Category Archives: College FB

How Will the Te’o Madness End?

TeoI have no idea how this Manti Te’o madness will end. Right now, all I know is that I feel as if I’m being duped. I don’t know by whom, or by everyone (including my sportswriter colleagues who are no doubt enduring some serous career soul-searching tonight).

There are still soooo many questions, too many to even articulate. And the answers we’ve received, well, at least for me, don’t quite complete the most bizarre puzzle I may have ever witnessed in this profession.

Of course, the biggest question may be the simplest one: Why?

If Te’o is truly the victim, then why would someone go such machinations to perpetrate this hoax. Is this what passes for fun in the digital age? Is this what our kids have to look forward to, or be wary of? As a friend of mine often says, Who does that?!

If he’s not the victim, then why?

He seems like a fine young man, a spiritual young man–and he’s a terrific football player. He captured our consciousness for his play on the field, for his leadership. And he should have a solid future playing on Sundays.

So why?!

It has been reported that Te’o will speak soon, perhaps has early as Thursday. He must, and he must soon.

Because right now, only he can stop the madness.

Time to Give College Football Players the Same Leverage as their Coach

Kelly's headset was barely off before he was headed to Philly to discuss and NFL job.

Kelly’s headset was barely off before he was headed to Philly to discuss and NFL job.

Maybe it’s the timing that got under my skin. Had the jet carrying beaten and battered Notre Dame even touched down back in South Bend before Irish head coach Brian Kelly was straightening his tie and fussing with his hair awaiting a meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles to discuss their vacant head coach position?

It seems like he sneaked off to another gate and booked for the Northeast as his players continued to ice down and soothe their wounds from the beat-down they endured against national champion Alabama.

Just so we’re clear: I have absolutely no problem with college coaches striking while the confetti is still raining down on their shoulders and leverage their success for a fatter paycheck. No problem at all.

God Bless Penn State’s Bill O’Brien for doin’ the NFL Dance before “deciding” (wink) to $tay at Penn State earlier this week. Last fall, the man took perhaps the most toxic and unpredictable college gig in America and handled it with dignity and success, winning more games (eight) than anyone thought he would.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly was more like that guy on the dance floor who thinks he has some moves. His awkward twirl with Cleveland, Philadelphia and reportedly Buffalo was actually pathetic. He’s been dancing for a few seasons now and it seemed as if he was a goner for sure. And good for him. Like many coaches, it seemed like he wanted to someday coach at the highest level. But after all but calling for a U-Haul, he $suddenly decided go stay in Eugene, much to the shock of many and the delight of Duck faithful.

Now, here’s the other Kelly, the Irish savior–who three years ago was a relatively unknown Kelly at Cincinnati–standing at the precipice of Notre Dame lore. Dude was being sized-up for a pedestal that would stand alongside those hoisting Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as Irish coaches who won national championships. (A coach name Elmer Layden won one there, as well (1938) but alas I don’t believe he stands atop a pedestal, at least not one in South Bend.

But before the Irish defense has stopped flinching at the thought of ‘Bama’s 6′-2″, 220-pound running back Eddie Lacy, Kelly was dancin’.

Okay, so the confetti was raining on Nick Saban, not him, but Kelly was leveraging a blowout like nobody’s business–as is his right. But the timing was a bit stinky to me.

Moreover, his players couldn’t execute such leverage. What if they could? What if, say, Johnny Football (aka Maisel), the freshman Heisman Trophy winner, could have walked into head coach Kevin Sumlin office the morning after arriving back in Texas from New York and said, “Coach, I may not be any hotter than this, I’m heading to the NFL!”

But he can’t. Unless his potential one-and-done buddies on the basketball team, Johnny Football and other college players aren’t eligible for the NFL draft until they’ve been out of high school for three years.

We could debate all night about the merits of one-and-done, and in an age when the strength and condition programs at top college rival those of the NFL, I’m not wholly buying the idea that football is more physical and therefore the players should stay in college. They should at least be able to earn a living during the few years their bodies (and, ahem, their brains) will tolerate the game.

They should at least be able to do what their millionaire coaches do and leverage their success for economic gain.

They should at least be able to dance.

Griffin a Victim of NFL’s “Win Now” Mentality

griffininpain1Robert Griffin III (I’m not calling him RGIII again until he’s healthy) had surgery today. According to various reports doctors repaired a torn LCL and examined at previously injured ACL. Rehabilitation is likely to take months.

Like millions, I watched in pain as Griffin limped through the final desperate minutes of Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. At one juncture, as he gamely–but with a clear gimp–tried to lead a Redskins comeback, I tweeted “Get RGIII outta there!” But Mike Shanahan didn’t pay me any mind. And soon thereafter the future–hopefully–of the franchise, and maybe the most popular man in the nation’s capital, was carted off the field.

My immediate reaction was that Shanahan’s fateful decision was to blame. And it is.

And despite the esteemed Redskins team physician Dr James Andrews’s public moonwalking, he was also on the sideline, too, as Griffin remained on the field like a hobbled doe in the sights of a hungry pride.

Yet, this is football. Check that, this is the NFL, where the lives and fortunes of so many rest on moments of success or failure, of grandeur or defeat, of desperation. It was easy for me to think about getting the young quarterback out of there, just as hindsight has prompted millions of others to say, Of course he shouldn’t have been in there!

But my job wasn’t on the line. Not my livelihood. Shanahan was in the moment and that “moment” said win now.

NFL moments are not about tomorrow.

And that may cost the Redskins the quarterback who would have saved the franchise.

Hey, SI, What are you waiting for?!

It was a different time, or maybe it wasn’t. In 1986, Sports Illustrated dispatched the talented Rick Reilly to chronicle the life and times of Joe Paterno, already an iconic figure in sports. Paterno was to be named Sportsman of the Year, one of the most prestigious honors in our industry and one help by a list of luminaries that is its own Hall of Fame of men and women who shaped and elevate our games.

It was a different time. Now, Paterno must be stricken from that list.

In fact, I’m curious why it’s taken so long for my former colleagues (I worked at SI 1978-81, ’89-’94 and ’03-’05) to do so.

What else do they need to know? In fact, it should have been done even before the Freeh report outlined the conspiracy of silence that allowed young boys to be molested by Jerry Sandusky long after Paterno (and others at the university) knew Sandusky was a sick and dangerous man.

On Monday, the NCAA all but put the Not-so-Nittany Lions into the ground with a package of sanctions that will tame that program for a decade–$60 million fine, significant loss of scholarships, four years probation and bowl ban and the vacating of every Paterno victory since 1998, the year she should have gone to law enforcement officials and told them about the sick bastard that was attacking victims in campus showers.

By the time, NCAA president Mark Emmert had finished reading the package of sanctions yesterday morning, Paterno should have no longer been recognized as a Sportsman of the Year.

The statue is gone.

Paterno’s name was removed from, of all places, a child care center on the Nike campus.

And Rick Reilly now recognizes that he was duped.

Yet Joe Paterno is still listed as the 1986 Sportsman of the Year.

Why?

Here We Go Again: Why College Football in Dumbest Major Sport

Yes, the BCS blew it. The rematch between LSU and Alabama for the now very mythical national championship is absurd. LSU should be facing Oklahoma State (which trailed ‘Bama in the computer rankings by about a nose hair) on January 9th. Pure. Simple.

Instead, the Cowboys will play a thrilling matchup with Stanford on January 2, a game I venture will have a larger national following than the Repeat Bowl.

I’m really tired of arguing that college football should have a playoff. I don;t even feel like I’m arguing against anyone anymore. Even those die-hards who say the regular season is a playoff are mute now since it seems that game between LSU and ‘Bama a few weeks ago was a non-playoff playoff game. If it was a playoff game, the Tide would be rolling to, say, the Fiesta Bowl to meet Andrew Luck and the Cardinal.

No one is being served by the current state of college football – but the BCS and the SEC.

And that’s a shame.

Someone Must Die (So College Sports May Live)

Shutting down a vaunted program will send a much-needed message: No cheaters allowed!

I was heartened by what I heard coming out of last week’s annual gathering of athletic directors and rising star assistant coaches known as the Villa 7 conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. In an age when college sports is dissolving into a backwash of lies, cheating and other sordid scandals, the men and women who hope to be head coaches say they want no part of it and would like the NCAA to issue stiffer sanctions to those programs caught afoul of the rules.

VCU coach Shaka Smart’s vivid quote in The New York Times has been widely viewed as the kind of bold stance college sports’ next generation of coaches seems willing to embrace in order to avoid falling into the same mud hole that is swallowing so many of their predecessors:

“To me, there’s a way to dissuade people from violating the rules,” he said. “It’s to penalize more. In some cultures, if you steal, they cut your hand off. They probably have a lot less theft.”

Allow me to Shaka-it-up even more: In order to truly begin cleansing college sports, the NCAA must revive the death penalty.

More correctly, the organization must be willing to use it again.

The death penalty is, of course, the NCAA’s ultimate sanction: shutting down a program for at least an entire season. No more games. Cue the crickets.

It was most famously levied against SMU’s football program in 1986 when, while already on probation for major recruiting violations, the Mustangs were found to be paying players through an elaborate subterfuge aided and abetted by athletic department officials and an arrogant booster. (That’s redundant, I know.)

The NCAA shuttered the program for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. It was the first use of the new “repeat violator” rule, which allowed the NCAA to shut down a sport for one or two seasons if an institution committed a second major violation in five years.

Not surprisingly, the move devastated the Mustangs program, which had been widely respected and among the most successful in the nation. Hence the catchier “death penalty” moniker was born. Only just now, after nearly a quarter century, is SMU football beginning to hold its head high again.

The deep and sobering impact the death penalty had on SMU has seemed to make the NCAA skittish about levying it ever since.

But it has done so — sort of.

In 2003, the NCAA squashed historically black Morehouse College’s soccer team and banned it until 2006 after discovering recruiting violations involving two Nigerian players and a “lack of institutional control.” (Allegedly, some school officials didn’t even know the school had a soccer team!) Today, soccer at Morehouse is an intramural sport. Division III MacMurray College lost its 2006 and 2007 seasons after the school was found to have provided scholarships to 10 international players. The violation? Division III schools are not allow to offer athletic scholarships.

So while the NCAA has swung its big stick, it hasn’t come close to the big fat piñatas hanging in the middle the room — the ones plastered with names such as Auburn, UConn, North Carolina, Ohio State, USC, Tennessee and myriad other major universities with recent or future appointments with the NCAA.

And in the meantime, many of those schools have thrived on the field. Added Smart: “I think it’s pretty clear to a lot of people in this business that a lot of people who have broken the rules or bent the rules have prospered.”

No school feels any threat that its money-printing and money-burning machines — uh, programs, rather — might be deleted for something as trivial as, say, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a street agent or family member for delivering a star player or “money handshake” or lying to NCAA investigators.

That’s why, in part, we are where we are — cringing at the daily headlines of impropriety run amok.

Until coaches, administrators and boosters do know their precious games can be eliminated, until they truly believe the NCAA will recast the hell of oblivion experienced by Mustangs football upon any institution that spits upon the rules, college sports will sink deeper and deeper into the mud hole.

And too, more and more coaches with stellar dossiers — icons such as Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and the once-celebrated (now exiled) former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl — will reek of the stench of impropriety. Or be out of a job.

It’s no mystery why a few “new” schools were widely cheered over the last year for more than their success on the football field or basketball court. Stanford (disclosure: it’s my alma mater), Butler and VCU were among those institutions lauded not only for winning but also for doing so “the right way.”

Translation: They didn’t cheat. At least not that we know.

Sure, we all root for our schools. And the more they win, the closer they get to a championship of any sort, the easier it is to cheer for them, no matter which “way” they got there.

But my tolerance is waning. Fast.

And, thankfully, the next generation of coaches doesn’t seem to walk in the same muddy trails. Nor are they afraid to say so.

This fall, Ohio State and Auburn will be among the institutions that open their seasons beneath the cloud of an NCAA investigation that could affect their records in recent seasons.

Now is the time for the NCAA to let them, and all schools, know that their misdeeds will cost them, dearly. Perhaps for illegally texting a recruit … off with their thumbs!

Who Needs the NFL Combine? Not me!

Smoke 'em if you got 'em? Mallet ain't sayin'

I hate the NFL combine. I really do. Oh, I understand why it’s necessary. It allows teams to come together and scrutinize their future millionaires (hey, even if there is a rookie wage scale, these kids will still make more than you or me) in a controlled environment, the better to make the kind of assessment necessary before making a commitment.
I get that. Still hate the combine.
I hate it for much the same reason I hate how some companies evaluate some future employees: they focus on what the person can’t do rather than on what they can.
And usually that approach targets the most talented skill players. The QBs. The WRs. The RBs.
The Cam Newtons and Ryan Mallets.
Both young and talented QBs may have hoisted proverbial “red flags” with actions and/or comments in recent days that seemed to mitigate almost everything they did on the field on college.
Some guy from the Tennessee Titans asked Newton why he ran a QBs sneak rather than taking a knee on the final play of the national championship game.
Apparently, Newton became defensive with his response.
Frankly, I would have just showed the dude my championship ring.
Millet seems haunted by rumors that he may or may not have used drugs in college.
Another relatively obscure guy – SF 49ers GM Tony Softli told ESPN Radio: “A lot of guys are comparing Mallett to Ryan Leaf.”
Franky, Tony, I’d be more concerned if they were comparing him to Alex Smith, your former No.1 (slash bust) QB.
On Sunday, Newton missed several passes in drills, passes to receivers he’d never played with.
Uh oh, red flags.
Mallett, by contrast, played well on Sunday, emerging from the three-, four- and five-step drop drills as the top QB.
Good for him. Now can we just end the combine?
If “guys” don’t know that they know by know, they don’t know anything.

Cam Newton apparently got defensive when

Daddy Cam = Mommy/Daddy Bush?

Was Cam's sig worth $200,000 to Auburn?

Oh, I bet the Heisman folks are fidgeting right about now.
The news this morning that someone – maybe or maybe not working on behalf of someone maybe or maybe not related to Auburn QB/Heisman fav Cam Newton – was telling schools it would take $200,000 to sign the player out of junior college last year really isn’t “news,” now is it?
Not just weeks after SI’s illuminating story of an agent gone wild, and in the wake of the revelations regarding Reggie Bush’s apparently lucrative days at USC, which led to USC being slapped with probation and Bush being stripped of his Heisman.
So we’ve seen this movie.
Nothing has been proven, of course, and the NCAA (God bless ’em) is investigating, which means Newton will be leading the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl before any findings are announced.
But you have to believe something is amiss. And that’s too bad because it’s already tainted a very talented and seemingly fine young man.
In many ways, agents, cash and greedy relative are college sports’ “steroids” issue.
And just as the drug saga dragged baseball into the pits before the game decided enough was enough, it will likely have to get a whole lot worse for college sports this madness ends.
If it will ever end at all.

The Next Great Black QB? Tim Tebow!

The scrutiny of Tebow's skills reminiscent of how Black QBs are dissected

“It wasn’t until the Senior Bowl that [quarterback] transformed from glorified option to one of the primary options in the draft.”

“Sometimes gets too confident in his running skills, forgetting to eye his secondary receivers in order to run with the ball when his primary target is not available.”

“Although he is improving, [quarterback] has a long way to go as a passer at the next level. His mechanics are inconsistent … ”

Those assessments were pretty standard thinking among pre-NFL draft prognosticators in their descriptions of Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Vince Young, each of whom happen to be African-Americans and who went on to be pretty good NFL QBs.

Now we have another young “black” QB, prime for the upcoming draft, who’s being brushed with the same labels: Runs before throws. Forgets secondary receivers. Bad mechanics.

His name is Tim Tebow.

Like his “brothers” – or former Nebraska QB Scott Frost, who primarily played safety after being drafted by the Jets in 1998 – Tebow doesn’t fit the mold the NFL trots out each year to describe its ideal QB. He is as much of a threat to run as pass, which can sometimes make a guy a one-hit goner (See: Miami QB Pat White). And often during his four years at Florida, he used his massive legs when, yes, there might have been a secondary or check-down option.

And even I know he throws funny – almost like the ball is too small for his massive hands or maybe he doesn’t want to hurt someone by throwing it too hard. So he kind of sidearms the thing, which means an NFL lineman on his knees might bat it down.

I’ll grant you all those truths, but none of them would sway me into trying to make the guy, say, a linebacker.

Tebow will find a way to be an above-average NFL QB. Not saying he’ll be a perennial all-pro. But he won’t be Alex Smith. Or, ahem, JaMarcus Russell.

He’ll work, listen and grow his way through the scouting combine and pre-draft workout sessions, and he’ll come to training camp like he did as a Gator freshman, prepared to sit behind an incumbent until called upon.

Tebow has gifts. Some tangible, very tangible to any defender who tried to tackle him. He also played on two national championship teams, won a Heisman (and was such a lock-on finalist the Downtown Athletic Club might accidentally invite him back next year) and as a starter perhaps played in more pressure games than any player in the history of college football.

But mostly, his assets are intangible: An ability to inspire and lead. To win.

For those there is no mold, which is why every NFL exec is wringing his hands over whether to go with the mold and risk passing on one of the most productive QBs of the next generation, or put their job on the line by tabbing him in either the first or second round.

Of course the mold has cracks, and it has worked against some black QBs.

“Well you can just see it. Just a flick of the wrist he can throw the ball 55-60 yards downfield, no effort … he can make a throw only a great athlete can make.”

One NFL coach said that about Akili Smith, an Oregon QB who was subsequently taken with the No. 3 pick in the 1999 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. In four years he started only 17 games, and is now preparing to earn his masters in theology and become a pastor.

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Sports Needs an Economic Attitude Adjustment

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

It’s getting ugly out there.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he’ll slash his pay package by as much as 25 percent in order to save a few jobs. However, he can’t save them all. Anonymous team employees throughout sports are being sliced with the same sickle that has eliminated millions of jobs across America since last fall. NBA owners are divvying up $200 million in loans to cover millions in shortfalls due to diminishing ticket buyers and vanishing sponsors.

Every sport, maybe for the first time ever, is feeling the same economic pinch as the fans.

Pretty soon, NASCAR teams may consider carpooling.

And yet: Albert Haynesworth gets $100 million from Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Manny Ramirez snub $45 million like it’s s stick insult before coming to his senses this week – and Jim Calhoun (pictured) just doesn’t get it.

Ugly.

The relationship between sports and fans has long been tenuous – not coincidentally, as salaries have risen to Wall Street CEOesque levels. That’s especially true among fans of a generation when their own paychecks carried pretty much the same digits as the men (and, yes, they were mostly men then, too) they cheered. Superstars always made superstar money, but there was a time when the working-stiff jock actually made near working-stiff wages.

So did most coaches – guys who chose the profession for the love of their sport more than the love of money.

Not anymore. Sports has created a new, young class of fast-twitch millionaires: guys who won the gene pool lottery and, in most instances, applied diligence, discipline and plain old hard work to their physical gifts and reached the highest level of their sport. And on the sidelines, pro coaches can afford to live next door to their superstars. In college, many make more than all but their elite players ever will.

I don’t begrudge any of them. I’ve always chuckled at the petty grumblings of folks who rail against them for one sin (“They’re not as good as their predecessors.”) or another (“They don’t hustle.”) when what they really mean is: They make too much damn money.

I typically chalk up their rants to ignorance and jealousy, and move on.

But now it could get uglier than a few rants. As more Americans are stripped of their livelihoods each day, sports is being given less of a pass.

Calhoun was asked at a postgame press conference to comment on his $1.6 million annual base salary at UConn, which makes him one of the highest-paid state employees at a time when Connecticut is facing a reported $944 million budget deficit that is projected to be $8 billion in two years.

His snippy response – “My advice to you is, shut up,” followed by a rift on how much money the Huskies generate for the university – has been polarizing. Governor M. Jodi Rell called it “embarrassing,” and the leaders of the state’s General Assembly want Calhoun to be reprimanded by the university. Conversely, many have defended the coach’s reaction, saying his success through the years more than justifies his compensation – even in these trying times.

Calhoun could have been more mature in his response, even if he has the data to back his argument. As it stands, he’s come off as the newest poster boy for the excesses of sports and showed how out of touch he is with Joe Taxpayer.

And it’s more than an isolated tempest. Attendance will likely be unaffected in Storrs, but loyal ticket-buyers elsewhere are deciding they can no longer afford to see their favorite team live or buy that $100 jersey; or they simply no longer have the desire to go see athletes and coaches who don’t seem to feel their pain.

As they grow weary of the kind of “not-my-economic problem” attitude displayed by Calhoun, Ramirez and others, sports may lose its status as The Great Escape. More fans may no longer see sports as a respite from the woes of their lives.

If sports can no longer serve that purpose, then what’s its purpose?

That’s a question no one wants to answer.

Reuters photograph