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Football oversight committee asks NCAA board for time on fall sports

The NCAA football oversight committee is asking the association’s board of governors to avoid making a decision later this week on whether to conduct fall championships as college sports tries to find a path to play through the coronavirus pandemic.

A letter dated July 21 was sent by committee chairman Shane Lyons, the West Virginia athletic director, to the board before it meets on Friday. The letter was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press and first reported on by Yahoo Sports.

“We acknowledge that the path forward will be challenging, and that the virus may ultimately dictate outcomes,” the letter says. “We are simply requesting that the Board of Governors not make an immediate decision on the outcome of fall championships, so that conferences and schools may have ample latitude to continue to evaluate the viability of playing football this fall.”

The board is the NCAA’s highest-ranking governing body, comprising mostly university presidents representing all three divisions of its nearly 1,300 member schools. The board could decide to call off NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, women’s volleyball and lower-division football.

The NCAA has no authority to postpone or cancel specific seasons, a decision that would be up to individual schools or their conferences. But canceling or postponing NCAA championships could increase pressure for conferences to call off their seasons.

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Lawsuits allege Nebraska mishandled reports of sexual assault, harassment

A former Nebraska volleyball player is among nine women who filed a lawsuit Monday against the University of Nebraska, alleging that the school mishandled complaints of sexual assault and harassment, including reports involving accusations against at least five athletes.

The lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska alleges violations under the Title IX gender equity law, as well as racial discrimination, negligence and lack of due process. The lawsuit also alleges that school officials made errors in their investigations of some of the women’s reports and did not provide academic help.

The lawsuit states that the university “handled sexual misconduct complaints against student-athletes in a different manner than how other complaints were handled.”

One of the women named in the lawsuit filed Monday is former Nebraska volleyball player Capri Davis, who also was part of a lawsuit filed in April against the NCAA. In that action, seven women, including two other female athletes, alleged that the NCAA failed to protect them from alleged sexual assaults by male college athletes, despite having an obligation to do so. That case was refiled in a Michigan state court in May.

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Davis played for Nebraska’s top-10-ranked volleyball team until last fall, when she took a medical leave of absence and transferred to play at Texas. According to both complaints, the school’s handling of a false rumor that she was pregnant with the child of a football player, as well as a report that she was groped at a party, led her to transfer.

In both complaints, Davis says that two Nebraska football players grabbed her buttocks at a party and did the same to a friend, who is also a plaintiff in both lawsuits. The report was made in April 2019 to the school’s Title IX office that investigates sexual misconduct. In December, the school’s Title IX office found the players not responsible for the alleged groping incident involving Davis and her friend, according to the complaint.

Although the lawsuit filed Monday does not name them, a description of the men in the lawsuit indicates that the players Davis and her friend reported were redshirt freshmen Katerian LeGrone and Andre Hunt.

Davis’ friend, who is not named in the lawsuit filed Monday, also told university investigators in 2019 that she was raped in August 2018 by LeGrone and another teammate, according to both lawsuits. The school notified her in January that “no finding was being made against” the two players, according to the lawsuit.

LeGrone and Hunt have been criminally charged with first-degree sexual assault in connection with a report a different female student made to the Lincoln Police Department in August 2019, alleging that the two men had sex with her without her consent. That woman is not a party to either lawsuit. For that incident, Nebraska’s Title IX office found LeGrone and Hunt responsible for sexual misconduct last fall, and they were expelled as of April 3. Their criminal cases are pending.

“The health and safety of all of our students is of the upmost importance to us,” a Nebraska spokesperson said in a statement to ESPN. “We have a strong Title IX process and are confident in it. Every case is difficult and investigated based on the information made available. We cannot comment on the specifics of any Title IX investigation or on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit includes a woman who said she was a 17-year-old freshman at Nebraska in August 2015 when she was raped by a different male athlete in a dorm room. The athlete and his teammate then sent her threatening text messages, according to the lawsuit. Neither male athlete is named in the lawsuit.

The woman reported the incident to the school and law enforcement in January 2016 after she sought counseling. Neither report resulted in any action taken against the two male athletes, according to the lawsuit. When the woman received a letter from the school’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (IEC) with its determination, it contained errors about her report to the Title IX investigator, including a notation that she stated she had not been intoxicated during the incident, according to the lawsuit. The woman had reported to the IEC staff that “she had consumed alcohol, was feeling ‘tipsy,’ and that she was trying to sleep when [the male athlete] got in bed with her and began groping, kissing, and raping her,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman said the alleged rape made it hard for her to keep up academically, and the school made the process of withdrawing from a class difficult, the lawsuit states. In May 2016, while she was appealing the decision of the Title IX office, the woman received an email notifying her that she had been “academically dismissed” from the university, and she never returned to finish her degree at Nebraska.

Among the other incidents and women referenced in the lawsuit is a former female cadet with the UNL Army National Guard Reserve Officers’ Training Corps who is Black and bisexual. She alleges that a male cadet engaged in repeated sexual harassment and racial discrimination against her and that the IEC and ROTC denied her request for accommodations to protect her from having to interact with him, according to the lawsuit. She reported the incident to the IEC in October 2018 and was notified in November 2018 that no finding was being made against the male cadet, the lawsuit states. When she appealed the finding, she said then-Nebraska Title IX Coordinator Tamiko Strickman told her that race discrimination claims “will never be fully investigated [by IEC] because students on campus have a right to free speech.”

Strickman, who now works at the University of Michigan, did not respond to an email request for comment.

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Ex-Clemson CB commit Jordan Hancock switches to Ohio State

ESPN 300 cornerback Jordan Hancock announced his commitment to Ohio State on Sunday. The No. 102 ranked prospect decommitted from Clemson on July 14, and is now a part of the Buckeyes class.

Hancock is a 6-foot, 170-pound corner from North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia, and originally committed to Clemson in March over some of the top schools in the country, including Ohio State at the time.

Once he announced his decommitment from the Tigers, Ohio State was the heavy favorite to get his pledge, and he didn’t wait long to jump on board.

“I wasn’t fully all in, so I didn’t want to, if I’m not 100 percent committed I’m not going to stay committed,” Hancock said. “(Ohio State) was very consistent, they never let off the gas. They were the first big school to offer me, I wasn’t even ranked when they offered, so they were the first school to take a chance on me.”

Hancock has also seen the number of cornerbacks and defensive backs Ohio State has put into the NFL in recent years, which is something that factored into his recruitment. Building a relationship with defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, Hancock was reminded of that success.

“Coach Coombs was one of the biggest factors because he’s a great person, great man and definitely a great coach,” Hancock said. “We talked about how he recruits first rounders, first round cornerbacks and that I have that talent. He compares me to (Jeff) Okudah and Denzel Ward, that’s what I remind him of.”

Seeing former first-round picks and the success Ohio State has had at the position made it that much easier for Hancock to see he, too, could make it to the NFL from Ohio State.

Having the opportunity to show Hancock all the past players that made it to the league, rather than just tell him he could make it, was a big help in Ohio State’s recruitment, as well.

“Their vision for me, coming in to play early, playing that slot corner,” Hancock said. “That’s what Shaun Wade is playing and basically three to four years, I could be a first-round pick.”

As the No. 102 ranked prospect overall, Hancock is adding to Ohio State’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class in a big way. The Buckeyes now have 16 ESPN 300 commitments, which is the most of any FBS program.

What’s even more impressive is that Ohio State has 14 commitments ranked inside the top-150 of the ESPN 300. That is still more than any other FBS program has in the entire ESPN 300 with Alabama, LSU and North Carolina all holding 12 each in the top-300.

The Buckeyes have the No. 1 ranked prospect overall in defensive end Jack Sawyer and have 12 prospects committed ranked in the top-10 of their respective positions. That includes TreVeyon Henderson, the No. 1 ranked running back, Kyle McCord, the No. 4 ranked quarterback and Jayden Ballard, the No. 4 ranked wide receiver overall.

With 19 total commitments, Ohio State has already put together one of the more impressive recruiting classes in recent years, and there is still more room to add a few more top recruits.

The Buckeyes are still in on five-star defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau, safety Derrick Davis Jr, ranked No. 28 and wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, the No. 29 ranked prospect overall, among a few others.

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Indiana pauses voluntary football workouts after positive COVID-19 tests

Indiana has paused voluntary workouts for football after six participants tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The pause in workouts is only for the football program and the Indiana athletics department emphasized it does not impact individuals who have been cleared to participate in voluntary workouts from the Indiana men’s and women’s basketball and soccer teams, as well as volleyball and field hockey, who have returned to campus.

Indiana began bringing groups of student-athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts on June 15 and has been following requirements for participants including daily medical checks, social distancing and testing.

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This announcement comes only nine days after Ohio State paused its own voluntary workouts, which impacts seven teams, including the football team. The Buckeyes announced on July 14, however, workouts would resume.

The same day Indiana is pausing its workouts, Michigan released its testing numbers saying the university tested 121 student-athletes and coaches on July 13 and 14 and received four positive tests. Michigan has conducted 485 tests in total and received eight positive tests.

Michigan State reported similar numbers to Michigan, saying three positive tests came back from 38 tests on July 13, but have a total of eight positive tests from the more than 500 COVID-19 tests conducted altogether.

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Revisiting the best Heisman websites of the 2000s

He appears on the left side of the screen, eyes downfield, ball firmly secured in his left hand, racing toward the end zone while being chased by red and orange flames.

You don’t see him? Make sure your web browser supports Adobe Flash Player. Otherwise, the homepage of TurnerTheBurner.com, the 17-year-old website that promoted Northern Illinois running back Michael Turner for the Heisman Trophy in 2003, can’t fully be appreciated.

While Adobe Flash is set to end on Dec. 31, TurnerTheBurner.com and a small group of Heisman promotional websites will live on, having stood the test of digital time. Most Heisman websites disappear from public view shortly after they appear, much like many of the players they trumpet. Even some websites launched in the last season or two are no longer accessible.

Those that remain celebrate past college stars like West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, Stanford running backs Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, and, naturally, Oklahoma State punter Zach Sinor. Johnny Manziel’s site is still up, but from the year after he won the Heisman. Although TurnerTheBurner.com appears to be the oldest still-active site, Purdue’s “Painting A Masterpiece,” which promoted quarterback Curtis Painter in 2008, remains accessible, thanks to the digital fossilizing of Archive.org.

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“The one that’s accessible, I don’t think anybody even truly realized it was,” said Buddy Kimberlin, director of 12th Man Productions at Texas A&M, who helped work on Manziel’s sites in 2012 and 2013. “It’s not on purpose. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. … It just never got essentially turned off.

“I don’t know if that’s an exciting story, but it’s more of, ‘Yeah, that thing is still up and running.'”

And thank goodness it is.

Here’s a look at the stories behind five still-preserved Heisman websites.

Turner The Burner, 2003

TurnerTheBurner.com’s longer-than-normal lifespan is a nod to the people who created the site. Vinay Mullick and Dave Spoehr met as students at Northern Illinois and founded Monroestar Inc., a web design company, in 2001. They wanted to build websites for athletes, and, after seeing some early Heisman sites pop up, approached their alma mater.

Their timing was perfect. Turner rushed for 1,915 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2002 and was named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award. NIU planned a full-fledged traditional Heisman campaign for his senior year, built around the “Turner The Burner” theme and complete with mailings, T-shirts, notebooks for reporters and even hot sauce bottles (confession: I kept my Turner The Burner hot sauce bottle for at least five years). Mullick and Spoehr were willing to do the work as a gift to their alma mater, and also saw it as a way to grow business.

“This is before any type of social media, before YouTube, before Facebook, before Twitter,” Spoehr said. “Websites were the only vehicle, other than being broadcast on television, to get your name out there. We went all-in on it. It wasn’t some sort of afterthought. NIU helped us with it, but it was kind of independent from them.”

After meeting with NIU sports information and marketing staffers, Spoehr and Mullick bought the domain name and got to work. Spoehr created a logo and the flash animation for the homepage, and NIU began supplying statistics, quotes about Turner and other content.

“The opening with Michael coming from the left there, it’s inspired,” said Mike Korcek, NIU’s longtime sports information director. “Those two guys, they could have run a picture of Michael Turner and put a couple stories out there, but they looked at the material and figured out where to put it.”

By midseason, Turner’s Heisman site approached 250,000 views. Courtesy Northern Illinois University

The website immediately gained traction, as NIU opened the season with a home win over No. 14 Maryland in overtime. Two weeks later, the Huskies traveled to No. 21 Alabama as 14-point underdogs but stunned the Crimson Tide 19-16.

“So many of the Alabama fans knew about the website,” said Mullick, who traveled to Tuscaloosa with a group of NIU friends. “We weren’t saying, ‘Hey, we designed the site.’ But you’re tailgating and it’s a pretty festive environment, a lot of folks would talk about the running back and the website would come up and then our buddies would be like, ‘These guys made the website,’ which was pretty cool.”

By midseason, the site approached 250,000 views, Korcek said. CNNSI.com, the precursor to SI.com, ranked the best Heisman Trophy websites and included TurnerTheBurner.com. NIU went 10-2 and while Turner didn’t match his 2002 production, he finished second nationally in rushing.

Most Heisman websites are hosted by the schools or digital partners like CBS Sports or, back then, the FANSOnly network, so they disappeared after the season. But Monroestar managed TurnerTheBurner.com independently. The company didn’t end up doing websites for athletes, but TurnerTheBurner.com remained “a centerpiece,” Spoehr said, to promote their work.

“I get the GoDaddy renewals,” Mullick said. “Years ago, Dave and I had a quick conversation. I was like, ‘Hey, man, you cool with keeping the site up?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ It literally costs us less than $100 a year, if that. To me, it was a no-brainer.”

Spoehr notes that while technology has changed significantly since 2003, the website “holds up pretty well.” The information scroll and rotating testimonials still work, along with most of the navigation.

The site’s last news update occurred in April 2004 with the headline: Northern Illinois TB ‘Turner The Burner’ Becomes ‘Turner The Charger’ In 2004 NFL Draft.

“I have to laugh: Turner The Burner is Turner The Charger,” Korcek said. “They maximized everything they got and really did a nice job with it. It is still pretty good. You look back 17 years ago and say, it’s pretty slick for a mid-major.”

Painting A Masterpiece, 2008

In 2004, Purdue launched a Heisman website for quarterback Kyle Orton, hooking it around his political interest and roots — Orton’s father was a longtime government official in Iowa — and the election year. Four years later, Purdue took a similarly themed approach with another quarterback in Painter, who majored in computer graphics and liked to draw.

“It looks like it was done with a paintbrush, the website,” said Wendy Mayer, a former Purdue sports information staff member who worked on the Painter site. “All the fonts are very artistic. We wanted that. All the names of the subsites are related to art. He was going to have a blog, and he had given us some of his art, paintings or drawings he had done, that we were going to include on there.

“Once we came up with the ‘Painting a Masterpiece,’ everything else just fell into place.”

Purdue played off Painter’s interest in drawing for his site. Courtesy Purduesports.com

Purdue went all-in with the Painter/painting theme. Mayer put together a calendar in Photoshop that used different effects to make each image “more artsy.” There also was a highlight video, set to the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black,” a nod to both Painter’s name and Purdue’s home jersey color.

CBS hosted Purdue’s sites at the time and handled the design, so Mayer provided the header and fonts. Although only the homepage is still preserved, the other pages followed the theme. You could click on Painter’s bio (Meet The Artist), browse his statistics (Paint By Numbers) or track his team records (Brushes With Greatness).

“What better way to make people aware of someone than to grab them with something unique,” said Tom Schott, Purdue’s longtime sports information director. “I was really big into promotion of student-athletes going back to [Drew] Brees in ’99 and 2000, and how it changed over 10 years was phenomenal. We barely had a website back in 1999, let alone one devoted to a particular student-athlete.”

Painter had generated huge numbers in 2006 and 2007 — 7,831 passing yards and 51 touchdowns combined — but his performance fell off in 2008, and the team went 4-8. Still, Mayer is proud of the website and the campaign. She still has the “Paint It Black” DVD and the Painter calendar.

“I’m sure there are people who look at it and go, ‘Oh my gosh, who created this? This is so old-school.’ Because it is,” said Mayer, who now oversees communications for Purdue’s department of forestry and natural resources. “It’s when things were themed and everything. Nobody does that anymore. I was talking to my friends at Louisville and they were like, ‘I think Lamar Jackson’s site is still up,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but this is 2008.’ It’s a part of my life.”

Johnny Football, 2013

After Texas A&M stunned No. 1 Alabama in November 2012, athletic director Eric Hyman and Jason Cook, then Texas A&M’s vice president for marketing and communications, reached the same conclusion on a festive flight home.

“Johnny has a shot to win the Heisman Trophy,” Cook recalled.

Two days later, Cook met with staff from media relations, social media, video production, graphics and other departments to fast-track a Heisman website for Manziel. The mission was twofold: promote Manziel and tell Texas A&M’s story as a new SEC member.

Although Manziel would soon dominate college football headlines for an extended stretch, he needed a national introduction, especially since Aggies freshmen were not allowed to talk with the media.

“That helped with his legend, because his play was incredible, but nobody knew anything about him,” Kimberlin said. “So the day before we put that website out, we started tweeting out a bunch of Chuck Norris jokes. That was a part of the plan, play off the mystery of Johnny Manziel, and just the magician he was on the field. That was part of his aura.”

The site went heavy on visual elements, from highlight videos to an infographic that featured six kneeling Tim Tebows (Manziel became the first player since Tebow with six games of multiple touchdown passes and multiple touchdown runs) and a cat (Manziel tweeted about rescuing a kitten on the road outside Kyle Field).

“That was probably the first Heisman Trophy campaign in the social media age,” Cook said. “Instagram wasn’t around, but Twitter was really driving the dialogue around the candidate. We really started positioning everything in those websites through a visual lens, in knowing it was going to play in the digital formal, either via social media or website.”

Texas A&M launched a new site for Johnny Manziel in 2013 — a year after his Heisman win. Courtesy Aggieathletics.com

After Manziel’s Heisman win in 2012, Texas A&M launched a new site in 2013. His story was known, so the site highlighted stats and testimonials. The main page still features a story from beloved ESPN.com colleague Edward Aschoff, who argued that Manziel actually improved during his Heisman encore.

Texas A&M opened the season ranked No. 7 but dropped four games. Manziel finished fifth in the Heisman voting.

“The 2013 strategy was a little bit different,” said Cook, now a vice president at Baylor. “He was a returning Heisman winner. The strategy really shifted more toward a stat-based approach.

“There was just so much more to the story in 2012.”

WildCaff (2015) and Heisman Love (2016)

After McCaffrey’s strong start to the 2015 season, Stanford began discussing a Heisman push for the versatile running back. “We talked about all the creative levers we could pull,” said Chris Gray, the school’s assistant athletics director for digital & video.

Before coming to Stanford, Gray had developed microsites at Miami, including one for a Duke Johnson Heisman push that never really got going. These heavily coded websites live on a central FTP server and are accessible as long as the source code exists.

The sharp-looking sites are heavy on design. Gray also had to make sure the site’s coding would translate well for mobile devices. As Stanford prepared to launch McCaffrey’s site, built around the #WildCaff theme, Gray’s life resembled the coders grinding away miles from Stanford’s campus in Silicon Valley.

“There was a three- or four-day stretch where I was pulling all-nighters, I was sleeping on the couch in the office, rummaging in the fridge for food,” Gray said. “No one was holding me there, but it was definitely a sprint on the back end of the project, just fine-tuning a lot of stuff.”

Stanford used custom coding so McCaffrey’s site would stand out from more formulaic templates. Courtesy Stanford University

The homepage opens with clips of McCaffrey, rapidly tallying statistics (a feature throughout the site), several lists and charts, and a series of quotes from analysts and others. Below, users can click on individual game modules from 2015, showing McCaffrey’s video highlights, several photos, statistics and a short summary of his performance.

Gray thinks the custom coding allows sites like McCaffrey’s to stand out from more formulaic templates.

“Some of the blue bloods, regardless of what they create, you know you’re going to get hundreds of thousands of eyeballs on something,” Gray said, “where some other schools need to work a little bit harder, put a little bit more custom work into pieces for it to really grab the attention of a larger audience.”

McCaffrey’s site generated several hundred-thousand page views within its first week. Although he put up incredible numbers, he finished second in Heisman voting, a familiar position for Stanford hopefuls.

For Love, Stanford leaned more into the personalization of Bryce and who he was. Courtesy Stanford University

Stanford’s microsite for Love in 2017 has similarities — a logo up top, followed by tallying statistics and a game-by-game section at the bottom. But there are also text blocks linking to Love’s bio and highlighting his academic success and goal of becoming a pediatrician.

“We leaned more into the personalization of Bryce and who he was,” said Gray, adding that many of the visuals that dominate McCaffrey’s site were pushed out on social media for Love.

Gray hopes to put together other microsites for Stanford standouts, but knows Heisman promotion is ever-evolving.

“In my mind, they’re just a piece. In the past, it was a primary source,” he said. “When you’re talking about the Heisman context, that feels like the best vehicle to put your best foot forward initially, and then you really build on top of that with daily, weekly content.”

Sinor4Heisman, 2017

Stanford’s microsites are models of digital advancement and coding. Zach Sinor’s is not, but the Oklahoma State punter’s 2017 Heisman website is just as glorious, if not more so.

Visitors are greeted by a spinning “Sinor4Heisman” banner with a Star Wars-like backdrop and the caption “Punters are people, too!”

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At Big 12 media day, OSU’s Zach Sinor outlines his campaign to be the only punter to win the Heisman.

Like other Heisman websites, Sinor’s features several statistical milestones, such as, “0.94 yards per punt return allowed, thanks to amazing hang times.” Rather than impersonal links to bios, Sinor introduces himself and gets right to the point, writing: I want to be the first punter to ever win the Heisman Trophy. The numbers don’t lie and they spell disaster for opposing offenses.

There’s also a dancing baby and a picture of Sinor with a dolphin and the caption, “Animals love him!”

His site also features a series of videos from Zach TV, which show Sinor’s tireless attempts to get his campaign — wait for it — off the ground.

Not bad for a project that took place during the plane trip to Big 12 media days in July 2017.

“They had this software on this laptop that I messed around with and put some things here and there and worked on the website,” Sinor said. “Whenever we landed in Dallas, we tweeted it out, and that’s how it kind of started. After that day, I really didn’t mess with it or even look at it.”

http://orange.okstate.com/sinor/

Sinor didn’t know the site was still active until earlier this year, when his coworkers at a car sales company in Stillwater found it.

“Everybody’s watching all these videos and embarrassing me and putting them everywhere,” Sinor said. “People were saying, ‘He was running for the Heisman, blah, blah, blah,’ and then someone’s said, ‘Wasn’t he the punter?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, it’s all a big joke.’ People don’t understand that punters don’t get Heisman votes.”

That may be true, but at least one punter’s Heisman website lives on.

“When [my coworkers] pulled it up in like two minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, jeez,'” Sinor said. “That was the first I had seen it since probably Big 12 media day. It loaded right in and it was just there. I was like, ‘Wow, I guess it is.’ And they clicked on all the YouTube videos under the links and they all popped up and went to the Heisman videos, and I went, ‘Oh, jeez.'”

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Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley confident there will be a college football season

While commissioners, athletic directors and coaches brace for the worst amid the growing coronavirus crisis, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley said he remains confident there will be college football this season — even if it looks a bit different.

After the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced a move to conference-only play and numerous college football power brokers have expressed concerns about the season being played, Riley said there’s ample reason to find a solution, as long as it meets safety standards.

“I just can’t imagine a scenario [where we don’t explore every option to play],” Riley said. “Whether it’s something we do in the fall, whether it’s a shortened season, whether it’s spring, there’s nothing we should take off the table. Regardless of what we have to do, I don’t think there’s anything we can’t work around and we can’t adjust and can’t make work in order to play college football. We’ve all got to do our part on that.”

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Riley has been among the few big names to advocate for the potential of a spring season. He said the key is simply time — giving medical professionals and schools the longest runway to find a workable plan.

Oklahoma’s football program had 14 players test positive for Covid-19 throughout its initial run of testing, but the Sooners announced no new positive results among 89 tests performed on July 8. Riley said he’d just taken another test Tuesday as part of the program’s ongoing protocols.

Riley said the safety of staff and players remains the top priority, but he noted that the financial health of the schools, athletic departments and surrounding communities is so dependent on college football that it’s incumbent on programs to make the necessary concessions to make a season work, if at all possible.

“The health and safety is the most important thing, and that’s the determining factor,” Riley said. “If we can’t do it, we can’t do it. But if we can, college football is so important to these communities, these universities, these athletes — not just football athletes, but college football affects every athlete on every campus. It’s a big, big deal. It’s not more important than health, but if we can get it to a safe place, we’ve got to find a way to get it done, whenever and however.”

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Pac-12 follows Big Ten in moving to conference-only schedule for fall sports

Jul 10, 2020

Mark Schlabach

CloseESPN Senior WriterSenior college football writer
Author of seven books on college football
Graduate of the University of Georgia

Heather Dinich

CloseESPN Senior Writer College football reporter
Joined ESPN.com in 2007
Graduate of Indiana University

A day after the Big Ten announced it would play a conference-only schedule in all sports this fall, the Pac-12 voted to do the same Friday during a virtual meeting of athletics directors, university presidents and conference officials.

The Pac-12 CEO group’s decision will delay the start of fall seasons, including football.

One of the reasons the Pac-12 decided to push back the start of the football season was a concern that UCLA and USC would not be ready to play in early September because of coronavirus cases in the Los Angeles area, sources told ESPN.

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The Bruins were slated to open the season against New Mexico State at home on Aug. 29; the Trojans were scheduled to open against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 5.

“USC AD Mike Bohn and I had multiple conversations over the last several months, and we were both planning on playing the football game on September 5 in Arlington,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement. “With the Pac-12’s decision to move to a conference-only schedule, we will do our best to adjust. What that looks like is to be determined.”

The Pac-12’s decision to play only conference games means Notre Dame will not face USC for the first time since World War II. The Irish and Trojans have played each other every season since 1926 except for 1943-45 because of the war. Notre Dame will also lose its rivalry game against Stanford, which has been played every year since 1988, except for 1995 and 1996. Because of the Big Ten’s decision, Notre Dame’s contest against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay also won’t be played.

The move also creates scheduling dilemmas for BYU and Hawai’i, which will both have to find new opponents for each of their first four games. As it stands now, neither school has a game scheduled until the first weekend in October. BYU was scheduled to play Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State and Minnesota the first four weeks and Stanford in the regular-season finale, and Hawai’i was slated to play Arizona, UCLA, Fordham (the Patriot League banned flying for the upcoming season) and Oregon.

BYU at UtahSept. 3Oregon State at Oklahoma StateSept. 3TCU at CaliforniaSept. 5Michigan at Washington*Sept. 5USC vs. Alabama (Arlington, TX)Sept. 5Ohio State at Oregon*Sept. 12Colorado at Texas A&MSept. 19Arizona at Texas TechSept. 19Stanford at Notre DameOct. 10Notre Dame at USCNov. 28*Canceled Thursday as result of
Big Ten changes

“Obviously with three Pac-12 teams on our football schedule, today’s decision affects us more than others,” Hawai’i AD David Matlin said in a statement. “We are disappointed because not only were we looking forward to opening the season at Arizona, we were excited to host UCLA for the first time in over 80 years and renew a series with Oregon. However the decision was made in the best interest of student-athlete health and wellness and we support that and will move on accordingly with the rest of our schedule.”

Colorado State, UNLV, Utah State and FCS program Portland State were all scheduled to play two games each against Pac-12 foes.

The decision also included men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball, and the league said it was delaying the start of mandatory athletic activities “until a series of health and safety indicators, which have recently trended in a negative direction, provided sufficient positive data to enable a move to a second phase of return-to-play activities.”

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

The Pac-12 announced later Friday that Scott had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The league said student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics during the coming academic year because of safety concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university and will remain in good standing with their team.

“Competitive sports are an integral part of the educational experience for our student-athletes, and we will do everything that we can to support them in achieving their dreams while at the same time ensuring that their health and safety is at the forefront,” said Michael Schill, the Pac-12 CEO group chair and president of the University of Oregon.

Officials from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC told ESPN on Friday that they probably will wait until the end of July to make a decision on scheduling for football this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, if the season can be played. SEC athletic directors are scheduled to meet at the league’s office in Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday. ACC officials also are scheduled to meet next week.

Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.

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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey – Concern about football season ‘high to very high’

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Saturday his concern for the football season is “high to very high” and acknowledged, “We are running out of time to correct and get things right.”

During an interview on Marty & McGee on ESPN Radio, Sankey was asked about looming decisions the SEC must make about the upcoming season, with coronavirus cases across the South rising, and about announcements the Big Ten and Pac-12 have made regarding the move to conference-only schedules.

“We put a medical advisory group together in early April with the question, ‘What do we have to do to get back to activity?’ and they’ve been a big part of the conversation,” Sankey said. “But the direct reality is not good and the notion that we’ve politicized medical guidance of distancing, and breathing masks, and hand sanitization, ventilation of being outside, being careful where you are in buildings. There’s some very clear advice about — you can’t mitigate and eliminate every risk, but how do you minimize the risk? … We are running out of time to correct and get things right, and as a society we owe it to each other to be as healthy as we can be.”

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Sankey reiterated that the SEC’s deadline to make a decision remains late July, and he said the decisions the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made do not put pressure on him or the SEC to follow suit. He recalled a conversation he had with a biostatistician, who told him he should take all the time he needs before making a decision because every day will provide more information.

“That literally is playing out in front of us every day,” Sankey said. “That’s why I don’t feel any pressure because of somebody else’s decisions. We’re trying to make the right decisions for us, for the Southeastern Conference. It does have an impact because I’ve said publicly we’re all linked nationally, so when other people make decisions, yup, there’s an impact, but also we’re going to look at our situation and make a decision that’s appropriate for the Southeastern Conference and most importantly for the health of our student-athletes.”

The Big 12 and ACC have also announced they will wait until later in July before making any decisions about the fall season or possible scheduling arrangements.

“What I’ve tried to do is both keep a focus on what’s ahead but provide reality, which has been I’m going to focus on preparing to play the season as scheduled but acknowledge the circumstances around coronavirus are going to guide us in that decision-making,” Sankey said. “And the reality right now is the trends in our region, in our nation, are not in the positive direction for being able to have normal experiences.”

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Big Ten moving to conference-only model for all sports this fall

3:18 PM ET

Heather Dinich

CloseESPN Senior Writer College football reporter
Joined ESPN.com in 2007
Graduate of Indiana University

Mark Schlabach

CloseESPN Senior WriterSenior college football writer
Author of seven books on college football
Graduate of the University of Georgia

The Big Ten on Thursday announced it will go to a conference-only season for all fall sports, including football, amid “unprecedented times” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

“… By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”

DateMatchupSept. 5Michigan at WashingtonSept. 12Ohio State at OregonIowa State at IowaPenn State at Va. TechSept. 19App. State at WisconsinSept. 26Miami at Michigan StateCincinnati at NebraskaOct. 3Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame** at Lambeau Field

The Big Ten is the first of the Power 5 conferences to make this type of a major change to its fall sports. The SEC on Thursday said it continues to meet with campus leaders “to determine the best path forward” for fall sports, and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement that he has been advised to “move ahead slowly” and plan “for all available scenarios.” Meanwhile, the ACC has already said it would delay all fall sports until at least Sept. 1.

SEC league officials and athletic directors are scheduled to meet early next week but have no plans to make any decisions on the fall schedule, sources confirmed to ESPN. SI.com was first to report the meeting.

“We will talk concepts, just like we have since the beginning, and those concepts have to be more serious given the shifting landscape,” an SEC AD told ESPN. “But everything remains fluid, and no one believes right now that we have to [shorten the season to just league games] like the Big Ten did.”

The Ivy League on Wednesday ruled out playing all sports this fall.

If college football can be played this fall, Big Ten presidents and athletic directors preferred the conference-only model, which will eliminate some long-distance travel and help ensure teams are being tested for the coronavirus universally, multiple sources inside the league and around college football told ESPN.

Other sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

The new conference-only schedules for all fall sports will be released at a later date, the Big Ten said. The conference also said it would continue to evaluate other sports.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he would be in favor of playing 10 conference football games.

“I’m hopeful that’s where we end up next week in locking that down,” Smith said Thursday. “We’ve talked about that, and that’s our preference.”

Smith said if they’re able to play in September, but something happens later in the month or in October, “we can hit the pause button and provide a window of opportunity for our student-athletes not to be put at risk.

“We can move games,” Smith said. “… There’s a flexibility — I can’t say that enough. That’s significant.”

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Heather Dinich details the Big Ten’s goals for this season, including playing 10 conference games with the division games frontloaded.

Big Ten presidents and ADs discussed the issues during a conference call earlier this week, and the league’s head coaches were given an opportunity to weigh in on Thursday morning.

The statement said the league will continue to follow “the best advice of medical experts,” but acknowledged “we are also prepared not to play … should circumstances so dictate” — something that Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren also said later Thursday.

“This is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” Warren told Big Ten Network. “We may not have sports in the fall. We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.

“We just wanted to make sure this was the next logical step to try and rely on our medical experts to keep our student athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure they are as healthy as they can possibly be from a mental, physical and emotional wellness standpoint.”

Smith shares that concern about a fall season taking place.

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“I’m really concerned. … I’m very concerned,” Smith said. “In our last conversation, whenever that was, I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now, when you look at the behavior of our country and you consider that in May we were on a downward trajectory with our [coronavirus] cases. … Now, we’re — if not the worst in the world — one of the worst in the world.

“I am concerned that we may not be able to play. Which is why we took the measure we took — in order to try and have September available to us for conference games and give us the flexibility and control to handle disruptions if we’re able to start a season. I’m concerned about where we are, just across the board, relative to the management of the pandemic as individuals.”

The conference also said it was working with the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee to finalize protocols for the upcoming fall seasons.

“This is really where the work begins — to make sure we get testing protocols finalized, to make sure we get all medical and operational procedures finalized,” Warren told Big Ten Network.

The Big Ten said all student-athletes choosing not to participate in sports during the 2020-21 academic year because of concerns about COVID-19 “will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

Some Big Ten schools preferred playing only conference foes in football with one additional nonleague game — thus preserving some of the marquee non-Big Ten matchups — but there was overwhelming support for a 10-game conference-only schedule, the sources said.

An assistant coach at a Big Ten program told ESPN that his head coach instructed him to stop scouting and otherwise preparing for nonconference opponents and focus only on Big Ten foes.

The Big Ten’s decision to play only conference opponents affects 36 scheduled football opponents, 28 from the FBS and eight from the FCS. Six FBS schools — Ball State, Bowling Green, BYU, Central Michigan, UConn and Northern Illinois — were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents this season.

Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger said the Big Ten’s decision is just “the tip of the iceberg.”

“We understand that difficult decisions need to be made,” Moosbrugger said. “… If we are to solve these challenges and be truly dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our student-athletes, we need to do a better job of working together.”

The marquee nonconference matchups lost to the Big Ten decision include Michigan’s road game at Washington on Sept. 5, Ohio State’s trip to Oregon on Sept. 12, Michigan State’s home game against Miami on Sept. 26 and Wisconsin’s contest against Notre Dame at Lambeau Field on Oct. 3.

Smith said more decisions regarding the specifics of the football schedule — how many games are played, if the schedule needs to be front-loaded with division games, and how a champion might be determined — are expected next week.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg contributed to this story.

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What will the Ivy League’s fall sports decision mean for college football?

The first impactful decision regarding college sports’ return to play this fall is almost upon us.

The Ivy League will announce its plans on Wednesday for fall sports, which could include a shortened schedule or postponing the season until the spring.

Back on March 10, the Ivy League presidents decided to cancel their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was dismissed by many — including some of the league’s players and coaches — as an overreaction, made by a league with a different set of priorities. Within 48 hours, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA suspended its season and all NCAA sports were canceled.

Regardless of what the Ivies decide, the main question is this: Will their decision once again become a trend at the FBS level or will it be an outlier made by a league without the same structures and incentives as big-time college football?

College football’s power brokers insist it’s the latter … for now.

“We all pay attention to it, just to see what’s out there, but I think their model is a little different than our model when it comes to football,” said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who also is the chair of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee. “Is it definitely going to impact what we do? As a whole, not necessarily. We have to look at what we’re doing with testing and protocols and the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, making sure we’re doing the right thing from that aspect of it, to see if we can fill any type of season.”

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Lyons’ statement reflects the general sentiment of athletic directors and conference commissioners interviewed by ESPN about the potential trickle-up effect, should the Ivy League decide to cancel fall sports entirely or postpone them in favor of a spring season.

Last week, TMG Sports reported the Ivy League is considering two possibilities for an altered football season, including forgoing the complete fall slate in favor of a seven-game, conference-only spring season that would begin in April and conclude in mid-May. According to the report, the conference also has been considering opening the 2020 season in late September with a seven-game schedule against only conference opponents.

Last Wednesday, the Ivy League announced it would make “a final decision regarding the status” of fall sports on July 8.

“I don’t think it’s going to have much bearing on what we do,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. “Different part of the country, different approach to college sports and college football. Everyone is looking around the country and taking an interest in what they do, but I don’t think it’s going to have any bearing on what we do.”

There’s no question the Ivy League could — and probably will — influence other FCS leagues as they grapple with the costs of repeatedly testing student-athletes for the coronavirus. It’s arguably an easier decision to make at that level because the FCS sports receive institutional funding and support, so while an athletic department might feel the economic crunch the university is experiencing, it isn’t dependent upon college football or an accompanying TV contract to support its other sports.

“If it costs too much to maintain a healthy environment at our institutions and our communities, then we don’t play sports or we don’t return students to campus,” Patriot League commissioner Jennifer Heppel said. “We’re not going to compromise health and safety due to a football guarantee. That’s crazy. If we can’t do it safely, we’re not going to do it.”

It’s a mantra that has been repeated at every level, but while confidence has been waning with a recent surge in cases across the country, there is also an underlying sense that if FBS-level schools can play, they will.

“We haven’t been told by public health officials or our local doctors or our scientific consultants that we should stop doing what we’re doing,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “My feeling is you just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you’re advised it’s a bad idea. When we get that advice, obviously the safety, health and well-being of our student-athletes and staff is first. When we’re told, ‘This just isn’t going to work out,’ obviously nobody is going to be resisting that … but they haven’t said that to us yet.”

The Ivy League might be prepping big changes to its college football season, but Power 5 athletic directors and ADs aren’t there yet, with Penn State AD Sandy Barbour calling a spring season a “last resort.” Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

And when it comes to college football and the College Football Playoff, there are five commissioners, plus Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who wield the bulk of the decision-making power: Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, ACC commissioner John Swofford, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Scott and Bowlsby.

They have been collaborating more than ever, and each conference has been working on various contingency models since the spring, including a conference-only season, a delayed start to the season, a spring season and even the worst-case scenario — no season at all. Many commissioners and athletic directors have told ESPN that while a spring season is possible, it’s the least popular alternative right now. They cite the unknowns regarding the virus and vaccine in January, complications with the NFL draft and the risks of having players participate in two seasons in one calendar year as obstacles.

There won’t be any decisions to make, though, if campuses aren’t open this fall.

“It’s very unlikely that we would play fall sports — highly unlikely we would play fall sports — if we didn’t have our students back on campus,” said American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. “If our presidents and chancellors didn’t feel it was safe to have our students on campus, it’s very hard to see college sports happening in the fall.”

As powerful as the Power 5 commissioners are, university presidents have been pushed to the forefront of the decision-making processes. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told ESPN last week that the Patriot League presidents “pay an awful lot of attention to decisions that are made within the Ivy League.”

“Whatever the Ivy League does, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriot League gives it very serious consideration,” said Gladchuk, whose school is in the Patriot League for all sports except football. “It’d be typical of the way we’ve operated in the past.”

Heppel said the presidents’ response to the Ivy League announcement will carry significant weight not only within her conference but across the country.

“Yes, our presidents watch,” she said of the Patriot League, “but I would also argue that nationally presidents watch the Ivy League. Athletics directors and commissioners might not, but presidents are certainly looking at what the president at Harvard is doing.”

At least in the short term, though, it’s possible the Ivy League’s decision resonates more with its peers than the FBS conferences. The question is whether multiple decisions to cancel or postpone fall sports — even at the lowest level — snowball into more.

“You’ll pay attention to it, but the Ivy League is different,” Aresco said. “At this point, I think the FBS has to make its own calculation and decision. The Ivy League decision will resonate to some extent, but I think we have to rationally look at our situation and say, ‘Look, can we do this safely?'”

It’s an answer the FBS schools seem to prefer to get to on their own.

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