiol’s waiver application, though, are what’s causing some significant waves on multiple fronts as the linebacker is claiming, as a partial basis for his appeal, that an A&M assistant coach gave him hundreds of dollars in cash this past spring that was to be used to entertain Aggie recruits on unofficial visits.  Additionally, Marchiol alleged that the A&M coaching staff, under new head coach Jimbo Fisher, flouted NCAA bylaws in regards to summer workouts as well as alluding to the mishandling of injuries.

Following practice Friday, Fisher was asked about accusations contained in the report that, if pursued and proven, could result in NCAA violations and potential, albeit minor, penalties for the football program.

“I’ll comment on the players on our team right now,” Fisher said by way of 247Sports.com. “That’s all I can do.”

A&M lured Fisher away from Florida State late last year with a 10-year, $75 million contract.  Fisher replaced Kevin Sumlin, who was fired as A&M’s head coach in November of last year and now holds the same job at… Arizona.

Les Miles makes cameo in Dr. Pepper’s new college football ad campaign

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The college football offseason is a time of transition in what can be a volatile business with very little job security. That’s true for the coaches and, apparently, the commercial pitch men. Dr. Pepper, one of the leading ad buyers in college football and a lead sponsor of the College Football Playoff, shelved its concession salesman Larry Culpepper (played by Jim Connor) after four seasons.

“Larry Culpepper has been a great part of our Dr Pepper college football sponsorship for the past four years and has helped us delight fans throughout the season. With the renewal of our college football sponsorship, we’ve decided to take our football-related advertising in a new creative direction and are planning an all-new campaign this season,” a Dr. Pepper spokesperson told Ad Age in May.

The new campaign is now out, and the soft drink brand has replaced one over-the-top character with another. Exit, Larry Culpepper. Enter, Les Miles. Also making cameos are College Football Hall of Famers Brian Bosworth and Eddie George.

The former Oklahoma State and LSU head coach and current aspiring actor makes a cameo in Dr. Pepper’s new “Fanville” universe that will surely have you begging for mercy by the first of October.

If you didn’t notice the first time around, make sure you rewind to the 49-second mark and check out the bag Miles snacks out of.

Texas Tech RB Da’Leon Ward arrested on felony theft charge

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Texas Tech running back Da’Leon Ward was arrested Tuesday on a charge of theft between $2,500 and $30,000, a felony.

According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Ward was the subject of a Texas Tech Police Department investigation after three cell phones were reported stolen from Texas Tech’s student recreation center in a 20-minute period last Nov. 14. He was indicted in June, but the indictment was sealed.

Texas Tech did not have a comment on Ward’s arrest, because the Avalanche-Journal broke the news of Ward’s arrest to the Tech athletics department.

A Dallas native, Ward became the first true freshman since 1999 to lead the Red Raiders in rushing in 2016, carrying 103 times for 428 yards and three touchdowns while catching 18 passes for 131 yards. Despite playing sparingly or not at all until late October, Ward exploded late in the year. He rushed 23 times for 98 yards against TCU and rushed a combined 67 times for 272 yards against Texas, Iowa State and Baylor to close that year.

Ward, however, redshirted in 2017, to improve his “academics and maturity.”

Entering the year, Texas Tech expected Ward to pair with senior Tre King to handle the majority of the Red Raiders’ carries.

Former Texas A&M linebacker alleges recruiting, practice violations by Jimbo Fisher’s staff

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Former Texas A&M linebacker Santino Marchiol revealed in June he intended to transfer to Arizona. The Aggies had hired a new coach, Jimbo Fisher, and the coach who recruited him, Kevin Sumlin, was now in Tucson. Marichol enrolled at Texas A&M in January of 2017 and redshirted his first season in College Station, meaning to make the move to Arizona, he’d have to sacrifice a season of eligibility unless the NCAA granted him a waiver.

And as Dan Wolken of USA Today details, Marichol tried a perhaps unprecedented path to gain immediate eligibility at Arizona: by alleging NCAA violations at his old school. According to Marichol, he was handed hundreds of dollars in cash by Aggies assistant Bradley Dale Peveto to host recruits on official visits:

On two separate weekends this spring, Marchiol told USA TODAY Sports, he was given hundreds of dollars in cash by linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto to entertain prospects on unofficial visits. Those recruiting visits occurred, he said, following the April 14 spring game with Zach Edwards, a three-star linebacker from Starkville, Mississippi, and the second weekend in June with four-star linebacker Christian Harris (now a Texas A&M verbal commitment) and Nakobe Dean from Horn Lake, Mississippi, ranked as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country by Rivals.com.

While NCAA rules at the time allowed schools to give a student host $40 a day to entertain recruits during official visits, prospects must pay their own expenses for unofficial visits, meaning any money provided by coaches would be an NCAA rules violation. Recruits are allowed to take up to five all-expenses-paid official visits each, but many also add unofficial visits to see other schools or make additional visits to a favorite school. News accounts of the visits that Marchiol discussed indicate all were unofficial.

Marchiol describes being taken aback after the spring game when Peveto pulled him into a bathroom near the coaches’ offices and handed him $300.

“There were coaches having meetings in the other office, and he said, here, come in the bathroom real quick because he’d just asked me to host the recruit,” Marchiol said. “So I went in the bathroom and it was just me and him in there, and he’s like, ‘Take this, if you need any more just text me and make sure they have a good time.’ ”

On the second occasion, Marchiol said, the money exchange took place in the bathroom at Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe in College Station, a restaurant where the team frequently takes recruits to eat. Marchiol said he received $400 in cash from Peveto and  that a teammate Marchiol identified in his waiver request was handed another $300 during the exchange.

“You know how you tip people in Vegas? He had the cash in his hand and he like handed it to us like, here (with a handshake),” Marchiol said.

But that wasn’t the only way in which current Aggies coaches have skirted NCAA rules, according to Marichol. Over this summer, Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Elko directed players to spend time at the football facility working on football activities far beyond the allowable levels as permitted by the NCAA.

When Texas A&M’s players returned after Memorial Day weekend, defensive coordinator Mike Elko brought his players into a meeting and made clear what he expected of them: “He said, ‘We’re going to have a lot of meetings and practices that aren’t technically required, but you guys have to be here because you’re way behind. We need to win,’ ” Marchiol said. 

Marichol said players were required to be at the facility from 9 a.m. until “well after” 6:30 p.m. four days a week through the summer and that coaches observed and instructed their 7-on-7 practices, with Elko demonstrating proper technique and alignment, as would be typical of a fall or spring practice but disallowed in the summer by NCAA bylaws.

Finally, Marichol said Aggies trainers mishandled an ankle injury he suffered in June.

Marchiol said he believes he was pushed to play through the injury because of a belief coaches frequently shared loudly with the players: The Aggies program had been like a country club under Sumlin. In fact, he said, everything in the message of Fisher and his assistants had been themed to demand more toughness, from the duration of workouts to the language coaches used on the field to players being told outright that highly rated recruits were coming to replace them.

Marichol is being represented by Thomas Mars, an Arkansas-based lawyer who represented Houston Nutt in his suit against Ole Miss. The NCAA does not comment on current or potential cases. A Texas A&M spokesperson said: “Texas A&M Athletics takes these allegations seriously, and we are reviewing the situation with the NCAA and the SEC Office.”

The Aggies open their first season under Fisher on Sept. 1 against Northwestern State (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).