Who’s Helping the Athletes? ; Conference Championship Facts (and opinions)

power 5

JON SOLOMON
National College Football Writer

Power Five passes on tackling big NCAA issues to help athletes
www.cbs.com

The Power Five conferences slapped themselves on the back in January 2015 for passing cost of attendance. Given the pressing litigation facing the NCAA and its major conferences related to the issue, there was a collective cry of “hallelujah” that extra stipends to players finally got passed.

Cost of attendance was deemed a historic moment to show that big and meaningful things could actually get done by the NCAA. It was considered the first major step on “modernizing the collegiate model.” It was supposed to set the tone for the future as the real work began to tackle other big issues.

Instead, NCAA autonomy in Year 2 looked a lot like the old NCAA governance structure and Congress. You know the drill: Table proposals that don’t have enough votes to pass and create resolutions promising you’ll get to them next year.

In changing how the NCAA governs, the Power Five demanded more flexibility to create legislation for pressing issues. It’s funny how things don’t seem quite as pressing after the U.S. Ninth Circuit’s mostly favorable Ed O’Bannon ruling for the NCAA, or the National Labor Relations Board’s decision that Northwestern football players can’t try to form a union. It almost feels like the schools hold back some of
their cards until they really need to play them.

What major issue did the Power Five address this year with comprehensive reform? They kicked the can down the road on multiple big topics:

Find ways to reduce athletic time demands for players, some of whom say they’re putting 40 hours a week into their sport.

Allow athletes to profit off their own name, image and likeness, even if it’s for non-athletic ventures.

Require schools to cover medical bills for sports-related injuries while an athlete is in school and for a period after college.

Create enforcement rules and penalties for schools that violate their own concussion protocol.

There is no doubt some of these issues are complex. But with just a few notable exceptions, the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 showed no urgency in the past year to dig into these issues and collectively find solutions.

“I feel like this should be done already,” Oklahoma football player Ty Darlington said about no resolution on time demand proposals, according to the NCAA. “This is frustrating for us. What are we doing today that’s significant? When I leave here today, what have I done to significantly impact the student-athlete experience? Nothing.”

Relatively speaking, there was nothing. Tabling seemingly sensible proposals — such as one true day off per week and creating certain hours when coaches can’t make players practice — became the convenient thing to do at the NCAA convention.

“The norm is there’s always something on the table but rarely it gets off the table,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The five major conferences are supposedly united, but I wonder how much unity there really is. They say these are complicated matters. Not for the most part. A lot of these are pretty straight forward. They don’t want to put in the money or the effort. It’s refreshing to see players like Ty Darlington stand up and say this isn’t enough.”

Darlington called for more focus on the name, image and likeness debate. “For a lot of us, the peak of my popularity is probably in college,” Darlington said, according to USA Today Sports.

The Pac-12 proposal that would have let athletes make money off their own name for non-athletic business ventures — you know, like any other college student could do — got tabled. The NCAA put out a statement that said it will continue to grant appropriate waivers consistent with the Pac-12 proposal and that athletes should have similar opportunities as their campus peers for entrepreneurial
aspirations.

Translation: No one wants to get into the weeds of actually passing a rule so they’ll let the NCAA handle these questions on a case-by-case basis. The logical follow-up question: If the NCAA plans to grant appropriate waivers consistent with the Pac-12 proposal, why can’t this be a rule?

The Power Five passed a “rule” giving athletics medical personnel unchallengeable authority on medical decisions. This means an athletic department’s administrative structure should ensure that no coach serves as the primary supervisor for any medical provider, nor have hiring or firing authority over that provider. This is, of course, a very good thing.

NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline told the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brad Wolverton that the bylaw is “the most important in the history of the NCAA” and that the “implications of this are profound.” Hainline has the best of intentions and here’s hoping he’s
right.

But the fact that this authority structure even needed to be spelled out in 2016 speaks to how some schools continue to struggle with managing concussions. So what happens if a school’s trainer doesn’t have authority on medical decisions? Nothing. Just like nothing happens if the Power Five’s concussion safety committee, which NCAA autonomy created last year, determines that a school violated its own protocol.

Can we all at least agree not to call something a rule if there is no enforcement mechanism or penalties that can be attached to a violation?

“Time demands” for players is being dubbed the new buzzword for 2016. Except it was the new buzzword for 2015 — remember the Big Ten’s freshman ineligibility talk? — and still nothing got done to address whether some college athletes are being hurt academically by spending so much time on their sport.

A new NCAA player survey showed that FBS football players spent 42 hours a week on in-season time commitments to their sport, up from 39 hours a week in 2010. FCS football and Division I baseball players also reported 40 hours or more a week on their sport.

So what did the Power Five do? Pass a resolution promising it will tackle time demands next year. That’s right: Administrators need more time to study whether athletes have enough time for academics. The elephant in the room that no one will touch: Midweek, late-night games all across the country for TV purposes. These games surely aren’t ideal if the NCAA is being sincere about its educational mission.

To be fair, some athletes supported tapping the brakes on time-demand proposals. Minnesota football player Chris Hawthorne said he opposed delaying a vote because schools shouldn’t kick the can down the road and the room was comprised with decision makers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Sometimes players want things that are bad for them,” Huma said. “A lot of players wouldn’t go to school if they didn’t make them. We realize these are highly driven and highly-motivated athletes, and they’re also young and sometimes you need to protect them. It’s very convenient to say the players want this anyway. Let’s poll their academic advisor and see what’s best for them academically.”

Among Division I male athletes, 81 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their coach cares about whether he earns his degree, and 75 percent felt the same way about their athletic director. That sounds good. Unless you reverse the stat and wonder why 19 percent to 25 percent of Division I male athletes can’t say the same about their coach or AD.

“There could be more NCAA resources put into degree completion after a player leaves,” Huma said. “Here and there, schools pick and choose the players to complete their degree after they leave school. That should be a matter of policy, not a preference.”

The Power Five wanted autonomy to change the direction of the NCAA. Instead, they slept through Year 2 of this new authority. Who needs to make meaningful changes in 2016 when the legal decisions are currently going your way?

Follow and read more from Jon Solomon on Facebook and Twitter.

ABOUT JON SOLOMON
Jon Solomon is a national college football reporter with CBSSports.com. Solomon joined CBS in 2014 after covering college football at The Birmingham News/AL.com for eight years. He previously was a Clemson beat writer for The (Columbia, S.C.) State and The Anderson (S.C.)
Independent-Mail.

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newton - palmer

WILL LEITCH
MORE FROM WILL

50 CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP FACTS

Will Leitch
www.sportsonearth.com

We have reached the Final Four of the NFL season, with two conference championship games next Sunday, one that features the most exciting young quarterback in the game against one of the most enjoyable teams in the league to watch, and one that just happens to be the final (?)
episode of the premier quarterback rivalry of the last 30 years. This weekend was a blast. Next Sunday feels like Super Bowl XLIX.V.

Here are 50 factoids, observations and musings on what promises to be one of the most memorable Sundays in NFL history (Patriots at Broncos starts at 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS; Cardinals at Panthers starts at 6:40 p.m. on FOX).

The last time an AFC championship game didn’t feature either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady was 2011. The last time before that was 2006.

This is the fourth time Brady and Manning have faced each other in the AFC championship game, with Manning winning two (in 2007 and 2014) and Brady winning one (in 2004).

I know that every possible Brady-Manning storyline has been played out at this point, and I know that we all grew exhausted of the Brady-Manning storylines seven or eight years ago. There was always that moment when you looked at the schedule heading into the season, saw Patriots-Colts and nothing else that week would matter. I get it.

It is still an amazing thing that these two Hall of Fame quarterbacks would meet one last time for the right to play in Super Bowl 50 –clearly being marketed by the NFL as a jewel event, the special Super Bowl — particularly when one of them is almost certainly retiring after the season and the other has spent the past 12 months being yelled while playing at the absolute peak of his powers. That’s to say: I don’t care that this storyline has been shoved down our throats for 15 years. I, for one, am not too cool not to be excited for it.

Manning and Brady have been the two signature personalities — the two men most successful at playing the most important, glamorous, stressful position on the field, the one no franchise can survive without — in the most powerful, most viewed sport in the country. We have seen these two men play football more often, and on the grandest stages, than anyone, probably ever. They’re having one last showdown,
with the winner going to Super Bowl L.

Wry cynicism aside (while still welcomed), it’s difficult not to be sucked in by that.

If you needed any more proof of the importance of the quarterback position — and you shouldn’t — note the NFC championship game, which has two of the best three quarterbacks in that league (and maybe in the NFL) in Cam Newton and Carson Palmer.

The third, of course, is Aaron Rodgers, who would almost certainly be there had he been allowed access to any wide receiver who hadn’t been mopping up the locker room before the game.

And he still almost pulled it off.

Actually, a couple of more notes on that Cardinals-Packers game on Saturday night, which was almost certainly the best NFL postseason game of the past 10 years.

(Amusingly, second place might also be Green Bay at Arizona, from 2009.)

That was the sort of game you catch yourself sitting down your friends who don’t watch football — who don’t even watch sports — and making them watch highlights, so that they will understand. This is why we waste so much of our leisure time watching men half our age run
into one another, yelling Go Sports!

Go Sports!

The game was so staggering that the tipped touchdown pass Carson Palmer threw to Michael Floyd late in the fourth quarter — via a Green Bay defender, and via the lunacy of fate and chance — was roughly the 11th most unlikely thing that happened.

Even if you can’t stand the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers should probably be your favorite player in the NFL. He’s funny, he’s smart (for a celebrity), he’s socially conscious … and he can do this:

No human being should be able to make that throw.

The Packers lost, but man, they still won.

And then of course, there’s Larry Fitzgerald, a man who exists in bobblehead form in my house but about whom I have confessed some mixed feelings in the past. Perhaps those mixed feelings are not fair, but imagine how differently we’re discussing Fitzgerald right now if allegations brought against him in 2008 had been brought against him in 2014.

Yeah, sorry: I just made it a little uncomfortable for you. It’s uncomfortable for me too. This is my favorite team, and he is my favorite player.

But what can you do? If we made moral judgments on everything the NFL had to offer us, we would never be able to watch. And perhaps we shouldn’t watch!

Maybe you can reckon with that, and maybe you cannot, but that was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen in a sporting event. The no-look stiff arm is a new one to me. The way that play went, the surprise was not that he went 75 yards. The surprise was that he didn’t go 1,600.

Anyway, now we have this matchup, which is the first time two Heisman Trophy winners have played against each other in an NFL playoff game. This sounds like a bigger deal than it is, unless you had always been secretly wishing for a Jason White-Eric Crouch NFL postseason battle. This is the second-ever NFC championship game for Arizona, and its first on the road. It’s the fourth-ever NFC championship game for Carolina, and its first at home.

Neither team has ever won a Super Bowl, which means that no matter what, Super Bowl 50 will feature a team that has won multiple Super Bowls (Patriots four, Broncos two) against one that has never won one. Despite the notion of parity in the NFL, 13 of the 32 teams in the league have never won a Super Bowl. (Four have never appeared in one.) That number could go down to 12 this year, which is an improvement over another one of those years when the Steelers play the Cowboys or something.

Even though Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone and Charlotte is in the Eastern Time Zone, two hours ahead, the AFC title game is the early game Sunday. You could conceivably tailgate all day in Denver on Sunday, and lose your mind at the game, and go nuts afterward if the Broncos clinch a trip to the Super Bowl, and still be in bed by 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, no one in North Carolina is going to be much use at work on Monday, no matter what happens.

The top three MVP candidates will all be playing Sunday. The likely voting order will go Newton/Palmer/Brady (though Brady and Palmer might be switched), and there likely won’t be a single Bronco in the top 10.

If you trust Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings — perhaps the best independent, objective, analysts-based judgment of who the best teams in the NFL truly are –your favorites this Sunday are Carolina and Denver.

It is also worth noting that the DVOA Super Bowl favorites heading into this past weekend were Seattle and Kansas City.

Vegas has New England 3 ½ point favorites over Denver, and Carolina three-point favorites over Arizona.

Carolina and Arizona played in the wild-card round last season, but that game featured Ryan Lindley playing quarterback for the Cardinals, so it absolutely does not count.

The Broncos beat the Patriots in overtime in Denver just about a month-and-a-half ago, with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. You probably remember the last play.

Playoff records of every starting quarterback in this game: Brady 22-8, Manning 12-13, Newton 2-2, Palmer 1-3.

Playoff records of every coach in this game: Bill Belichick 23-9, Gary Kubiak 3-2, Ron Rivera 2-2, Bruce Arians 1-1.

All time playoff records for each franchise: Patriots 28-18, Broncos 20-19, Panthers 7-6, Cardinals 6-8.

Back of napkin most exciting Super Bowl matchups: Patriots-Cardinals, Patriots-Panthers, Broncos-Cardinals, Broncos-Panthers. But they’d all be great. That’s the best part about this.

There will be no flukes in this Super Bowl. You won’t see the Rex Grossman Bears, or that other Cardinals team, or that weird Raiders team from 2003. These are the best teams in the NFL, exciting, storied, vivid.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s difficult to imagine any of these four teams being blown out in the Super Bowl, which is what you really want. Only one of the last eight Super Bowls has been a blowout — the last time we saw Manning in one, actually — and it has been a blessing.

And no one wants Super Bowl 50 to be a blowout.

The NFL does so many things wrong. It’s arrogant, it’s greedy, it doesn’t care about its fans, it will put its weight on any scale to make certain it ultimately wins every transaction.

The league can get away with anything, and it usually does.

This is why the NFL can do it, why we gleefully let it. The games are so terrific, the storylines so compelling, the history so palpable, that resistance is futile. This is the best the NFL could have hoped for, these four teams, playing for the right to face off in the biggest showcase of all.

I sort of need it to be Sunday already.

I suspect you do, too.
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Email me at leitch@sportsonearth.com, follow me @williamfleitch or just shout out your window real loud, I’ll hear you. Point is, let’s
talk.

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