NCAA should rethink PSU sanctions
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You probably didn't read it. Chances are, you probably don't know it exists.
But last Friday afternoon, a 51-page document was devoured by officials at Penn State, the Big Ten Conference and who knows, maybe someone on the all-powerful NCAA Executive Committee.
The title of the document would instantly put a screaming baby to sleep:
First Annual Report of the Independent Athletics Integrity Monitor Pursuant to the Athletics Integrity Agreement Among the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Big Ten Conference and the Pennsylvania State University.
In other words, a 1-year report card on Penn State, post-Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The NCAA-appointed integrity monitor is former Sen. George Mitchell, who hasn't done much in his career, other than broker peace deals in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, serve as Senate majority leader and author a report on PED use in Major League Baseball. When he talks, people should listen.
And certain people -- hello, Executive Committee -- should listen hard now that Mitchell has spoken highly (again) of Penn State and its efforts to rehabilitate itself in the aftermath of a child sexual abuse scandal that left its victims emotionally scarred, and left the university's image in confetti strips. He used words such as, "notable … impressed … open and forthright," when describing Penn State's considerable progress.
"By all indications thus far," wrote Mitchell, "the University has positioned itself well to meet this challenge."
According to Mitchell, 115 of the 119 recommendations detailed in the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report have been completed or are near completion.
"While parties may continue to argue about the history that led to the Freeh Report and the [Athletics Integrity Agreement]," wrote Mitchell, "a consensus has developed that the principles at the heart of these reforms are best practices for the governance of any large university."
In short -- and the Paterno family, which has brought legal action against the NCAA, is going to hate hearing this -- Penn State is and will be a better place because of the Freeh Report. Isn't that more important than Joe Paterno's brand?
Mitchell's report wasn't a touchdown pass for Penn State, but it did get the university into the red zone. Even the NCAA acknowledged the impressive work, though, in typical NCAA fashion, the suits in Indianapolis would only describe the progress as "continued" and added, "we look forward to full implementation of these efforts."
I look forward to the day the NCAA is overthrown by reform revolutionaries. In the meantime, I'd settle for an NCAA that understands that this latest Mitchell report provides the much-maligned organization with a rare opportunity.
When the NCAA wait … check that -- when NCAA president Mark Emmert and the Executive Committee (in essence, Emmert's boss) decided 14 months ago to amputate whole limbs from the Penn State football body, it did so for a very specific reason.
The reason wasn't complicated: it wanted Penn State football to die. Or at the very least, it wanted it to become the 13th best program in the 12-team Big Ten Conference.
After all, why else neuter your own NCAA investigative process and tell your Committee on Infractions to stand down unless you've already decided on a scorched Happy Valley policy? Why else, in an unprecedented and vigilantes-in-bow ties-response to Penn State's complicity in the Sandusky scandal, impose in July 2012 the harshest sanctions in major college football history? (Yes, harsher than SMU's 1-year death penalty of 26 years ago.)
And yet, Penn State is 2-0 this season and was 8-4 last season. In fact, Bill O'Brien's program might be undefeated when it faces Michigan at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 12.
But anybody who thinks those NCAA sanctions aren't causing serious internal bleeding to Penn State football and the university itself is nuttier than Planters.
A refresher course in the crushing punishments and some of the trickle-down effects:
• The Nittany Lions can't play in a postseason game until 2016 and are also ineligible for conference championship games and bowl related revenue until that time.
• Beginning next season, they have to make do with 65 scholarship players (20 less than the FBS norm) until 2018 and can't offer the full complement of 25 scholarships until 2017.
• The program is on probation until 2017.
• By virtue of the Consent Decree it signed with the NCAA, Penn State can't appeal the penalties.
• Its players were given a year-long window to transfer without penalty -- and several key players did so.
• Penn State will pay $60 million in fines and set aside another $60 million to settle claims made by Sandusky's victims. Meanwhile, surplus revenue in the athletic department has declined in each of the last three fiscal years and average home attendance in 2012 was the lowest since 2001.
So the sanctions are profound and debilitating. And thanks to the context provided by Mitchell's annual report, it is now obvious they are excessive and obsolete too.
Mitchell didn't recommend that the NCAA penalties be reduced. That's not his job. But there was nothing in his report that discouraged the equivalent of a parole hearing.
Penn State has earned at least that much. The university has jumped through every NCAA hoop placed in front of it, generally kept its mouth shut when asked about the severity of the penalties, and its protocol and programs post-Sandusky scandal are being copied by other schools.
And by the way, Paterno is no longer Penn State's coach. Graham Spanier is no longer its president. Gary Schultz is no longer a university vice-president. Tim Curley is no longer its athletic director.
You want a "culture" change? Penn State has become the Fathead of culture change.
Spend time inside the Penn State program and you soon realize that O'Brien doesn't have the same institutional power that Paterno had -- and that's a good thing. And you realize that the players, from fifth-year senior guard John Urschel to true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg shouldn't be on the hook until 2018 for crimes they didn't commit.
And didn't Lou Anna Simon, Executive Committee chairwoman and president of Michigan State, recently tell ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil and Mike Fish that "public outcry" contributed to the way the NCAA punished Penn State, and to the way Penn State accepted the punishment?
"I think now it might have been handled differently by both parties," she told O'Neil and Fish.
Well, it's not too late. It's not too late for Emmert and the Executive Committee to consider time served by Penn State (this is year two of the penalties) and the positive nature of Mitchell's annual report. It's not to late to grant Penn State an audience to plead its case for a reduction in sanctions.
And if it happens, Penn State can proudly detail the breadth and width of its in-house reforms that, in some instances, go beyond the requirements of the Freeh recommendations.
If I'm the NCAA, the $60 million fine and probation time remain in place. But I do reduce the postseason ban from four years to two and soften the scholarship limits and length of those limits.
The catch? That's easy: a series of negative Mitchell reports would trigger a return to the original penalties.
Even Bevo knew that Manny Diaz's time as Texas' defensive coordinator could be measured with a stopwatch after Saturday's 40-21 loss at BYU.
First of all, it's never a good sign when your head coach, when asked immediately after the game if your job is secure, says he'll have to review the game tape. But that's what Mack Brown did after the game.
It's also not a good thing when your head coach is on the hot seat. Because guess what? Coordinators are always the first to get pushed out of the moving car.
And it didn't help that waiting in the wings was former Longhorns defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who joined the staff a few months ago as a "football analyst."
So Diaz is out after 28 games and Robinson is in. The truth is, Brown should have made the move after last season, not after last Saturday.
The defensive numbers under Diaz's watch were not just awful, but were historically awful. Texas gave up more yards per game in 2012 than it ever had -- and they've been playing football in Austin since 1893.
BYU's Jamaal Williams ran for 182 yards against Texas …: and he was the Cougars' second-leading rusher! In all, BYU gained 550 yards on the ground, the most ever against Texas.
The Longhorns tumbled out of the rankings and if Brown doesn't get this situation fixed, Texas could tumble out of the national football consciousness. And Brown with it.
This wasn't supposed to happen in 2013. Texas had too many returning starters, too many returning lettermen and too much talent to lose this early and this decisively. But here it is, just the second week of September, and the Longhorns are in crisis mode.
Brown's contract runs through 2020, but no way he lasts that long if Texas doesn't start moving the championship needle. The Longhorns' record over the last 40 games: 23-17. That gets you a raise at Duke, but it gets you fired at Texas.
You need a translator to understand what LSU coach Les Miles is talking about sometimes. And Bama's Nick Saban has been known to stare a hole through the forehead of a reporter who asks the wrong kind of question.
But South Carolina's Steve Spurrier says what he thinks and doesn't waste anybody's time with coach-speak. And right now, Spurrier thinks his defensive coordinator, Lorenzo Ward, could use, "some suggestions."
Ward is having some issues these days. His star defensive end is complaining publicly about the way he's being used in the Gamecocks' schemes. His assistants are more physical than his linebackers. And his head coach basically just called out his defensive game plan against Georgia.
"We've got to be a little more creative," said Spurrier, in the aftermath of South Carolina's 41-30 loss to the Bulldogs. "We can't just sit there and never disguise and say, 'Come on.'"
Meanwhile, Jadeveon Clowney said he wants the coaches to position him where he can have a greater impact on the game. And he didn't say it in a mean-spirited way, but Clowney also suggested his teammates had to "step it up."
"I just can't do it by myself," he said.
And just for fun, let's roll the video of first-year South Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams and second-year linebackers coach Kirk Botkin doing the WWE thing on the sideline.
"Well, at least they care," said Spurrier.
A few things:
• With only five returning starters on defense, South Carolina was going to struggle at times. Of course, it didn't think it was going to give up 41 points and 538 total yards to a Georgia team coming off a physical, close road loss at Clemson only a week earlier.
• Clowney spoke out of frustration, but he probably should button it up when publicly questioning his coaches, teammates and opponents. Remember when Clowney said early last month that some quarterbacks, including Georgia's Aaron Murray, were "scared" of him? Yes, well, a scared Murray threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns against the Gamecocks.
• Spurrier and Ward will figure out a way to move Clowney from one side (he's a natural right DE) to the other. But Clowney shouldn't be surprised that teams are running away from him, or emphasizing quick throws. It's the ultimate compliment to Clowney.
• Tensions run at red line temperatures during a game, especially when Georgia is scoring on seven of its 11 possessions. Adams and Botkin got caught up in the moment and while their sideline mini-brawl made for great television, it doesn't mean that South Carolina's staff is in disarray. If anything, figure on the Gamecocks taking out their frustration on Vanderbilt at home Saturday.
Don't get me wrong, I've had this Bama-A&M weekend circled on my desk calendar for months.
But before we go all Game-of-the-Century on the matchup, let's remember that it's only Bama's second game of the season and A&M's third (the Aggies have gone the cupcake route with Rice and FCS opponent Sam Houston State).
Let's also remember that Bama's Nov. 9 meeting against LSU could be just as important, as could A&M's visit to Baton Rouge on Nov. 23. Anyway, click on the video and you'll see why there's still plenty of meat on this season's rib bone -- no matter what happens Saturday at College Station.
It's a simple question, but there's no simple answer:
You can pick one quarterback to build your college team around. Who do you want?
A&M's Johnny Manziel? Clemson's Tajh Boyd? Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater? UCLA's Brett Hundley? Florida State's Jameis Winston? Georgia's Murray? Ohio State's Braxton Miller? Alabama's AJ McCarron? Oregon's Marcus Mariota? Michigan's Devin Gardner? Nebraska's Taylor Martinez? Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch?
Should I keep going?
This isn't about who is going to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. It isn't about who spins the prettiest pass. It isn't about who plays for the biggest program.
You want a guy who can lead, perform under pressure, make the throws, command a huddle, inspire and win. And yes, I know it's a slightly squirrelly question because of the different skill sets and the kind of offenses they could run.
Anyway, given the candidates listed above, I'm not sure there's a wrong answer.
But in today's college game, I'm taking a guy who can do the conventional and unconventional. I want somebody who makes defensive coordinators consider a change in careers. I want a quarterback who, as my ESPN colleague David Pollack puts it, is "scheme proof." In other words, a quarterback who can succeed in any offensive system.
I'm taking Mariota.
I thought long and hard about Bridgewater. I love his toughness, his accuracy, his height, his football IQ and his leadership qualities.
But Mariota has the size, arm strength, the poise, the foot speed, the toughness, the smarts and the big-game experience to run any scheme. This is a guy who completed 68.5 percent of his passes last year while rushing for 752 yards. And he's overseeing an Oregon offense that has no equal.
No Johnny Football? It's nothing personal. He's on my short list. But I can only pick one, so Mariota gets to run with the first team.
Is it OK if I wait until redshirt freshman Winston makes his second career start before declaring him the greatest FSU thing since Renegade?
Winston has crazy skills, but I want to see how he does on the road (at Boston College Sept. 28) and then on the road against a top 5 team (at Clemson, Oct. 19) before joining the Famous Jameis hysteria.
That said, he has the best nickname in college football.
• I know it was against first-year FBS member UMass and FCS-member Tennessee Tech, but Wisconsin hasn't given up a point yet and the Badgers' trio of running backs (James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement) each have back-to-back 100-yard games. If it happens again this week against Arizona State, I'm checking with the Heisman folks to see if three players from the same team can win the thing.
• It probably won't make Kansas State feel any better, but North Dakota State, the FCS team that stunned the Wildcats in the opener, just beat Ferris State by 46. And yes, I have Bison fever.
• Boston College (2-0), Kansas (1-0) and Illinois (2-0) have already matched their win totals of 2012, while Colorado (2-0) has doubled its victories from a season ago. If Auburn (2-0) beats Mississippi State at home Saturday, it matches its three wins of last year.
• If I had to fill out a Heisman ballot today -- and we shouldn't even be talking about this -- I know who I'd take after two games: Georgia's Todd Gurley. Best player I've seen so far.
• According to the Week 2 Total QBR as calculated by ESPN Stats and Information, none of the top 5 quarterbacks was named Bridgewater, Mariota or Manziel. Instead, the Week 2 leaders were Baylor's Bryce Petty (99.72), Utah's Travis Wilson (99.66), LSU's Zach Mettenberger (98.6), Northwestern's Trevor Siemian (98.4) and Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh (98.1).
• For the season, Petty is ranked No. 1, followed by Mariota, Maryland's C.J. Brown, Hundley and Bridgewater. And the combined record of the teams (UNLV, FAU, South Florida, Miami of Ohio and Colorado State) with the five lowest-ranked QBR ratings in Week 2 is 0-10.
• And now comes the fun part of Tennessee's schedule. Between now and Oct. 26, the 2-0 Vols will face No. 2 Oregon at Eugene, No. 18 Florida at Gainesville, No. 9 Georgia at Knoxville, No. 13 South Carolina at Knoxville and No. 1 Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
• Hey, everybody, it's the unofficial Big Ten-Pac-12 Challenge this Saturday, when the Big Ten tries to reverse its 1-4 record against Pac-12 teams in 2012! Washington is playing Illinois in Chicago, Bucky is at Arizona State, UCLA is at Nebraska and Ohio State is at Cal.
• Michigan quarterback Gardner got the College GameDay treatment, the Tom Harmon No. 98 jersey honor and the signature win against Notre Dame -- and he earned it all. But was there a better player on the field than Michigan senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (8 catchs, 184 yards, 3 TDs)?
• However it shakes out Saturday between Bama and A&M, the best thing the Aggies ever did was join the SEC. It is the perfect fit and as an added bonus, A&M is out of the burnt orange shadow of Texas.
• I'm going to miss the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry when it ends next year (Michigan AD Dave Brandon says the earliest the rivalry could resume is the early 2020s), but the loss of the Florida-Miami rivalry is going to leave bruise marks too. As always, money is the main reason the UF-UM rivalry is going away.
• Geez, I can't imagine why Oklahoma State quarterback Walsh was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week. All he did was have more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three, 24-of-27 for 326 yards, as well as add a rushing TD).
Imagine being magically whisked away to Delaware …: I mean, 2014 and the first year of a four-team BCS playoff format:
• No. 1 seed Oregon vs. No. 4 seed LSU. And even then, Les Miles still won't tell us if Jeremy Hill is going to start. By the way, the last time the Hatter faced Oregon (Sept. 2011 on a neutral field), LSU won, 40-27.
• No. 2 seed Clemson vs. No. 3 seed Alabama. Historically speaking, I'm not liking Clemson's chances here. The Tigers have lost 12 in a row to Bama (the last meeting was in 2008). They haven't beaten the Tide since 1905.
On the bubble:
5. Texas A&M: Yes, I'm wondering the same thing many nervous Aggie fans are wondering this week: Is A&M looking ahead to the big Sept. 21 game against SMU?
6. Stanford: Memo to the Stanford band if it makes the trip this week to West Point: no goat jokes, no MacArthur skits, no nothing.
7. Georgia: Now you know why I said last week, I'd take the Dawgs over then-top-10 candidates Florida, Oklahoma or Notre Dame. They have what a lot of other teams don't have: a fourth-year quarterback, a running back descended from the heavens, and resilience. UGA gets a much-needed bye week.
8. Ohio State: With or without Miller, the Buckeyes should be fine at Cal. Their exhibition season continues next week against Florida A&M.
9. Oklahoma State: There is no truth to the rumor that billionaire Oklahoma State alum T. Boone Pickens has purchased Sports Illustrated and intends to relocate the investigative staff to the Jupiter moon of Ganymede.
10. Florida State: UCLA beat Nevada, 58-20. What do you think the Seminoles will do against the Wolf Pack?
Close, but not quite: Louisville, Michigan, OU, Northwestern, Miami.
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