Pac-12 joins Big Ten in eliminating nonconference games

The Pac-12 has become the second major conference to shift to a conference-only fall schedule amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement came after a meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group on Friday, a day after the Big Ten opted to eliminate nonconference games for all fall sports. "The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our No. 1 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's decision covers football, men's and women's soccer and women's volleyball. Conference-only schedules will be announced no later than July 31. The conference is also delaying the start of mandatory athletic activities until a series of health and safety indicators become more positive. Student-athletes who choose not to participate in the next academic year due to COVID-19 concerns will continue to have their scholarships honored and will remain in good standing with their teams. The college sports world has been put on hold since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the lucrative NCAA basketball tournaments and all spring sports. Athletes recently began returning to campuses for voluntary workouts, but many schools have scaled back as more than a dozen schools have reported positive COVID-19 tests among athletes in the past month. Schools also have faced massive budget shortfalls in the wake of the pandemic. The NCAA shorted its member schools $375 million in scheduled payouts due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament and schools across the country have been hit with massive budget shortfalls as college sports remain on hold. Stanford eliminated 11 of its 36 varsity sports this week and at least 171 four-year schools have eliminated sports during the pandemic. "Arizona State University and Sun Devil Athletics support the Pac-12's announcement of a strictly conference schedule for the 2020 football and fall sports seasons," Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. "We will continue to seek the guidance and input from medical and infectious disease experts, as well as our local and campus health officials and doctors as we evaluate this ever-changing landscape." A shift to conference-only schedules will likely have a ripple across the college sports landscape. Smaller schools that rely on revenue from guarantee football games against Power Five schools could be shorted millions of dollars. Non-Power Five schools receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million from guarantee games to fund their athletic departments. Guarantee-game revenue can account for more than 5% of a school's overall athletic budget.
July 10, 2020

Big Ten scraps nonconference football games due to pandemic

The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. The conference cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only "if the conference is able to participate in fall sports." Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it was "much easier if we're just working with our Big Ten institutions" in terms of things like scheduling and traveling. "We may not have sports in the fall," Warren told the Big Ten Network. "We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten. "So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next logical step to always rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure that they are as healthy as they possibly can be from a mental, a physical, an emotional health and wellness standpoint." There has been deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring. More than a dozen schools have reported positive tests for the virus among athletes in the past month but the bad news picked up this week as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports. The Big Ten decision is the biggest yet because Bowl Subdivision football games - more than 40 of them, all moneymakers in different ways - were simply erased. And the move didn't wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy. "I am really concerned, that is the question of the day," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on a conference call after the announcement. "I was cautiously optimistic. I'm not even there now." Besides football, the sports affected include men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer, and women's volleyball. "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," the Big Ten said. The other big conferences, the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, have all indicated they intend to play fall sports. "The Big Ten decisions are interesting and provide additional information to inform our discussions," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "At this time our medical and scientific advisors have suggested we should move ahead slowly and with constant re-evaluation. We plan to continue to prepare for all available scenarios until we are informed that some are no longer viable." Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said league officials "will continue to meet with regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by the medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports." The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Other big matchups included Michigan at Washington, Ohio State-Oregon, Penn State-Virginia Tech and Miami-Michigan State. Much of the pain will be felt at smaller schools that lean heavily on the big-money games to help fund their athletic budgets. Hours before the Big Ten announcement, Northern Iowa, which will lose a Sept. 5 game at Iowa, said it expected an athletics budget shortfall to exceed $1 million. A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger said the Big Ten's decision "is the tip of the iceberg." "Ten FBS conferences have signed a college football playoff agreement with an expectation that we will work together for the good of college football," 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." Illinois State was scheduled to play at Illinois on Sept. 4. "Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision, as there are many people affiliated with both universities that have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time," Illinois State athletic director Larry Lyons said. He said the budget is in a "constant state of flux," but there are no plans to cut sports. Memphis, which had been scheduled to visit Purdue on Sept. 12, announced Thursday it was cutting administrative and sports operation budgets 14% in addition to some other personnel savings. The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus. Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues "know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks." In the SEC, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule. "Probably, it's a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will - your expanded social circle or social pod," said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. "You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states."
July 9, 2020

Ivy League suspends fall sports due to coronavirus pandemic

The Ivy League has became the first Division I conference to suspend all fall sports, including football, leaving open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the coronavirus pandemic is better controlled by then. "We simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk," the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement. "We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility - and that is the basis for this difficult decision." Though the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. It was the Ivy League's March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations. All major college and professional sports were halted within days. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely. More than a dozen prominent programs from Clemson to LSU to Oklahoma have reported positive tests among their athletes in the few weeks since voluntary workouts began. Some have temporarily shut down the workouts, incluidng Ohio State and North Carolina on Wednesday alone. Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten's infectious disease task force, said there is no "hard deadline" for a decision on sports. "Of course, we watch everything that's going on," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, whose league has schools in five states from West Virginia to Iowa and Texas. "But we're going to go forward and do our own evaluation, and so far our scientists and medical people are telling us that we should stay the course, and learn as we go and move slowly and evaluate as we go." The Ivy League announcement affects not just football but soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the fall portion of winter sports like basketball. Wednesday's decision means Harvard and Yale will not play football in 2020, interrupting a rivalry known as The Game for the first time since the two World Wars. "This news is disappointing for all of us," Harvard athletic director Erin McDermott said. "While the Fall 2020 experience will be unlike any other, I am confident that we will find positive opportunities in this challenging time. We will keep moving forward through this painful but temporary experience, together." The league said it has not yet determined whether some seasons can be moved to the spring. But the conference noted that its schools already are limiting gatherings, visitors and travel for students and staff. "As athletics is expected to operate consistent with campus policies, it will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester," the league said. Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed. Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity. But while Ivy League football remains a quaint extracurricular activity, the sport drives millions in revenues for Power Five schools. According to USA Today, the Longhorns football program brought Texas more than $144 million in 2018. Losing football would be a heavy blow for most schools. As Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports, its athletic director warned that a $25 million deficit forecast for 2021 would likely double if the football season is canceled. At a White House summit on reopening schools earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump asked University of Alabama chancellor Finis St. John if the Crimson Tide will play football this year. "I can promise you. We are planning to play the season at the University of Alabama," St. John said. "Understand that creates great difficulties and complexities, and we are hoping for that. It's important to a lot of people. But we're doing our best on that one." Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh said on Wednesday he and his team want to play - even if it means moving the season to the spring, or playing in front of more than 100,000 empty seats at Michigan Stadium, known as "The Big House." "It (the pandemic) is part of our society and we're going to have to deal with it," he said. "These kids have to do the same thing. They've got to go to school. They've been training their whole lives for the opportunity to play their sport."
July 8, 2020

Darner out as men's hoops coach at Green Bay after 5 years

Linc Darner is out as the men's basketball coach at Green Bay after posting winning records in four of his five seasons on the job. Chancellor Michael Alexander confirmed the move Monday, saying in a statement that the university and coach "have decided to part ways." Stadium first reported Darner's exit. Darner owned a 92-80 record at Green Bay. The Phoenix went 17-16 this past season and lost to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals. "We appreciate the leadership of Coach Darner and his focus on coaching and mentoring the outstanding student-athletes that have been part of this program during his tenure as head coach," Alexander said. "We are a Division I university and remain committed to continuing the legacy of our outstanding Division I athletics program in the future." Athletic director Charles Guthrie said in a statement that school officials thank Darner "for his service and strong commitment to our student-athletes here at UW-Green Bay and to the Green Bay community over the past five years. Guthrie added that "we wish him all the best in his future endeavors." Guthrie said a national search for Darner's successor will begin immediately. In Darner's debut season at Green Bay in 2015-2016, the Phoenix went 23-13 and earned the school's first NCAA Tournament bid in 20 years. The Phoenix lost to Texas A&M in the first round - Green Bay's only NCAA Tournament win came in 1994, under coach Dick Bennett over California. Darner's teams followed that up by going 18-14, 13-20, 21-17 and 17-16 over the next four seasons. His squads went 11-7 or better in Horizon League competition four of his five seasons. The 49-year-old Darner has an overall head coaching record of 384-197 that also includes 13 seasons at Division II programs - four at Saint Joseph's (Indiana) and nine at Florida Southern. He led Florida Southern to a Division II national championship in 2015. In a statement issued by the university, Darner thanked former Chancellor Gary Miller and former athletic director Mary Ellen Gillespie for hiring him. He also thanked his staff, recruits and current and former players while noting his program's high graduation rates and Academic Progress Rate scores. "I cannot wait to advance my career as a head basketball coach and am looking forward to new opportunities," Darner said.
May 18, 2020

Chicago State hires Sardin as women's basketball coach

Chicago State hired Tiffany Sardin as coach Friday, hoping the former Virginia star can transform a struggling program in her hometown. Chicago State has had nine straight losing seasons, failing to win more than six games a year in that span. Misty Opat resigned as coach last month after two seasons. Sardin was a captain for three seasons at Virginia and helped lead the Cavaliers to a 71-53 record from 2002 to 2006. She played professionally in Portugal and spent the past two years as an assistant at Longwood University after stops on staffs at UIC, Boston University and Clemson.
May 15, 2020

West Virginia salary, athletic cuts to save $3 million

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons will take a 10% salary reduction for the next fiscal year in an effort to save the athletic department $3 million in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Lyons said Friday that football coach Neal Brown, men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, women's basketball coach Mike Carey and baseball coach Randy Mazey also will voluntarily take the 10% reduction starting on July 1. In addition, coaches and athletic staff earning more than $100,000 will take a 5% salary reduction, and staff making less than $100,000 will take a 2.5% reduction. Huggins and Brown have base salaries of $250,000. Huggins will enter the fourth year of a contract extension that also includes $3.8 million in supplemental compensation, while Brown is in the second year of a contract that has $2.85 million in supplemental compensation. Lyons also said 65 employees, or nearly one-third of the athletic department's workforce, will be furloughed for 60 days starting May 24. Some employees will not return to the department and current job openings will not be filled, he said. Lyons said the athletic department is facing a projected $5 million shortfall due to several factors, including the cancellation of the Big 12 and NCAA men's basketball championships; additional losses of upcoming conference and ticket revenue; and donations to the Mountaineer Athletic Club. "News like this is not easy," Lyons said in a statement. "I appreciate the understanding of our staff in these uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt us a financial situation that requires action, and our entire department will be affected as we work to minimize the effects and maintain a fiscally responsible operation." College athletic departments nationwide are under pressure to cut costs during the coronavirus pandemic. Some schools have taken the aggressive step of eliminating some sports entirely, while many schools have asked their highest-paid employees to take salary cuts.
May 8, 2020

NCAA supports plan for athletes to earn

For more than 60 years, NCAA leaders have insisted college athletes had to be amateurs and to be amateurs they could not be paid for being athletes - by anybody. That will no longer be the case. The NCAA announced Wednesday it is moving forward with a plan to allow college athletes to earn money for endorsements and a host of other activities involving personal appearances and social media content. It's a big deal - "unprecedented," Ohio State President and NCAA Board of Governors chairman Michael Drake called it. But there are important details to be sorted out before NCAA membership votes on legislation in January and there are plenty skeptical lawmakers and lawyers watching. "The challenge of evaluating this is we don't know where they have landed yet," said Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University sports law program. While athletes will be able to cash in on their names, images and likenesses as never before, the money won't come from the NCAA, schools or conferences. The broad plan is to allow athletes to strike deals with third parties, but require them to disclose those agreements with their schools. The NCAA and schools want to regulate for improprieties so payments aren't actually recruiting inducements or pay-for-play schemes. Guardrails is the word college sports leaders are using to describe those regulations. The next phase is building those guardrails. There will be no cap on what the athletes can earn, said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who led the group that produced the recommendations approved by the Board of Governors. That's important because the NCAA is still fighting the appeal of an antitrust case in which the plaintiffs claimed the association and its member schools and conferences have been illegally capping compensation to athletes at the value of a scholarship. What the NCAA will attempt to do is monitor deals athletes make and require them to disclose details. Boosters, those who support schools with donations, likely won't be immediately disqualified from working with athletes. But the NCAA fears individuals and companies using business relationships with athletes as cover for paying prospects to attend a particular school. How to draw that line has yet to be resolved. The NCAA also has to figure out how to assess the fair-market value for an athlete appearing in a television commercial for a local business, signing autographs at a memorabilia shop or promoting a product or event on social media. "It is still a moving target," Smith said. "But again, we just have to be reasonable. If I do a deal with Panera Bread and I do two likes and they pay me $50,000 for that, I'm not so sure that is in the realm of what we're talking about." Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, co-chair of the working group with Smith, said there has been discussion about creating a third party to make those assessments and manage disclosure. "This has been referred to alternatively to as a clearinghouse or a registry or an NIL center," Ackerman said. "And I don't know that there would be an approval mechanism, but the notion would be to create the sunshine and the transparency that would allow us to monitor valuations and booster involvement. And if there are some concerning patterns, we would be able to help screen those out or figure out how to address those." Athletes will not be allowed to use their schools' logos or brands in their personal deals. So if Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence appears in a TV ad, he won't be allowed to wear the school's familiar orange Tiger Paw. While NCAA leaders celebrated the move as another example of evolving to better serve college athletes, there are plenty of skeptics. The NCAA has been talking with members of Congress about federal legislation that would render moot various state laws and perhaps stave off future legal challenges. "This proposal is one step forward, one step back," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has been pushing for more economic rights for college athletes. "The NCAA wants to limit athlete endorsement deals in a way that could make them totally impractical. And the NCAA wants Congress to give it total power of athletes' compensation. That should be a non-starter." California lawmakers have already passed a bill that would make it illegal for NCAA schools to prohibit college athletes from making money on endorsements, social media advertising and other activities. The law goes into effect in 2023. Dozens of states have followed California's lead; a Florida bill awaiting the governor's signature would go into effect July 2021. "Recommendations today by the ??NCAA? are about protecting their pockets, not student athletes," tweeted Republican Chip LaMarca, a Florida state lawmaker. "Now they are shifting blame for their deliberate inaction to states that have passed meaningful legislation to protect students' right to earn a living." Jeffrey Kessler, the lead attorney in an antitrust cases against the NCAA that is still in appeals, said the NCAA's move toward NIL compensation for athletes "completely destroys every argument they've made in the past." "Because their defense has been if you allow to permit any type of compensation to the athletes beyond what they call cost of attendance, this will destroy the whole concept of amateurism and destroy fan interest in college sports," he said. Kessler said now there is no justification left for any of the NCAA's restrictions. NCAA President Mark Emmert had a different take. "It's a natural extension," he said, "of the steps that the NCAA member schools have taken over the past years to constantly improve the college athlete experience as an integral part of higher education."
April 29, 2020

K-State salary, athletic department cuts to save $3.5M

Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor, football coach Chris Klieman and basketball coach Bruce Weber have agreed to salary reductions along with every athletic department employee making more than $100,000 annually. Taylor said in a statement Wednesday that the cuts, made to help deal with a budget crunch brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, will begin with the new fiscal year starting July 1. Klieman and Weber agreed to 13% reductions, employees who make more than $150,000 will have 10% cuts and those making more than $100,000 will have 5% cuts. The salary reductions alone are expected to save Kansas State about $1.5 million. The athletic department as a whole will also cut expenses by 10% for an additional savings of $2 million for the upcoming year. Earlier this week, rival Kansas announced athletic director Jeff Long, football coach Les Miles and basketball coach Bill Self would take 10% salary reductions to save the Jayhawks' athletic department nearly $500,000.
April 29, 2020

Detroit Mercy hires Gilbert as women's basketball coach

Detroit Mercy hired AnnMarie Gilbert as women’s basketball coach. Gilbert went 135-18 at Virginia Union in five seasons, including a Division II national title game appearance in 2017. She replaces coach Bernard Scott, whose contract was not renewed last month. Scott coached for five seasons, finishing with a 42-109 record. “AnnMarie Gilbert was our first choice because of her depth of experience as a head coach at Division I, Division II and Division III and is an excellent recruiter,” athletic director Robert Vowels said. “She has done a terrific job as head coach at Virginia Union, Eastern Michigan and Oberlin and as an assistant coach at Michigan State." Gilbert has eight straight 20-win seasons, including her final three seasons at Eastern Michigan. She played at Ohio and Oberlin and later was the head coach at Oberlin.
April 24, 2020

NCAA confirms Georgia Tech eligible for 2021 postseason

Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury says the school met the requirements of its men's basketball postseason ban as part of punishments from the NCAA even though most of the postseason was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to fans Thursday made available to the public, Stansbury said he was recently informed Georgia Tech completed its mandated ban by removing itself from the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on March 2. Georgia Tech made that decision when it withdrew its appeal of the NCAA postseason ban. In the letter, Stansbury wrote the school "recently received official confirmation from the NCAA Committee on Infractions that we met the conditions of the penalty by not participating in this year's ACC Tournament." By accepting the ban this year, Georgia Tech will be eligible for all postseason tournaments in the 2020-2021 season. "I am very happy for our student-athletes that we no longer have that cloud hanging over us and I am very excited for the future of our men's basketball program," Stansbury wrote. Georgia Tech continues its appeal of limits on official visits connected with home games for two seasons and the reduction of one scholarship each of the next four years. The NCAA ruled in September that major recruiting violations were committed by one of coach Josh Pastner's former assistants, Darryl LaBarrie, as well as one-time friend, Ron Bell. Pastner was not directly named in the NCAA's findings and was largely cleared in the school's investigation.
April 9, 2020