LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The ‘Book is back, working through the holiday weekend, because college football takes no holiday. If the NFL has created a year-round news cycle, college football is only slightly less omnipresent. Wait a minute. The Book grammar headquarters says you’re either omnipresent or you’re not, so one cannot be “more” or less omnipresent. Throw a flag on that sentence, 5-yard penalty for illegal use of a modifier.
At any rate, while the NFL’s offseason news cycle is made-for-TV and sometimes feels a bit contrived (do we really need to see every wideout’s combine shuttle performance?) college football creates its summer headlines the old fashioned way — with player arrests, recruiting and the occasional argument about its championship structure. Oh, and trash talk. Lots of it.
We’ll get to some of that. But first, it is Memorial Day weekend. And The ‘Book would like to begin with mention of that.
REMEMBERING THE FALLEN
The Army-Navy game in 2001 was like no other meeting in the history of the modern series. The Sept. 11 attacks had left the nation on edge. President George W. Bush spoke to both teams in the locker rooms before the game. Norman Schwarzkopf gave a rousing speech to the Army Cadets. Sen. John McCain spoke to the Navy Midshipmen.
But the more moving story came in the ensuing years, when players on that field began their military service. Steve Eubanks, in a book released last fall, chronicles the stories of two of those players, Army quarterback Chad Jenkins, and Navy linebacker Brian Stann.
Lt. Brendan Looney played football and lacrosse at Navy from 2000-04. He began his naval career in intelligence before transferring to the SEAL division. During his fourth tour of duty, he was killed when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on Sept. 21. 2010. Looney's roommate at Navy, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC, had been killed in 2007. They are now buried side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery.
A strong-armed back-up quarterback, J.P. Blecksmith graduated from Annapolis in 2002 and was deployed to Iraq. On Nov. 11, 2004 -- Veteran's Day -- Blecksmith was killed in Iraq's Al Anbar Province by small arms fire while leading his platoon as it cleared surrounding buildings of enemy fighters. He was 24.
Stamm led soldiers in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in the Marine Corps, completed his service, received the Silver Star and came home to compete in Mixed Martial Arts, where he held the WEC Light Heavyweight Championship for a time. He used it as a platform to talk about military service, and to remember the men he lost during his leadership command.
“Fans can’t stand that my military service is brought up all the time,” he said during an interview. “But what people don’t understand is that there are men who died under me or were permanently injured under my command. One guy has had three brain surgeries. Another will never walk again. People who think I pound my chest over what I did are out of their minds. I’ve lost more sleep over decisions I made, thinking, what if I had done this, or what if I’d done that, maybe this guy would still be walking or this guy would be able to speak clearly and have a normal life.”
Stann today is president and CEO of Hire Heroes USA, which helps veterans find jobs.
Jenkins served three tours in Iraq, then joined the FBI. Today, he runs his own security firm, which specializes in counter-terrorism.
In an interview with NPR, Stann talked about how the reaction to his Navy team changed after the 9/11 attacks.
“That year we played at Notre Dame Stadium, which, you know, for anybody who's a football fan and plays, there's so much history there that it was a really cool experience for all of us. And for me, I kind of took it all in.
“But when we came out onto the field, the entire stadium gave us a standing ovation. And it was incredible. I mean it was moving, I mean everything stopped. We kind of all started looking around; we didn't expect it. And we played really, really hard, and I think that they noticed that and obviously recognized the fact that most of the men they were watching play were going to go on to do something much larger than themselves, and certainly larger than a football game.”
Memorial Day is a day for remembering those who have made that ultimate sacrifice, football connections or not. Don’t let it go by without doing that, in your own way.
LOUISVILLE ADDS TWO TRANSFERS, BACKS AWAY FROM COMMIT
U of L added a pair of four-star recruits this past week, but not from high schools. The Cardinals landed Georgia cornerback Shaq Williams and Texas A&M wideout JaQuay Williams, both players announced via Twitter on Friday. The two were high school teammates.
Todd Grantham, U of L’s defensive coordinator who formerly held that post at Georgia, was instrumental in getting the two to Louisville. Both will sit out 2014 but have three seasons of eligibility after that.
Wiggins played in 12 games and started the final eight games of the season for Georgia. He hauled in a team-high two interceptions and had the only defensive TD of the season for the Bulldogs. Williams played in 10 games and had four catches for 71 yards and a TD at Texas A&M. He originally signed with Auburn, then went to Texas A&M after prep school.
There’s no shortage of SEC transfers on the roster, with these two bringing the Cardinals’ total to a half dozen. Tight end Gerald Christian and wideout Robert Clark came in from Florida. Wide receiver Matt Milton is from Tennessee and running back Michael Dyer transferred from Auburn.
Meanwhile, U of L has terminated the letter-of-intent signed by three-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed-Muhammad after he pleaded no contest to lewd behavior with a 14-year-old girl.
UK PICKS UP TOP TIGHT END
The latest University of Kentucky commitment comes in a key spot for the Wildcats. C.J. Conrad is rated the No. 6 tight end in the nation by Rivals.com. The Cleveland-area native had visited Ohio State and was beginning to get invitations to other big-time programs when he made the decision for UK.
He’s rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and was UK’s third commitment from Ohio in less than a week, joining a pair of three-star recruits — wideout Alex Stump and linebacker Jordan Jones.
The Wildcats now have nine commitments for the 2015 class.
LOUISVILLE NATIVE SMITH LEAVES WKU
DaMarcus Smith was once viewed as a rival to Teddy Bridgewater when both were committed to U of L. He decided against that competition and signed with Central Florida, only to be ruled ineligible to play there by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
He wound up in Bowling Green, Ky., but saw only limited action for the Hilltoppers. He threw only five passes for Bobby Petrino’s WKU team last season, and ran 10 times for 51 yards.
Now, he’s leaving. WKU’s Scout.com site reports that the former Seneca High School all-stater is headed for Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., where he will be eligible to play right away.
The Hilltoppers return by their starting QB, Brandon Doughty, and backup Nelson Fishback next season.
‘AUTONOMY’ THE NEW BUZZWORD AMONG POWER CONFERENCES
You’re going to start hearing the word “autonomy” a good bit from commissioners of the “big-five” football conferences.
Two of college football's biggest powerbrokers — Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney -- spoke out on the topic Wednesday during an event in downtown San Francisco to promote the bowl game at the new 49ers' stadium. The upgraded bowl will be played between teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten on Dec. 30 in Santa Clara.
Scott said there is "broad support" to let schools from the five major conferences — which also includes the SEC, ACC and Big 12 — decide how their own legislative process works in many areas affecting their athletes. Delany said "I hope we can develop some momentum and act, and act in a way that maybe we haven't been able to act over the last 25 years."
The public calls for action come after Pac-12 university presidents sent a letter to their colleagues at the other major football conferences last week formalizing plans for sweeping changes to the NCAA model and autonomy for those leagues. A copy of the letter was first obtained by The Associated Press last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the AP that he expects the subject to be a major topic of discussion for the SEC.
Slive said the SEC wants to ensure that the five biggest football conferences can decide how their own legislative process works in many areas affecting their athletes. The NCAA board of directors is expected to vote on a restructuring in early August.
The current proposal would require a two-thirds vote by the 65 schools at those power leagues to pass legislation. Slive said that threshold and the interpretation of that legislation are concerns for the SEC, but didn't discuss specific changes.
"Our presidents and chancellors have unanimously supported this effort to create autonomy in these areas that are related to student-athletes, so I anticipate that we will continue to support it," he said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "And I do anticipate that we will also want to see that the proposed model is modified so that that autonomy really means autonomy, that the five conferences can determine how their own legislative process will work.
"This isn't about five commissioners, this is about 65 institutions and their presidents. I'm optimistic that these changes will occur and that we will be able to fully support the model going forward."
They're seeking decision-making powers in funding the full cost of scholarships, handling health care and other areas involving their athletes.
LSU PLANS 'PRIME' SEATING FOR ALABAMA FANS
There’s nothing like honesty from an athletic director. LSU has been in a feisty mood lately. First, the program was upset that it wound up with Florida as a permanent partner in the SEC’s new scheduling model.
Now, athletic director Joe Alleva is keeping it real on the expansion of Tiger Stadium, which will put its capacity at just over 100,000. Of the new upper-deck seating, he said, "When Alabama comes, (their fans) will be at the top of the new stadium seats," the Montgomery Advertiser said he told fans at a stop on the LSU Tiger Tour. "They're going to need telescopes to see the game."
No word on whether LSU plans to rent them the telescopes.
ACC, SEC TAKE ANOTHER SCHEDULING STEP IN TANDEM
In the past month, the ACC and SEC have both settled on eight-game conference schedules, and both mandated that teams in their leagues must play at least one out-of-conference game against a member of the “big five” football conferences.
Now, more accord. CBS Sports’ Jeremy Fowler reported last week that an SEC source says four or five more teams from each league are discussing potential home-and-home matchups in the next seven years or so. These would be new games, aside from the existing permanent end-of-year rivalries between Clemson and South Carolina, Louisville and Kentucky, Florida and Florida State and Georgia and Georgia Tech.
The new agreement reportedly wouldn’t include Alabama or LSU out of the SEC, or Virginia or North Carolina in the ACC, all of whom are planning neutral site games.
But expect the conferences to see more of each other in the near future. U of L will open the 2015 season against Auburn. There’s also some talk about Florida facing Miami.
NOTRE DAME ADJUSTING TO ACC SCHEDULING COMMITMENT
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is feeling the pinch with the school committed to playing more games against ACC teams in the future. And he says the victims are the school’s rivalry games with Michigan and Michigan State.
“With our athletic department to enter into the agreement with the ACC, we have to give up a little bit from a football perspective relative to scheduling,” Kelly told a FoxSports podcast this past week. “It’s put us in a very difficult position scheduling and, unfortunately, it’s taken some of those schools like a Michigan or Michigan State off our schedule. . . . [Navy, Stanford and USC] are not coming off and those are etched in stone. So now, add your ACC schools and with those three schools you’re very limited in where you can go.”
The meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan in 2014 is the last one scheduled. Notre Dame has agreed to play five ACC schools per season in football, but is not a conference member in that sport.
LEVINE GETS HOUSTON EXTENSION
Tony Levine, a former staffer for the University of Louisville, has agreed to a five-year contract that runs through the 2018 football season at Houston.
The new deal replaces the five-year contract he signed when he joined the Cougars before the 2012 season.
Houston finished 8-5 last season after a loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was the 19th season in school history with at least eight wins.
The Cougars also had a marked improvement from Levine's first season, when they were 5-7.
Levine spent four seasons as an assistant with the Cougars before taking over the program when Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M.
THEY’RE SELLING GRASS AT NOTRE DAME
No, not that kind of grass. This stuff is legal in Indiana. Notre Dame sold rolls of sod from its football stadium as part of a project to replace the field in the historic venue.
Orders were taken online, and also sold on a first-come, first serve basis. Each roll was $149.95.
Notre Dame is switching to Field Turf after having problems with its natural grass surface in recent seasons.
THE LIST: SIX TOP FIRST-TIME MATCHUPS IN THE COMING SEASON
Expect to see more of this with a college football playoff finally in place — non-conference games between schools who haven’t met before. NBC’s CollegeFootballTalk.com website rated the six best new matchups in the coming season. Take a look:
1. Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 6) 2. Alabama vs. West Virginia (Aug. 30, Chick-fil-A Kickoff) 3. Louisville vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 22) 4. South Carolina vs. Texas A&M (August 28) 5. Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Aug. 28, Chick-fil-A Kickoff) 6. Virginia vs. UCLA (Aug. 30)
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