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NCAA Approves Autonomy for the “Big 5″

August 8, 2014
The rich get richer in the with the new autonomy for the Big 5

The rich get richer in the with the new autonomy for the Big 5

Big development for the major conference and landscape of college football. The big 5 (Pac-12, SEC, Big-12, Big-10 and the ACC) we’re in talks of breaking off from the NCAA. Now autonomy has been approved. Brian Bennett from ESPN.Com has the full story.

The power conferences in major college sports just got more powerful — maybe a lot more so.

The NCAA Division I board of directors on Thursday voted 16-2 to allow the schools in the top five conferences to write many of their own rules. The autonomy measures — which the power conferences had all but demanded — will permit those leagues to decide on things such as cost-of-attendance stipends and insurance benefits for players, staff sizes, recruiting rules and mandatory hours spent on individual sports.

“This keeps Division I together,” board chairman and Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch said. “I’m thrilled that Division I and all its virtues can be maintained, and I think this is the pathway to do so.”

The top 64 schools in the richest five leagues (the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) plus Notre Dame can submit their own legislation by Oct. 1 and have it enacted at the January 2015 NCAA convention in Washington, D.C. Several presidents said Thursday that the full cost-of-attendance stipends, which could be worth between $2,000 and $5,000 per player, likely would be the first item taken up. The NCAA approved those stipends three years ago, but legislation was halted when the full membership voted it down. Four-year scholarship guarantees are expected to be on the early agenda, as well.

“I think you’ll see those issues be acted on very aggressively, right away,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.

Other new rules the biggest conferences could enact include loosened restrictions involving contact between players and agents, letting players pursue outside paid career opportunities and covering expenses for players’ families to attend postseason games. Areas that will not fall under the autonomy umbrella include postseason tournaments, transfer policies, scholarship limits, signing day and rules governing on-field play.

Leagues outside the Power Five can opt to adopt the same rules. Of course, many schools won’t be able to afford measures like cost-of-attendance stipends. That could create an even larger competitive imbalance between schools in the power conferences and those in leagues like the Sun Belt, MAC or even in the FCS.

“There is a risk the gap will grow; I think we ought to be candid about that,” Rice president David W. Leebron said. “We’re in a world of radically different resources. But those schools with more resources … will have some ability to spend those resources in ways that are actually more rational, particularly with a priority on student-athlete welfare.”

Hatch said there was “some conflict” and disagreement in the board’s discussion about autonomy, which passed without a unanimous vote. Ultimately, though, even those schools that don’t stand to benefit from the new structure did not want to lose their relationships with the power conferences and desired to protect competitions like the NCAA basketball tournament.

“We understand the level at which we compete and we understand the resources we must manage,” Wright State president David Hopkins said. “From our point of view in the Horizon League, we think this is so important that we stay together in Division I.”

If 75 schools from outside the Power Five vote to override the autonomy legislation in the next 60 days, the measures would be sent back to the board of directors for further consideration. But Hatch, who has spoken with nearly every conference and school leader throughout this process, said he was “very confident that it will not be overridden.”

Some conference commissioners and others from the Power Five had made veiled threats about splitting off into a separate division if autonomy failed. This should quiet that talk.

“There was certainly some saber-rattling out there,” Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said. “But I think this puts us in a good spot to make changes a lot of folks have been asking for.”

It’s no coincidence that several of the new rules being proposed under autonomy involve giving athletes more benefits. The NCAA faces attack from several quarters, including the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the Northwestern union movement and even Congressional investigations, all of which pose an existential threat to the way college sports are run.

“I think we have to look at why are those things coming up, and sometimes you have to go back to the root causes,” Schulz said. “You look at some of the opportunities here to enhance student-athlete benefits and things like that, and I think it will help mitigate some of the legal [issues], but not all.”

A new 80-member voting panel, which will include 15 current players, will determine autonomous policies for the five leagues. The power conferences will also carry more voting power on general NCAA matters. Athletic directors will have a much larger representation than before, when presidents mostly controlled the system. Rice’s Leebron called the new governance structure a “shift of responsibility” and a “huge vote of confidence” in the athletic directors and players.

Major conferences will still have to agree on issues; to pass a rule requires either a 60 percent majority of the 80-member panel plus three of the five power conferences or a simple majority plus four of the five leagues.

South Carolina president Harris Pastides said he’d like to see new rules limiting contact in football practice and lessening practice hours in all sports. But he’s not sure all his colleagues will always see eye-to-eye.

“I think that’s where the rubber meets the road, quite frankly,” he said. “I can’t wait to be part of those deliberations. It won’t be easy to reach agreement on everything.”

But the most powerful schools in Division I now have a chance to figure things out for themselves and potentially give more back to their players. That’s why Emmert called it “a big, important day.”

“In the end, everyone recognized this was something very good for Division I,” he said. “From my point of view, this is a wonderful development.”

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Kevin Smith, Former UW Receiver, Having a Strong Training Camp for Seahawks

August 5, 2014
Kevin Smith Hauls in a Catch at the Seahawks Mock Game against Richard Sherman.

Kevin Smith Hauls in a Catch at the Seahawks Mock Game against Richard Sherman.

Great post here from Evan Thompson of The Olympian on our client Kevin Smith, Washington’s leading receiver last year who is battling to make the Seahawk’s roster. Follow Kevin’s journey with us.

Which is better?

Three field goals and no touchdowns for the Seattle Seahawks in their first mock game or a rookie wide receiver beating the NFL’s best corner on a fade route?

The latter, most likely.

In the second quarter of the Seahawks’ scrimmage Saturday, former Washington Huskies receiver Kevin Smith ran down the right sideline with Richard Sherman in tow. Tarvaris Jackson looked and found Smith downfield, who successfully beat Sherman for a 26-yard grab.

Smith broke away from Sherman after the catch and might have gone on to score a touchdown had the Seahawks been tackling to the ground.

But for now, Smith has reason to be proud of the accomplishment.

“We’re always competing, no matter what,” Smith said. “If it’s the ones versus ones or twos versus the ones, we’re always coming out competing to the best of our abilities.

“It was cool. We go at it on both sides of the ball, one on one.”

Smith, who led the Huskies in receiving yards last season, went undrafted. He originally signed with the Arizona Cardinals but was released in early June and briefly spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars before being released again on June 19.

He joined the Seahawks on June 25 and was reunited with his former teammate — Jermaine Kearse — who was also undrafted. Kearse was crucial for the Seahawks in their Super Bowl run, after catching seven passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns throughout the playoffs.

“He’s been right there helping me out since Day 1,” Smith said. “Just the little things with special teams and what not, and just learning from him. When we were in college it was kind of the same stuff but with just a little tweak to it.”

Smith hopes to find a place in the receiving corps like Kearse has, along with other fellow undrafted free agents Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette.

“Wherever I can fit, whatever they want me to do, I can go out and do it,” Smith said. “Either just blocking, I’ll go out there and block, or running routes, or going on special teams and make it work there.”

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Florida State Purchases Insurance Policy For Jameis Winston

August 5, 2014
Winston will be eligible for the NFL Draft next season.

Winston will be eligible for the NFL Draft next season.

Great article from Jared Shanker of ESPN.com that dives into the NCAA insurance policies for returning players. It certainly is a great benefit for the player because of the added insurance policy and the school returns a premier athlete for the upcoming football season, however, give the NCAA illegal benefits landscape, it seems that a loophole has been found. Jameis Winston purchased a $10 million disability and loss of value insurance policy, and Florida State is footing part of the bill.

A Florida State spokesman confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday that the university is paying for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s loss of value policy with the school’s Student Assistant Fund.

The spokesman did not provide a specific number as to how much the university is paying. The website Tomahawk Nation, which first reported the news, said Florida State will pay a premium in the $55,000 to $60,000 range.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell in July that the $10 million policy is split equally between a permanent disability policy, which Winston would collect if he were injured and could never play again, and a loss of value policy, which he would collect at least a percentage of if he fell in the draft. Winston is projected to be a high first-round selection — potentially No. 1 — in the 2015 NFL draft if he declares following his redshirt sophomore season.

The NCAA’s website states the Student Assistant Fund “shall be used to assist student-athletes in meeting financial needs that arise in conjunction with participation in intercollegiate athletics, enrollment in an academic curriculum or that recognize academic achievement.”

The website adds the responsibility of the oversight and administration of funds, including interpretations of how the fund can be used, lies with the conferences.

Programs have rarely used the fund to help pay loss of value insurance policies, but a Fox Sports report documented how Texas A&M recently paid for the policy of star offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi, which helped convince Ogbuehi to forgo the 2014 NFL draft and return to Texas A&M.

The Florida State spokesman said the university’s compliance department has been aware of the provision for quite some time.

Winston, who threw an ACC-record 40 touchdowns the past season, is eligible for the 2015 NFL draft. He was noncommittal at the ACC Kickoff earlier this month about whether he would declare following the 2014 season, but his father, Antonor, told AL.com in June that the plan is for Winston to play for Florida State in 2015. Florida State’s paying for part of Winston’s policy could, theoretically, help the odds that Winston returns for a fourth year.

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Kevin Smith Claimed By the Jacksonville Jaguars

June 5, 2014
Kevin Smith is ready to make noise with the Jaguars

Kevin Smith is ready to make noise with the Jaguars

ESPN Blog writer, Michael DiRocco, reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars need healthy receivers and they found one on Thursday afternoon by claiming Kevin Smith off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals.

The undrafted rookie caught 72 passes for 1,059 yards in four seasons at Washington. He was waived by the Cardinals on Wednesday. To make room on the roster the Jaguars cut long snapper Trevor Gillette.

Smith should get plenty of work immediately because Jaguars receivers have been besieged by injuries. Seven sat out Thursday’s organized team activities, including Cecil Shorts (calf) and second-round draft picks Allen Robinson (hamstring) and Marqise Lee(ankle).

Kerry Taylor, former practice squad player Chad Bumphis, undrafted rookies Damian Copeland and Allen Hurns took all the reps on Tuesday and Thursday. Taylor is the only healthy receiver that has caught a pass in a game. He has 22 catches for 229 yards.

That lack of depth has been somewhat of a hindrance during OTAs.

“It just stalls things because we’re not going to run a play and have [them] miss alignments so we just get them aligned and now we run the play,” coach Gus Bradley said. “It just slowed down the tempo a little bit but that’s OK at this point.”

It also is a bit taxing physically on the healthy receivers because they aren’t able to take plays off, although the Jaguars did more work with multiple tight ends on Thursday.

In addition to Shorts, Robinson and Lee, the Jaguars are also without Mike Brown (groin),Tandon Doss (calf), Ace Sanders (thigh) and Lamaar Thomas (knee).

None of the injuries are serious, although Robinson could miss several weeks. Lee is expected to be back late next week and Shorts is hoping to return Monday.

“I’m going to try to. We’ll see what happens,” Shorts said. “… No need to rush anything.”

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NFL Draft Still Pulls From the Traditional Schools

May 13, 2014

The 2014 NFL draft is now in the books and we can begin to analyze the results. Every year players are selected from schools that most fans have never heard of. Gems can be found from any school, round or pick. There have been more hall of fame players that went undrafted then selected with the first overall pick.

Darren Everson of the Wall Street Journal reports on the schools that won and lost the 2014 NFL draft.

It will be years before we’ll know which NFL teams won or lost last weekend’s NFL draft. But from a college standpoint, we can hand out the grades right now.

The immediate takeaway from the draft was Texas’s historic failure to have anyone selected—the first such occurrence since 1937. But another curiosity was the schools that did the best.

The Count assessed each school’s draft performance by awarding them points for each of the 256 draftees (256 points for the No. 1 overall pick, 255 for No. 2 and so on). With a nation-best nine draftees—led by receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who went 12th to the New York Giants—Louisiana State came out on top. Second-best was Notre Dame, which had eight players selected. (Alabama also had eight, but their players were picked lower.) The Fighting Irish have now had 14 picks in the past two years combined.

But this is a rather bittersweet accomplishment. Despite being laden with mature, NFL-caliber talent, LSU and Notre Dame lost seven games between them last season and finished outside the top 10 in the final polls. Neither played in a major bowl game.

Conversely, college football’s biggest overachiever based on the draft was Michigan State, which had just one player selected (cornerback Darqueze Dennard, No. 24) from a team that finished the season ranked No. 3.

Four major-conference schools had no one drafted: Illinois, Kansas, Northwestern and Texas. (The Seattle Seahawks later signed Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as a free agent.) This is hardly the kind of company that Texas—the most successful program in football’s most talent-rich state—should be keeping.

Now that the Longhorns’ run of having a draftee every year is over, the longest draft streak is now shared by Michigan and Southern California (1939). If you count the supplemental draft, Notre Dame has had a player selected every year since 1938.

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Unionization for College Athletes Gaining Traction

March 27, 2014
Kain Colter, graduated QB from Northwestern, has led the charge for unionization.

Kain Colter, graduated QB from Northwestern, has led the charge for unionization.

We may finally have some traction for college athletes being paid for their performances on the field. The highly publicized issue of the billion dollar industry that is college football, while the actual athletes receive scholarships and a stipend. Michael Tarm of the Associated Press reports from Chicago.

In a stunning ruling that has the potential to revolutionize college athletics, a federal agency said Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first college athlete’s union.

The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board means it agrees football players at the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize.

The Evanston, Ill-based university argued college athletes, as students, don’t fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.

Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, which would take the lead in organizing the players. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.

Colter, whose eligibility has been exhausted and who has entered the NFL draft, said nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly.
CAPA attorneys argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players’ labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. That, they contend, makes the relationship of schools to players one of employers to employees.

In its endeavor to have college football players be recognized as essential workers, CAPA likened scholarships to employment pay — too little pay from its point of view. Northwestern balked at that claim, describing scholarship as grants.

Giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize, critics have argued, could hurt college sports in numerous ways — including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.

The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Other lawsuits allege the NCAA failed to protect players from debilitating head injuries.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some of expenses. Critics say that isn’t nearly enough, considering players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.

CAPA’s specific goals include guaranteeing coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, ensuring better procedures to reduce head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.

For now, the push is to unionize athletes at private schools, such as Northwestern, because the federal labor agency does not have jurisdiction over public universities.

During the NLRB’s five days of hearings in February, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald took the stand for union opponents, and his testimony sometimes was at odds with Colter’s.

Colter told the hearing that players’ performance on the field was more important to Northwestern than their in-class performance, saying, “You fulfill the football requirement and, if you can, you fit in academics.” Asked why Northwestern gave him a scholarship of $75,000 a year, he responded: “To play football. To perform an athletic service.”

But Fitzgerald said he tells players academics come first, saying, “We want them to be the best they can be … to be a champion in life.”

An attorney representing the university, Alex Barbour, noted Northwestern has one of the highest graduation rates for college football players in the nation, around 97 percent. Barbour insisted, “Northwestern is not a football factory.”

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Brandon Browner Reinstated

March 5, 2014
Brandon Browner has been reinstated by the NFL

Brandon Browner has been reinstated by the NFL

Brandon Browner has officially been reinstated in the NFL by commissioner Rodger Goodell. Browner was suspended indefinitely by the NFL on December 18th. He was already injured at the time, but if he was healthy to return he would’ve missed the final two regular season games and 3 postseason games. The Collective Bargaining Agreement that a fourth violation of the league’s substance abuse policy leads to a one year suspension. Browner’s agent had threatened a lawsuit against the league which has been dropped. It seems now that Brandon is an unrestricted free agent and able to pursue free agency when it opens next week. It will be very interesting if the Seahawks pursue their former cornerback and reunite the Legion of Boom. For more information about an NFL agent, consider contacting an NFL Agent

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