Nov 13, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; A general overall view of Tiger Stadium during a game between the LSU Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA slaps LSU football with probation for recruiting violation

The NCAA put LSU’s football program on one-year probation for rules violations committed by former offensive line coach James Cregg.

Cregg, who worked under former head coach Ed Orgeron for three seasons, visited with a prospect and provided him with used team gear during the recruiting dead period forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The former assistant director of recruiting also drove the prospect to campus for a stadium tour and gave him more used gear.

These events occurred in September 2020, when the recruiting dead period was in place for health and safety reasons, as well as to level the playing field for schools in regions with different public policies regarding the virus.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions issued its ruling on Thursday.

“Although the [committee] has encountered more egregious conduct in past cases, the violations in this case represent intentional misconduct that should be of concern to the membership,” the NCAA panel said. “The COVID-19 recruiting dead period was intended to protect the health and safety of prospects, student-athletes and institutional staff. It also leveled the playing field for recruiting at a time when government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions varied across the country.”

LSU also will follow self-imposed penalties: a $5,000 fine, a one-week ban on unofficial visits, a limit of 55 official visits and a week-long period of no recruiting communications.

Cregg, now an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, also was given a three-year show-cause order. Any school that might hire him must show the NCAA why he shouldn’t be prohibited to take part in any off-campus recruiting activities.

Cregg sued LSU for breach of contract after his termination “for cause.” He claimed the NCAA hadn’t, to that point, ruled he had committed a rules infraction, and the court issued an award of nearly $500,000 in his favor. LSU has appealed.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt walks during the Vol Walk ahead of a game between Tennessee and Mississippi State in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, October 12, 2019.

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NCAA: Former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt gave cash to recruits

Former Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and his wife were among a group of people who gave almost $60,000 in impermissible cash or gifts to recruits and their families, according to a notice of allegations filed against the program by the NCAA.

The 51-page document was obtained by Sports Illustrated, which shared the allegations on Friday. The NCAA alleges the Pruitts and staff members gave money and gifts to players after he was named Volunteers coach in December 2017, replacing Butch Jones. Pruitt was fired in January 2021 for cause.

According to Sports Illustrated, Pruitt and his staff allegedly hosted at least six prospects and their families on nine weekend unofficial periods during the lengthy recruiting dead period caused by the pandemic. During that time, they reportedly provided the recruits with lodging, food, transportation and assorted household items worth $12,000.

The report said Pruitt also made separate payments of $3,000 and $6,000 to mothers of recruits to pay for medical bills and a down payment on a car, respectively

In addition, Casey Pruitt, the coach’s wife, allegedly gave $13,000 in cash to unspecified recruits and their families, Sports Illustrated reported.

In all, there are 18 infractions — all Level I, the most serious — listed in the report. The reported violations allegedly were committed by the Pruitts; assistant coaches Derrick Ansley, Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer; recruiting staff members Drew Hughes, Bethany Gunn and Chantryce Boone; and an unnamed student assistant.

None of them currently are employed by Tennessee.

Knox News said the NCAA gave Tennessee credit for self-reporting the violations and for “exemplary cooperation” as the NCAA investigated. The NCAA did not cite the university for a lack of institutional control, meaning it likely will face lesser punishment, per the Knox News report.

Tennessee already stripped itself of 12 scholarships last season.

“Receipt of our Notice of Allegations was an expected, requisite step in this process — a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions,” Tennessee athletic director Danny White said in a statement Friday, per Sports illustrated. “This moves us one step closer to a final resolution. … As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”

The Volunteers were 16-19 in Pruitt’s tenure. He was replaced by Josh Heupel, who led Tennessee to a 7-6 record in his first season.

–Field Level Media

Dec 3, 2021; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Oregon Ducks mascot Puddles poses against the Utah Utes in the second half during the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium.Utah defeated Oregon 38-10.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 to change conference title game after NCAA ruling

The Pac-12 will feature its two top teams in its conference title game rather than one team per division after a ruling Wednesday that cleared the way for conferences to have more flexibility with their decisions.

The NCAA Division I Council announced that it would relax restrictions on conference title games within college football. Conferences that previously had to include two division winners in their title games no longer will be required to do so.

The Pac-12 acted quickly after the announcement, saying that its conference title games would involve the two teams with the highest winning percentage regardless of whether they played in the same division. This change will start with the 2022 season.

“Our goal is to place our two best teams in our Pac-12 Football Championship Game, which we believe will provide our conference with the best opportunity to optimize CFP invitations and ultimately win national championships,” said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff in a news release. “Today’s decision is an important step towards that goal and immediately increases both fan interest in, and the media value of, our Football Championship Game.”

The Atlantic Coast Conference could follow suit, with changes most likely to take effect in the 2023 season.

“The two drivers to this: One, is the opportunity for our student-athletes to play every school in the ACC over a four-year period of time,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said last week. “The other piece of it is, I’ve always felt that was a local decision about how you handle your conference. You’re seeing that across multiple conferences that they’d like to dictate what their championship structure looks like, and which will lead into eventually an expanded football playoff.

“You want your two best teams to have a chance to play at the end of the year for a lot of reasons.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) and defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis (48) hoist the trophy after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Alabama won 41-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA looks to relax conference title game restrictions

The NCAA took a major step toward updating rules surrounding conference title games for the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), reports said Monday.

The NCAA Football Oversight Committed put forward new recommendations on April 28 that, among other things, would remove a longstanding requirement for conferences to be split into divisions in order to stage a championship game.

Conferences with 12 or more members are currently obliged to have two divisions that play a round-robin schedule during the regular season, with the division winners meeting in a conference title game. Conferences without divisions, such as the 10-team Big 12, must play a full round-robin.

The oversight committee voted to recommend removing the requirements altogether, which would give individual conferences more freedom to decide which teams will play in their conference championship game.

Some conferences are expected to eliminate divisions in favor of alternative scheduling formats. ESPN reported Monday that the ACC has discussed eliminating divisions as early as the 2023 football season.

The Division I Council will meet later this month to ratify the updated rules, with multiple media reports indicating that the recommendation is expected to pass.

–Field Level Media

Dec 8, 2020; Coral Gables, Florida, USA; A general view of a reflection of the Miami Hurricanes school logo on the scorers table prior to the game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Purdue Boilermakers at Watsco Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA releases new NIL guidelines regarding boosters

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors on Monday sent member schools guidelines to govern name, image and likeness (NIL) rights.

NIL has become the primary avenue college athletes have been able to explore to generate revenue for themselves since that practice became legal from an NCAA perspective last summer.

The new guidelines, which arrive 10 months after the NCAA lost its Supreme Court case pertaining to student revenue, dictate that boosters should not have contact with prospective college athletes nor their family or other representatives, a clear attempt to limit incentivizing athletes to sign with schools.

Per the official documentation, “NCAA rules preclude boosters from engaging in recruiting activities, including recruiting conversations, on behalf of a school. Further, NCAA recruiting rules preclude boosters from providing benefits to PSAs and preclude institutional staff members from being involved, directly or indirectly, with the provision of benefits to a PSA (prospect student athlete).

“Recruiting conversations between an individual or entity that has triggered booster status and a PSA are not permissible.

“NIL agreements must be based on an independent, case-by-case analysis of the value that each athlete brings to an NIL agreement as opposed to providing compensation or incentives for enrollment decisions, athletic performance, achievement or membership on a team.”

The NCAA’s guidance, therefore, arrives with the suggestion that NIL payments to entice recruits has never been acceptable, not even in light of the rules changes last summer, and could result in sanctions retroactively.

“While the NCAA may pursue the most outrageous violations that were clearly contrary to the interim policy adopted last summer, our focus is on the future,” board chair and University of Georgia president Jere Morehead told ESPN.

That statement provides some of the sharpest teeth the NCAA has yet displayed throughout this process, though the risk of antitrust lawsuits levied by boosters remains a deterrent against the NCAA providing a heavy hand in enforcement.

NCAA sanctions against violating schools are more likely to focus on institutional punishment rather than player eligibility, per reporting from Sports Illustrated, though it remains unclear what that might entail.

–Field Level Media

Mar 31, 2022; New Orleans, LA, USA; NCAA President Mark Emmert talks to media during a press conference the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament Final Four semifinals at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA president Mark Emmert to step down by June 2023

The NCAA announced Tuesday that president Mark Emmert will step down by June of next year.

Emmert will continue to serve in the position until a new president is chosen, or until June 30, 2023.

Emmert has been president of the collegiate athletics governing body since Nov. 1, 2010. In April 2021, he received a two-year contract extension that would have lasted until Dec. 31, 2025.

“Throughout my tenure I’ve emphasized the need to focus on the experience and priorities of student-athletes,” Emmert said in a statement. “I am extremely proud of the work of the Association over the last 12 years and especially pleased with the hard work and dedication of the national office staff here in Indianapolis.”

A lightning rod for criticism over issues in amateur athletics, including athlete compensation and equitable treatment for women’s sports, Emmert has served as president significantly longer than his predecessor, Myles Brand (2002-2009).

The NCAA said in its news release that Emmert stepping down was decided “by mutual agreement” with the Board of Governors.

“With the significant transitions underway within college sports, the timing of this decision provides the Association with consistent leadership during the coming months plus the opportunity to consider what will be the future role of the president,” Board of Governors chair John DeGioia said. “It also allows for the selection and recruitment of the next president without disruption.”

Emmert will turn 70 years old in December. Before taking over at the NCAA, he served as the chancellor at LSU and the president of the University of Washington.

–Field Level Media

Apr 4, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; NCAA president Mark Emmert speaks during a press conference at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA relaxes marijuana testing policy

The NCAA said Friday that it was taking steps to loosen its policy on marijuana for athletes.

Though marijuana testing will still take place, the threshold for its psychoactive ingredient, THC, is being raised from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter.

Further, athletes will not lose any eligibility for up to three positive tests.

The changes are effective immediately, and retroactive to drug tests taken in the fall 2021 semester.

“Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use,” NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline said in a statement. “Marijuana is not considered a performance-enhancing substance, but it remains important for member schools to engage student-athletes regarding substance-use prevention and provide management and support when appropriate.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2021; Logan, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Baylor Romney (16) hands the ball off to running back Lopini Katoa (4) during the first quarter against the Utah State Aggies at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA investigating NIL deals of football players at BYU, Miami

The NCAA is investigating name, image and likeness concerns involving football players at BYU and Miami, Sportico reported Friday.

The publication reports that the NIL deals involving those two schools potentially violate marketing rights for college athletes.

Investigators are attempting to determine whether the deals are essentially pay-for-play, which is not allowed under the temporary guidelines set up by the NCAA.

According to the report, BYU’s deal involves a partnership with Built Bar, a protein bar company that provided compensation comparable to the amount of tuition for the academic year to each player on the football team, walk-on players included.

Miami’s deal was reportedly with American Top Team, a South Florida-based Mixed Martial Arts program that reportedly gave a total of $540,000 to 90 players on scholarship.

A Miami spokesman told Sportico the school has not heard from the NCAA. BYU confirmed it has spoken to the NCAA.

“We have communicated with the NCAA concerning the Built Bar NIL arrangement,” BYU associate athletic director for communications Jon McBride told Sportico in a statement. “They have informed us they do not have any additional questions at this time. We will continue to monitor and abide by the NCAA interim NIL policy.”

According to the NCAA’s policy, universities have the right to object to a NIL deal.

“Athletes are expected to understand their school’s NIL policy and keep their school informed of all NIL arrangements,” the policy states. “The best way to ensure student-athletes understand school-specific NIL rules is to work directly with their coaching and the compliance department.”

Earlier this week, NCAA president Mark Emmert told reporters that the entity was investigating possible NIL violations. Emmert didn’t reveal schools.

The NIL industry is in its infancy stage after taking effect on July 1 when the NCAA released a temporary policy. Previously, college athletes were prohibited from accepting compensation of any kind, other than an athletic scholarship.

–Field Level Media

Jul 14, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA;  Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Bowlsby: NCAA groups have discussed ending or moving the early signing period

The early signing period in college football continues to be a controversial topic, especially in the aftermath of an eventful couple of weeks in coaching moves within the sport. According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, change might be on the way.

On Wednesday, Bowlsby addressed the Sports Business Journal Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, and discussed the impact of the early signing period, which locks prospective athletes into letters of intent during a time period that is often chaotic in terms of coaching moves.

Speaking specifically of the NCAA’s football oversight committee as well as the American Football Coaches Association, Bowlsby said, “There’s a lot more talk than I’ve heard in recent years about either getting rid of (the early signing period) altogether or perhaps moving it to after the first of the year. We’ll see how that goes.”

In addition, the NCAA recruiting subcommittee has begun discussions along the same track.

The early signing day for 2021 falls on Dec. 15. Meanwhile, high-profile coaching moves, such as Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma for Southern Cal and Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU, continue to reverberate. As high school prospects attempt to make their college choices, many football staffs (high profile or not) remain unsettled.

“Clearly, things have changed since the early signing date was put in,” Bowlsby said. “The transfer portal didn’t exist at the time, and there are things that have changed. At the end, we’re going to have to go back to the reason we put it in place and ask if that’s still a valid reason.”

Reporting from Sports Illustrated said these discussions are very early in the process and nothing formal has been proposed. Meanwhile, ESPN noted that 22 coaches have already been hired in this cycle — a large number — and that some of it might be attributable to schools trying to get ahead of the early signing period.

“If we change the signing date again, will it eliminate this accelerated (coach hiring) timeline?” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey asked. “I’m not sure it will. We may have let the toothpaste out of the tube.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2021; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Hawaii Rainbow Warriors running back Dedrick Parson (31) runs against the Wyoming Cowboys during the fourth quarter at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA approves additional bowl game

The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee on Thursday approved an additional bowl game to enable all bowl-eligible teams an opportunity to play in the postseason, according to The Action Network and The Athletic.

No date for the bowl game has been announced, but the contest reportedly will be played between two Group of 5 teams in Texas. ESPN will broadcast the game, per The Action Network.

Without the game, a pair of teams would not be playing in the postseason.

According to the NCAA, teams that win six games are bowl-eligible. This season, 84 teams had at least six wins.

The additional game will allow Hawaii (6-7) to play Memphis (6-6) in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, according to multiple media outlets.

Seven bowl games are already scheduled to be played in Texas, including the Cotton Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the First Responder Bowl, the Alamo Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl, the Frisco Bowl and the Texas Bowl.

–Field Level Media