NCF Nation: New Orleans Saints

PHOENIX -- The first reaction was shock: Junior Seau dead at just 43, his death ruled a suicide. Quickly came grief: An all-time USC and NFL great, a good guy known for his accessibility and philanthropy away from the field who didn't want to live anymore.

Then shortly thereafter: Anger. Another football player dead before his time. Surely head injuries -- concussions -- were to blame. Surely the game is to blame. These three stages have been repeated too often of late, and their repetition threatens our love affair with a sport that obsesses our country like no other.

We can't make you feel any better about Seau. That's a still-resonating tragedy. We can only note it's premature to arrive at any overriding conclusions as to why he did the unthinkable.

[+] EnlargeJunior Seau
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireSpecialists are trying to determine whether Junior Seau's suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions.
But we might be able to make you feel a little bit better about football.

The takeaway from a timely Fiesta Bowl Summit panel Thursday, "Sports-Related Concussions: Facts, Fallacies and New Frontiers," was twofold: 1. The NCAA and NFL, after the media forced them to pay attention, have been working hard to get their arms around the issue; 2. It's not unreasonable to believe they can.

Of course, there always will be head injuries in contact sports, and repeated head trauma can lead to long-term health problems. This knowledge isn't new. Doctors were aware of boxers becoming punch drunk -- dementia pugilistica -- in the 1920s.

Understanding concussions and how best to prevent and then treat them, however, isn't easy. As Dr. Margot Putukian, one of four panelists at the Arizona Biltmore, said, concussions are "a moving target." Each one is different, and each person is different. They are not anything like a torn ACL.

Yet there has been recent research progress that is particularly meaningful for football. Said Dr. Michael McCrea, "The news is promising."

McCrea's research found that 28 percent of athletes suffering a concussion no longer show symptoms from their injury after 24 hours. Sixty percent are asymptomatic after a week to 10 days. So nearly 90 percent of athletes passed tests that showed their symptoms were gone inside of 10 days. But that's not the good news. Passing tests that show symptoms are gone doesn't mean the brain has fully healed -- achieved full clinical recovery.

The good news is this: Those numbers, it turns out, do indeed run roughly parallel to a full clinical recovery. Using a multi-dimensional approach -- symptoms tests as well as MRI -- for assessing the recovery process can, McCrea said, "take the guesswork out of concussion management."

These numbers should make it easier to convince athletes who are eager to get back on the field and coaches who want them there to be patient. Simply, coming back too early greatly increases the risk of another concussion, and a second concussion almost always requires a far longer recovery time. Waiting the full seven to 10 days -- and missing a game -- greatly reduces the risk of re-injury, McCrea said. Ergo, there are now specific numbers that show it's better for athlete and team not to rush things.

But the issues with concussions extend beyond understanding them, treating them and even preventing them. Every institution needs well-drilled standards and procedures for dealing with them: A concussion management plan. And coaches and training staff need to know them and know them well. Putukian asked a rhetorical question that all parents of athletes should be asking coaches (non-rhetorically): "What medical personnel do you have there, and what do you do in case of emergency?"

How many layers of procedure are involved here? Lots. Here's one you probably didn't think of: Academic accommodation. A player who suffered a concussion on Saturday might have issues taking a test the following Wednesday.

There was a consensus among the four doctors about how the NFL and NCAA can continue to improve their approach to concussions.

  • Education: Players and coaches need to understand how serious head injuries are, and the potentially harmful long-term consequences for returning to play too soon. This could include, for example, coaches deciding to limit contact during practices.
  • Equipment: There are no helmets that prevent concussions, and there won't ever be. That doesn't mean some helmets aren't better than others. Virginia Tech has devised a respected helmet ratings system, and the Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus and Riddell Revolution Speed all achieved five-star ratings.
  • Rules changes: Obviously, an emphasis on stopping head-to-head collisions has been front-and-center. A lot of attention also is being paid to when concussions are most likely to happen in a football game -- on special teams, in the open field and for specific positions.
  • Culture change: This might be one of the most difficult to enact -- see the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Football is a physical game. That's why it's fun to play and to watch. But there needs to be a recognition that brutality for brutality's sake, a zeal for hurting opponents, can have horrific ramifications after the cartoonish strut and taunt end.

Coaches seem to be taking this issue seriously. Among those who attended the concussion summit, which was presided over by NCAA president Mark Emmert, were Stanford's David Shaw, Wisconsin's Brett Bielema and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. When it was over, UTEP coach Mike Price stood up to say it was the best talk on the subject he'd heard.

This was a sad week for football. A few folks are seriously raising the question of whether college football should be banned. Seau's death made it less easy to scoff derisively at such talk.

Concussions are a serious problem in football. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it. The concussion panel this week suggested that football now might be taking a second and perhaps third step.
At some point USC and Lane Kiffin will get to focus on the football part of football. But not yet.

Kiffin still has his own dirty laundry -- all of it bright orange -- to tend to: He's in Indianapolis this weekend discussing the alleged transgressions that occurred while he Tennessee's head coach with the 10-member NCAA Committee on Infractions.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy KingUSC coach Lane Kiffin is set to face the NCAA Committee on Infractions this weekend.
Kiffin will try to defend himself against the NCAA and Tennessee, which is trying to heap the entire mess on Kiffin's and, by association, USC's doorstep.

Kiffin was cited with a failure "to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the football program and failed to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant football coaches" as well as two specific violations:

  • The NCAA alleges between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 of 2010 Kiffin or his assistant coaches made 16 "impermissible recruiting telephone calls" to three prospects.
  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin allowed a recruiting intern, Steve Rubio, "to make in-person, off-campus contacts with high school administrators during a recruiting trip" to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In both of the alleged violations, Kiffin was told in advance by Tennessee not to do what he ended up doing, according to the NCAA. That's good for the Volunteers, not so good for Kiffin. (You can read the complete Notice of Allegations here if you so desire.)

Said the NCAA of the calls: "These calls were placed subsequent to the football staff's receipt of information in December of 2009 from the institution's compliance staff that such telephone calls were impermissible."

Said the NCAA of the trip: "This trip and these contacts occurred after David Blackburn, the institution's director of football operations, informed both Kiffin and Rubio ... that Rubio was not permitted to enter a high school's property while accompanying a football coach on a recruiting trip."

So what's going to happen? The short answer is "heck if I know."

Using logic, reason and a sense of fairness last June, I predicted, using Alabama's 2002 pay-for-play case as a precedent, that USC would get hit hard but not hammered by NCAA sanctions. The NCAA opted instead to be unfair and arbitrary and pounded the Trojans with a loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year postseason ban.

There was no way to justify what the NCAA did -- good luck coming up with a more severe penalty against Ohio State -- but the organization tried on its new enforcement web page: "Each case is unique, and applying case precedent is difficult (if not impossible) because all cases are different. Each case has its own aggravating and mitigating factors, and the committee considers both sides in assessing penalties."

If applying precedent is "impossible," then your enforcement arm can do anything it wants. Imagine if the police and courts operated this way.
Judge: You shot him for jaywalking?

Police: Yes.

Judge: Isn't that little harsh?

Police: He was wearing a Reggie Bush jersey.

Judge: A USC Reggie Bush jersey or a New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush jersey?

Police: USC.

Judge: Oh, aggravating and mitigating factors. Well, then. Good job.

Know this: Kiffin is going to suffer some sort of sanction specific to himself, likely one that limits him in recruiting. While the NCAA doesn't want us to pay attention to precedent, I covered a strikingly similar case in 2002, when then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel was grounded for eight months for violations he committed while coaching at Colorado.

The interesting difference is the NCAA ruled Colorado failed to properly monitor Neuheisel's activity. It appears the COI -- with the overwhelming support of Tennessee -- has the option here of ruling Kiffin went rogue versus his compliance department. That might cast Kiffin's transgressions in a harsher light.

On the plus side for Kiffin, he's kept his nose clean at USC, which athletic director Pat Haden noted in a statement last February when the notice of allegations was published: "Since his return to USC last year as our head football coach, Lane has been vigilant in making sure he and the football program follow the NCAA's rules and compete the right way. Lane has my support as our head football coach."

USC's exposure here will likely be nothing more than collateral damage resulting from sanctions against its head coach, which might be substantial. Kiffin is an outstanding recruiter -- see his top-five 2011 class, despite the NCAA sanctions shadow -- so removing him from the equation for a period of time will further hurt the Trojans efforts to remain competitive.

Of course, after Kiffin and the NCAA chat this weekend, it will be weeks before the COI publishes its findings.

So -- Fight On!... and on and on -- USC fans can look forward to more embarrassing headlines generated from behind the closed doors of conference rooms.

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
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The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

USC returns Bush's tainted Heisman

July, 20, 2010
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In June, the NCAA ruled running back Reggie Bush retroactively ineligible when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 because he was breaking rules by receiving extra benefits from would-be sports agents, so USC is giving back the tainted trophy as part of its plan to disassociate the university from Bush, now with the New Orleans Saints.

That plan of action was made public shortly after USC president-elect Max Nikias announced that Pat Haden would replace Mike Garrett as athletic director, one of a number of other moves intended to improve athletic department oversight.

Nikias also said USC would take down murals featuring Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who also broke rules when he received extra benefits, at the Galen Center, Heritage Hall and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In other words, USC is cleaning house. And showing a bit of contrition.

Many might say this: About time.

He flipped the switch. A light went on. His cheese just melted. Something clicked. He crossed the road and got to the other side.

There are lots of clichés to describe an athlete transforming from bad to good in a sudden and dramatic way. But today we introduce a term that takes care of it all.

Masoli.

Such as: "Boy, A-Rod really masolied in the playoffs!" Or, "Golly, who thought the Saints would masoli this season?"

One can trace the etymology of this term to a stocky Oregon quarterback named "Jeremiah Masoli."

Masoli
Kyle Terada/US PresswireOregon coach Chip Kelly says quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is doing a better job of managing the game this season.
The term is particularly relevant this week because No. 11 Oregon is visiting Arizona on Saturday for a critical Pac-10 showdown. That's the team that Masoli masolied against last year.

The week before playing the Wildcats, Masoli had been booed in Autzen Stadium by Ducks fans while struggling mightily against Stanford. Sure, Masoli led a clutch game-winning drive in the waning moments, but the key play was a 25-yard scramble on third-and-8.

Arizona came to town expecting to face a spread-option quarterback who was uncomfortable throwing the ball.

Then Masoli completed 21-for-26 -- 80.8 percent -- for 298 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and rushed for 89 yards in a 55-45 victory over the Wildcats, who had one of the best defenses in the Pac-10.

Slapping his forehead over that game this summer, Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops noted there was nothing on film to suggest Masoli would pass that well against them. "We didn't see that coming," he said.

You often don't see a masoli coming.

California didn't this year. When the Bears visited Oregon on Sept. 26, Masoli was the conference's lowest-rated passer. He'd thrown two interceptions with no touchdowns in the first three games and was averaging just 126 yards passing per game. The week before, he gone 4-of-16 for 95 yards with an interception in a win over Utah.

But Masoli masolied against the Bears, completing 21-of-25 -- 84 percent -- for 253 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a stunning 42-3 win.

"It's just one of those things when a quarterback kind of has to hit a switch and get out of a lull," said Masoli, choosing not to use the term "masoli," most likely because it had yet to be derived when this conversation took place on Tuesday night.

Over the past seven games, Masoli has 11 touchdown passes and one interception. He's the conference's fifth-rated passer and ranks eighth overall in rushing with 62 yards per game and nine touchdowns. He can beat you with his arm or legs, which, by the way, can squat 475 pounds.

"He's your prototypical quarterback for what they do," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He's played very much in control this year. He's much more consistent than he was a year ago."

Last year's masoli was due to Masoli finding a comfort level with the Ducks' spread-option scheme. While this might be hard to imagine for anyone who's marveled at Masoli's ball skills in the read-option and his elusiveness as a runner, he arrived at Oregon in the summer of 2008 as a typical pass-first quarterback who put up big numbers through the air while leading City College of San Francisco to a JC national title.

This year's masoli happened when Masoli stopped trying to score 11 points on every play.

"Early this season, he tried to take a lot of the load on himself. Now he realizes that we've got some weapons around him," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "He's got a better understanding of managing the game and not forcing issues. Just kind of letting things come to him. He made some really smart plays on Saturday [against Arizona State] just throwing the ball away in the red zone."

Of course, Arizona won't be surprised by Masoli this year. And, notably, the Wildcats nearly came back from a 28-point halftime deficit in 2008. They cut Oregon's lead to 48-45 before the Ducks' only second-half touchdown finished things off.

The Wildcats, perhaps using some intelligence gleaned from that comeback, will be looking to create a reverse-masoli on Saturday.

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