Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Catching up: Should I stay or should I go?

* Football over baseball (for now): Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is celebrating Christmas in July right now, because QB Kyle Parker (who seemed to be gone when the Colorado Rockies took him in the first round last month) announced Wednesday that he's turning down $2.4 million in signing bonuses to return to school and play football this fall.

He definitely left open the possibility of leaving next offseason -- or any other time -- to focus exclusively on baseball, but at least top prospect Tajh Boyd would have more than a few spring practices under his belt by that point. The transition would be a little more manageable.

Parker's not quite Drew Henson in terms of football ability, but he's pretty good. He completed 55.6% of his passes with 20 TDs and 12 interceptions last year as a redshirt freshman, and he lit up both Miami and Florida State with a combined seven touchdowns passes. The $2.4 million question is whether he can do that without C.J. Spiller's 1,700 total yards and Jacoby Ford running circles around people. If he can, Clemson will be at or near the top of the ACC Atlantic again.

* Martin changes his mind: Cal freshman Chris Martin, a five-star prospect and one of the top defensive ends/outside linebackers in the country according to Rivals, lasted all of about four months as part of the Golden Bears' recruiting class:
Chris Martin, one of the top recruits from Cal's 2010 signing class, has announced his intention to transfer out due to "distractions."

"My decision to transfer definitely does not reflect on the football program or the academics at Cal," he said in a press release. "Rather, I feel like for me to focus and truly reach my potential I need to leave many of the distractions I have here at home in the Bay Area.

"I need to venture away from home and start my college career somewhere else where I don't have those distractions."

Martin went to high school in Oakland. If you're thinking it's a little odd to commit to what's basically your hometown school and then decide four months later that there are too many "distractions" in the area, you're correct. But if there are some people around him who are getting into trouble or making him think he'd be better off somewhere else, I can't blame him. He's 18.

So where's he headed? Well ... when this guy wants to get away from home, he really gets away:
A day after he notified the University of California about his intent to transfer, former Grandview High School linebacker Chris Martin announced Wednesday he will be heading to the University of Florida.

Martin made his choice of Florida public on his Facebook page, saying: "I would like to thank everyone who has been supportive of me through my crazy mental episodes. A special thank you to my mother and father who have supported me no matter what. I love you both. God has granted me a second chance. A chance I cannot mess up. With that said. Go Gators. Thank You to everyone and all the coaches who showed their interest in me."
It's worth noting that Florida's 2010 recruiting class now includes an entire defensive line (two ends and two tackles) full of five-star prospects. Urban Meyer, you are truly a recruiting maestro.

* Middleton done at U-Dub: Washington tight end Kavario Middleton is no longer a Washington tight end. In fact, he's no longer a Washington anything:
Washington has dismissed starting tight end Kavario Middleton for a violation of team rules less than two weeks before the Huskies begin fall camp.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made the announcement on Tuesday in a statement but did not specify what Middleton did. The school said there would be no further comment.
Middleton was a big-time prospect back in the day (in the top 100 nationally) and started to put things together last year as a sophomore with 26 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Then, during spring practice, he was supposedly passed by redshirt junior Chris Izbicki, who has a grand total of seven career receiving yards. Given the comments from Middleton's high school coach -- "Sark gave him every opportunity to improve and grow" -- my guess is that his demotion on the depth chart was a motivational tactic after a handful of screw-ups and that his "violation of team rules" was the last straw.

* Still undecided ... still: Bryce Brown, the most noncommittal player in the history of college football, apparently has changed his mind yet again. He left Tennessee in March and was presumed to be transferring to Kansas State (close to his family's home in Wichita) with older brother and former Miami linebacker Arthur Brown, but rumor has it that Bryce now wants back in at Tennessee. K-State must not have been as excited as he'd expected (who knew?).

Since the brothers seem to be set on playing together and Tennessee is woefully short on scholarship players (seriously, the Vols only have about 70), it sounds like the hypothetical package deal suggested a few months ago might be back on the table. Derek Dooley's "I'm not going to make a recruiting pitch" stance is admirable now but won't be remembered so fondly when UT is sitting at home in December with a 5-7 record.

If he can just bring in the Brown brothers, a five-star QB, a few talented offensive linemen, a starting safety ...

* You're next: SEC coaches are probably a little leery about picking up the phone right now, because that agent party down in Miami has the enforcement guys at the NCAA thinking they're The Untouchables. It all started with North Carolina and Marvin Austin, but that was just the tip of a massive, Titanic-destroying iceberg. Next on the list was South Carolina and Weslye Saunders. After that it was Florida and the Pouncey brothers. After that it was Alabama and Marcell Dareus. And now they're headed on down to Georgia:
Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton says the NCAA has requested permission to conduct an inquiry on campus. reported Wednesday that Georgia is investigating whether All-American wide receiver A. J. Green attended an agent's Memorial Day weekend party in Miami that also has spurred investigations at Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Georgia football coach Mark Richt met with Green on Tuesday, and Green denied being in Miami that weekend, sources told

Yikes. First of all, if you're a big-name college athlete and you're attending an all-expenses-paid trip on an agent's dime, you're an idiot. That's about as blatant as a rules violation can get. Secondly, I hope Green -- and everyone else, for that matter -- is telling the truth about who went where and who paid for what. Remember what happened to Dez Bryant? Breaking the rules is bad but not necessarily a career-ending transgression. Breaking the rules and lying about it? Just ask Bryant.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The (almost) last chapter in the Reggie Bush saga

We all knew this was coming ...
USC will replace athletic director Mike Garrett with former Trojans quarterback Pat Haden, university president-elect C.L. Max Nikias announced Tuesday.

Garrett has been under fire since USC was hit with numerous NCAA sanctions and a finding of "lack of institutional control" after lengthy investigations into benefits received by Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo.

... although calling it a retirement is a joke if I've ever heard one. Garrett's had his head in the guillotine since the beginning of the NCAA investigation. It's also kind of weird that a guy most people under the age of 40 know as a Notre Dame color analyst -- or crazy-eyed Tom Hammond's sidekick -- is now the USC athletic director.

But this part of the announcement was what shocked everybody:

Nikias also said USC will return the Heisman won by Bush in 2005 to the Heisman Trophy Trust next month.

Wwwhhaaaaaa?!? Jaw, meet floor. ESPN provides additional information:

The decision was an extension of the self-imposed penalties, which stated USC would dissociate itself from Bush and Mayo permanently. The NCAA bylaws also stated USC would have to "show cause why it should not be penalized further if it fails to permanently disassociate [Bush] and [Mayo] from the institution's athletic program."

Bush still has his own Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Trophy Trust has not taken any action against Bush or made any request to have him return his copy of the trophy.

The school has to separate itself so distantly from Reggie Bush that it's removing the greatest individual honor in sports -- one of seven in the program's history -- from Heritage Hall. More than anything else that's happened so far, I think this shows just how serious Bush's transgressions were. (It's a sad and amusing coincidence that USC's first Heisman winner was none other than Mike Garrett back in 1965.)

The question now is what the trust decides to do with the actual award: Either Bush keeps it or the spot gets vacated. Like I said a few weeks ago, I don't think an ineligible player with an erased past should get to keep the Heisman. If he wasn't eligible to play, he wasn't eligible to win anything. Hell, even the school won't acknowledge it -- you think anyone will ever take "Reggie Bush, Heisman winner" seriously?

This is where the "but O.J. Simpson got to keep his Heisman" response typically comes in, to which I say, "weak comparison." Committing stupid crimes 30 years after you leave college doesn't have anything to do with your NCAA accomplishments. O.J. was an awesome football player with a whole bunch of impressive records that I could look up right now on the NCAA website. Bush -- at least according to the NCAA -- didn't exist in 2005. You won't find his name or stats in USC's media guide, the NCAA website or anywhere else. Some kid looking at a list of Heisman winners 20 years from now will be pretty damn confused when he gets to Reggie Bush and sees a list of zeroes in the stat column. Fortunately for him, Wikipedia will be implanted in all our brains by then, so it won't take long to to get the details (YouTube will also be transmitted directly into our corneas and cell phones will have been replaced by Facebook transmitters).

Where was I? Oh yeah ... if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Bush having an empty spot on his gigantic mantel at some point in the next few months.

But if you think about it, it doesn't really matter matter what the trust decides. We all know what was going on: Bush's career was a sham, and the jokes about "U$C" will forever be attached to his name. His history has already been decided. The official removal of the Heisman would just be the final clump of dirt on a legacy that's already dead and buried.

Tough call for Jim Tressel

Some genius or another -- I think it was Bruce Feldman -- over at ESPN seemed genuinely puzzled yesterday when the Big Ten announced which players will be available to the press at media days in two weeks and Terrelle Pryor wasn't one of them.

Of course! I mean, he's such a well-spoken guy ... and on that note, here's a breakdown straight from Jim Tressel's typewriter version of Microsoft Excel (I have impressive hacking skills) on why Pryor wasn't invited to Chicago:
For the visually impaired, the breakdown goes:
It's good to know Tressel's been doing his research.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A new (and improved) philosophy

The nasty, leech-infested muck that is college basketball has (fortunately) never really found its way to college football. Agents, runners, AAU weirdness and murky "here, have a job and car" recruiting scandals just aren't nearly as prevalent ... at least we don't think they are.

But kids get stuff sometimes. Stuff they aren't supposed to get. And we all know it. I don't know if the people in power just didn't really realize it was happening in football until all the USC stuff came about or if that was some sort of wake-up call as to the go-go-gadget arms of greedy agents, but for whatever reason, the NCAA is seriously cracking the whip right now at the first sign of inappropriate benefits.

Exhibit A:
Florida and NCAA officials are investigating a potential rules violation that allegedly occurred this past December involving former Gators football standout Maurkice Pouncey, sources said.

Florida is internally investigating what sources described as an allegation that a representative of an agent paid Pouncey $100,000 between the Gators' loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and their season-ending Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Florida apprised the NCAA of the allegation after it became aware of it.

Two sources also told Schad that the letter was accompanied by photographic evidence of an alleged runner for an agent in social situations with Pouncey and his brother Mike, including at two awards shows.

Mike Pouncey will be a senior offensive lineman with the Gators next season.

The sources told Schad that the Pounceys have provided phone, bank and credit card statements that do not show any large payments. Two sources added that Maurkice Pouncey said he paid for a Cadillac Escalade and jewelry after the NFL draft with a deferred line of credit and did at times lend the Escalade to Mike in Gainesville, Fla.

Getting a line of credit after you leave school but before the draft? OK. Receiving $100,000 from an agent while still playing in college? Not OK. This seems fairly straightforward; I still can't figure out why it becomes a problem almost every year around bowl time.

Fortunately for Florida, there's not much possible damage. Older brother Maurkice already graduated, so the worst-case scenario is that he played in the Sugar Bowl while ineligible, meaning Florida would have to vacate the win (and Cincinnati could mercifully erase that ass-kicking from its record books). It could also end up as a secondary violation if the NCAA decides that there was a not-so-strict atmosphere around the locker room (at Florida?!? No!).

Mike could also run into some eligibility questions if he was hanging around with a runner or receiving any money on his own, but I can't see the NCAA coming down hard on him for using his brother's car. Have fun trying to close that can of worms.

Exhibit B:

South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman says the NCAA is investigating a possible rules violation of one of its athletic programs.

Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders told ESPN on Sunday that he has been interviewed by NCAA investigators in connection with the North Carolina case.

Saunders is a well-known friend of Marvin Austin, who started the whole UNC investigation by tweeting about a trip to Miami that presumably involved a bunch of money -- not his own -- being thrown around.

He's also one of the best tight ends in the country. If it turns out that he was involved in some shady activity, his loss (even for a few weeks) would be a pretty painful one for the South Carolina offense. But you know what's amazing about Steve Spurrier? Even in the middle of an awkward and possibly controversial situation, he can still pull out an off-the-cuff FTW comment:

"All I know is they had talked to him and talked to some players at North Carolina. That's all I know," Spurrier told the paper. "Whatever comes [of it], we'll just have to wait and see.

"We're not going to look the other way like possibly Southern California did," Spurrier continued. "We're going to abide by the rules."

Excellent. We'll see if he's still cracking jokes if Saunders is suspended for the season; my guess is that he'll throw his visor, utter some sort of "dad-gum" comment with an obnoxious smirk on his face and then blame it all on Stephen Garcia.

These two stories will undoubtedly be the catalyst for 387 columns about how college athletics aren't what they used to be and agents are ruining sports and "get off my lawn" and so on and so forth, but like I said earlier, this shit happens. And these situations are not comparable to what happened at USC; that was a widespread, years-long lack of compliance that was a bomb just waiting to detonate. The interesting thing is that the NCAA is kicking ass and taking names all of a sudden.

The Bylaw Blog explains the new policy perfectly:

What appears to have happened in this case exemplifies the new approach:

  1. Pick a target population, in this case football student-athletes who were expected to be drafted who returned to school.
  2. Investigate the target population for evidence of violations, which turned out to be improper benefits received by agents.
  3. Use the associations and connections between involved parties as a jumping off point for related investigations, using Saunders’ association with UNC defensive end Marvin Austin.

Such an approach was not possible as recently as five years ago since the NCAA enforcement staff did not fully understand the patterns of this activity. It’s the difference between playing Whack-a-Mole and knowing how the game works to predict which mole is coming up next. ...

Certainly the NCAA is devoting more resources to investigating and researching these problems, and that’s a question of priorities and will. But more important is that the NCAA is simply getting better at investigating and knows more about what to look for, where to look for it, and who to question.

We could debate the fairness of amateurism rules until we're blue in the face -- I believe the proper term for that discussion is "beating a dead horse." But with the current bylaws being what they are, it's nice to know that the NCAA is actually, you know, enforcing those bylaws and trying to ensure that there won't ever again be a blatant, USC-level rule-flouting that gets everyone pissed off as the obvious violations pile up and the punishment never comes.

Jeremiah Masoli, you are free to go

Jeremiah Masoli pretty much disappeared off the face of the Earth about two months ago. He was dismissed from the team at Oregon after a ridiculous string of off-the-field shenanigans, and the assumption at the time was that he'd be transferring immediately. Then there were rumors that he'd be entering the supplemental draft. And then nothing.

The supplemental draft came and went last week without Masoli's involvement. Nobody really noticed except The Oregonian, which was able to verify that Masoli did NOT turn in his paperwork by the required deadline and therefore has retained his one year of college eligibility.

So where's he headed? Nobody knows. Hawaii (where Masoli spent his senior year of high school) apparently was a candidate for a day or two after Masoli got in touch to gauge the coaching staff's interest, but The Star-Advertiser reported over the weekend that it "was mutually decided" that Masoli wouldn't be a good fit. I have a feeling that decision was about as mutual as Tiger Woods' impending divorce -- the conversation probably went something like this:

Masoli: "Hey, would you guys be interested in having me on the team if I transferred to Hawaii?"
Greg McMackin: "Ummm ... no thanks."
Masoli: "Fine. I didn't wanna come anyway."

There was an interesting development today, though, when KEZI-TV in Oregon reported that "a source very close to Jeremiah Masoli" said Masoli had completed his final undergraduate coursework at Oregon, meaning he can switch schools if he's accepted into a graduate program and be eligible to play immediately, even at a D-I school. That'd obviously help in terms of getting a relevant program to give him a shot since he won't have a year's worth of rust to shake off when he gets back on the field.

The same source claims Masoli's first choice for that hypothetical shot is Ole Miss (which is odd since there doesn't appear to be any particular connection there, but whatever). How does Houston Nutt feel about that?
I asked coach Houston Nutt via text message if he was pursuing Masoli. He flatly texted “No.”
I see. That seems pretty definitive, but note that it doesn't say Nutt wouldn't consider bringing Masoli in -- just that he's not pursuing him. Based on Mississippi's recruiting strategy (sign 40 guys and see which 25 qualify) and lack of an established QB, I don't think Nutt would kick him to the curb if he decides to enroll this fall.

But if Nutt really isn't interested, the options appear to be few and far between; the only D-I school that's even brought Masoli in for a visit is Louisiana Tech. That was before the news came out that he could be eligible to play this year rather than in 2011, of course, but what legitimate program is gonna pin its hopes on a fresh-off-the-street criminal with no experience in whatever offense that school happens to run and only one year of eligibility?

If you're thinking "that has Kansas State written all over it," you and I are on the same page. Bill Snyder has never been shy about bringing in questionable characters (academically, criminally or both) if he thinks it'll help him win. I don't have any idea if there's mutual interest, but it's an idea that makes sense to me ... especially since senior QB Carson Coffman hasn't exactly dominated in his mostly uninspiring career at KSU (he was actually benched after four starts last season).

Other than that, I dunno. It's hard to envision any other BCS conference team knocking at his door. I don't blame him for looking around -- Louisiana Tech can't be at the top of anybody's list -- but if it comes down to Louisiana Tech or Random FCS Technical School, the choice will be pretty easy (and probably pretty quick since fall practice starts next week).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is UNC the new USC?

Sounds like there's potential trouble in Chapel Hill:
A source at North Carolina told's Joe Schad on Thursday that UNC football players were interviewed by the NCAA this week and asked questions about agents and whether anyone had received gifts or extra benefits.
North Carolina seems like an odd place for violations, but Butch Davis knows how to collect NFL-caliber talent (remember the 2001 and '02 Miami teams?). UNC has a ridiculous six legitimate first-round prospects on defense alone: Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams. When you have talent, the agents will come calling.

The interesting thing is that there was no public report of violations or unusual activity at North Carolina (at least not that I'd heard of). But the NCAA wouldn't just step in and start an investigation without having something to go on.

ESPN provides a little background:

The investigation began with a phone call from the NCAA, Baddour said, though he declined to say when the call came or when investigators had visited the Chapel Hill campus.

A second source said that the NCAA asked all of UNC's projected NFL draft picks to provide phone records so investigators could see which agents they had spoken with.

The players were also asked who paid for the travel, who paid their rent and which agents they had met with and when, according to the second source.

Austin recently tweeted about a trip to Miami.

Both sources used the word "hectic" to describe the agent activity surrounding North Carolina football since multiple players passed on the NFL draft.

A third source, with ties to North Carolina, said that Austin was asked about having been seen driving Kentwan Balmer's vehicle.

Balmer is a former North Carolina defensive end who plays for the 49ers and worked out in Chapel Hill this offseason. Another source said Austin stayed at Balmer's apartment at times this offseason as well.

"Hectic" agent activity, eh? The compliance people at USC would probably recommend nipping that in the bud. That's not something you wanna screw around with, because that's the kind of thing that can really put a school in the NCAA's doghouse. Signing with an agent equals an immediate relinquishing of all eligibility, and since all the aforementioned guys passed up the draft to return for their senior seasons (except for Quinn, who's a junior), I don't think that's what they had mind. Accepting stuff from an agent is also a hardcore violation, although it's one a player can work his way out of if he handles it right.

The Bylaw Blog (which is remarkably informative when it comes to all this NCAA crap) makes an excellent point: Since any impropriety apparently occurred since the end of last season -- and obviously no games have been played yet this season -- nobody could have played while ineligible. If Austin received some free rent from Kentwan Balmer, for example, he could probably just repay that amount and resolve the situation before the start of the season. If an agent paid for a trip to Miami to meet with a representative, that's more of a gray area. There's usually going to be at least some loss of eligibility due to receiving inappropriate benefits.

But until the NCAA announces specifically who or what is being investigated, it's pretty hard to know exactly how serious things might be. Back to the Bylaw Blog:

The biggest question now is which NCAA group was on campus investigating. If members of the enforcement staff were around, then you can bet the NCAA thinks it has something.

If it was the Agents, Gambling and Amateurism staff, things are much murkier. Part of the AGA’s directive is fact-finding and research on agent trends and activities. But the AGA is also an investigative body in enforcement cases. So fact-finding may have turned into a lead, or the AGA could have been checking in on a hotbed of agent activity and decided there was so much activity that it was necessary to ensure violations had not occurred.
So there could be a serious investigation into already-documented inappropriate activity. Or it could simply be research on the number of agents around campus. Or it could be that agents are known to be around campus and the NCAA is just checking to make sure that there haven't been any violations. Figuring out the details is half the fun!

Based on the NCAA's typical time frame, we should find out more in about 2016 ... OK, not really. This is one case where the school needs to know ASAP if anybody's looking at ineligibility, so my guess is that there'll be something at least moderately definitive by the end of August.

As far as long-term impact, I don't have any rooting interest in UNC or any idea whether Butch Davis runs a loose ship (although he definitely cleaned up Miami after Dennis Erickson left), but it'd be a shame if some of the team's best players got the program into a bunch of trouble just as the Heels are finally becoming an ACC contender for the first time since the Mack Brown era.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So long, Bobby Johnson

Exactly 52 days before Vanderbilt's season opener against fellow competitive nerd Northwestern, coach Bobby Johnson announced his retirement Thursday:

"I've decided to retire, not resign," Johnson said. "It's a tough decision with which my wife, Catherine, and I struggled. This is a personal decision."

"Football is not life, but it's a way of life and it consumes your life," Johnson said. "You only have so many years to live, and you want to see a different way."

The timing makes the whole thing seem a little odd, but Johnson, who turned 59 earlier this year, emphasized during his press conference that his retirement didn't have anything to do with health. It sounded like he just wasn't motivated anymore (and I know from experience that having a not-very-motivated coach just hanging around at the end usually leads to bad things).

A lot of people will look at a 29-66 career record at Vandy and say, "Meh, mediocre coach for crappy program." But that's selling him way short. Consider that in the 20 years prior to Johnson taking over, Vanderbilt had averaged three wins per season, hadn't finished over .500 or played in a bowl even once and had a season-high of five wins (on four occasions).

In comparison, Johnson's final five years make him look like Bear Bryant:

2002 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)
2003 Vanderbilt 2–10 (1–7, T–5th East)
2004 Vanderbilt 2–9 (1–7, T–5th East)
2005 Vanderbilt 5–6 (3–5, 5th East)
2006 Vanderbilt 4–8 (1–7, 6th East)
2007 Vanderbilt 5–7 (2–6, 6th East)
2008 Vanderbilt 7–6 (4–4, T–3rd East) W Music City
2009 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)

It took him a few years to get going, but once Johnson had flushed the system and brought in his own players (his first senior class would've been in 2005), Vandy went on its best four-year run since 1956-59 (!!!). We're talking about the Eisenhower administration, people. This is a school with four bowl games in its history -- no other SEC program has played in fewer than 14 -- and a grand total of one postseason ranking, which came in the grand ol' days of 1948. All you need to know is that he was SEC Coach of the Year in 2008 for finishing 7-6 and winning the Music City Bowl.

This one-sentence snippet from ESPN nicely summarizes Johnson's impact:

Johnson ended losing skids to eight SEC teams during his tenure, including a 22-game string to Tennessee in 2005.
He made Vandy consistently competitive against its SEC peers for the first time since at least the 1980s and arguably the 1950s, and that's about all that can be expected. His 29-66 record and 2-10 final season shouldn't be what people remember.

Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Robbie Caldwell now takes over on an interim basis. He's never been a head coach or even a coordinator at any level, which is terrifying, but there aren't many other options when (a) you're Vanderbilt and (b) it's just seven weeks before the start of the season.