|August 15, 2009||Blog Bag Answers: Well, Most of Them||7 comments|
|August 14, 2009||Ricco Sanders Finally Cleared||no comments|
|August 14, 2009||On the Friday Football Links||1 comments|
|August 13, 2009||Mullen: Defense Wins; QB Race Tight; Dixon Update||no comments|
|August 13, 2009||No Softball in '16 Games: Miller Reacts||no comments|
|August 13, 2009||More Jackson vs. NCAA; Plus, Links||1 comments|
|August 12, 2009||An Informative Q&A with NCAA's Bob Williams||3 comments|
|August 12, 2009||JSU Returns 2,800 Tickets||1 comments|
|August 12, 2009||Jackson Won't Be Left Out of Interviews||no comments|
|August 12, 2009||Kicking It On the Links||no comments|
Forgive my tardiness. Just trying to track down answers to everyone’s questions.
A couple of questions dealt with the health of basketball players Elgin Bailey and John Riek. I’ve got good updates on those guys, so I’ll post something later just on them. Here’s what I’ve got otherwise.
By the way, I will not be in Starkville today to talk with football coach Dan Mullen. My grandfather’s funeral is this afternoon. David Martin Gean, a.k.a. Papaw, was 94.
Q: What’s the latest recruiting news on the women’s basketball team?
A: Mississippi State has signed two players for the 2009-10 season: Ashley Jones of Winter Park, Fla., and Ashlie Billingslea, of Stone Mountain, Ga., via Chipola (Fla.) Junior College. Jones, a 5-10 guard, was named Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season, averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game while shooting 58 percent for Lake Howell High School. Billingslea, a 5-6 point guard, averaged 11.4 points, 4.4 assists and shot 50 percent from 3-point range last year. She played at South Carolina her freshman year.
Q: Can we expect some trick plays out of Mullen?
A: I haven’t had a chance to ask him that question, but I think he wants to keep things as simple as possible this season. I’m sure you’ll see end-arounds or reverses, standard stuff like that, but I don’t think trick plays figure greatly into his version of the spread. Then again, teams short on talent often try to make up for that with deception.
Q: When the ticket office announces all single-game tickets are gone, yet season tickets remain, how long do they maintain that status before they sell them single, if the season tickets don’t sell?
A: Scott Stricklin, senior associate AD for external affairs, said season tickets won’t become single-game tickets until after the season starts. So that means if single-game tickets for the Jackson State opener sell out, that’s that. Said Stricklin, “We won’t break apart the season tickets prior to the JSU game. History tells us that we will sell a decent number of season tickets between the first and second home games.”
Q: With the receiver corps running low, do you expect more of a running game?
A: Mullen has said that in a perfect world, his offense would be 50 percent run, 50 percent pass. Given the quarterback and receiver situation, plus the depth at running back, I expect more runs than passes.
Q: Do you expect to see more of a wing-back type offense instead of a true spread?
A: Here’s how Mullen addressed the question, without really revealing what he’s planning: “I imagine most good offensive coaches are trying to utilize their personnel and do what they do well. And if that’s putting five receivers on the field, you put five receivers on the field. If that means putting your quarterback under center, put him under center; (if it means) put him in the shotgun, put him in the shotgun. I call that smart coaching more than whatever the offense is called.”
Q: Ask Coach Mullen to compare Chris Leak to Tyson Lee. Ask him to compare them both in size as well as ability.
A: Didn’t get a chance to slip that question in Thursday – most questions dealt with the scrimmage and closely related topics – but don’t let me forget to ask that next week.
Q: I know State has very good players, but only a few that can be great. With that being said, do you expect massive changes if Dan’s offense struggles early? Will he stay the course?
A: He said, “To me, the competition’s always going to go. What we want to find is (if) guys deserve to play, they’re going to play in the game no matter what their position. How they practice and how they perform will determine how much they deserve to play.”
Q: Will Wendell Lewis be at Mississippi State this fall?
A: Yes. The basketball signee came in over the summer.
Q: Where is ex-Bulldog Charles Rhodes?
A: When I spoke with him in May, he was considering taking classes to earn his degree while awaiting surgery on his broken ankle. He said that after surgery, he’d get ready for NBA training camps. Not sure where he is now, though. Nor does MSU team spokesman Gregg Ellis.
A Mississippi State spokesman just announced that freshman WR Ricco Sanders has been academically cleared by the NCAA to join the team and start preparing for the 2009 season. So now the entire freshman signing class is in place.
Sanders, a speedy 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Duncan, S.C., will practice today. He'll have to go without pads, though, due to the NCAA-mandated five-day acclimation period. He's obviously a big addition to a team that is in need of all the receivers – and speed – it can get for coach Dan Mullen's spread offense.
Mullen said earlier this week that Sanders will get baptized by fire.
"He’s going to have a lot thrown at him immediately. How much will stick, we’ll see once it gets thrown at him," Mullen said Tuesday.
Sanders was the No. 88-ranked receiver prospect in the country by Scout.com last year, and the No. 2 receiver in South Carolina. He caught 42 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns his senior year at James F. Byrnes High School.
MSU now has 79 players on scholarship, six below the NCAA limit.
We're just 22 days away from MSU's season opener on Sept. 5 versus Jackson State – hard to believe. The Bulldogs continued their preparations for the season yesterday with the first full scrimmage of preseason camp. I write about it in today's MSU notebook.
Chris Low of ESPN.com was in town last night, and here is his report.
What's up next for State football? One practice this afternoon, two on Saturday, and then no practices Sunday and Monday as school gets under way. This morning, the Bulldogs are checking out of the hotel they've been holed up in all week, and freshmen will get orientated (is that a word?) on campus. MSU will return to its normal practice facility on Tuesday.
By the way, no media availability today for Mullen or any players.
Other things of note this morning:
• Got my copy of this week's Sports Illustrated, the college football preview edition. On the SEC page, Mullen and AD Greg Byrne both draw a mention in the Extra Points section, which also has a picture of Mullen (looks like he's hustling). And guess what else? SI agrees with me – that MSU will finish fifth in the Western Division, ahead of Auburn, with a projected record of 5-7, 3-5 SEC. SI has MSU ranked 63rd in the country, just ahead of Connecticut and just behind Stanford.
• Auburn has named a starting QB.
• Mike Vick to the Eagles. Can't say I saw that one coming.
MSU held its first full scrimmage of preseason camp, on this, Day 10. It was closed to everyone, including us media, but coach Dan Mullen visited with us afterward.
The Bulldogs went for about two hours, and although no score or stats were kept, Mullen gave the edge to the defense. He said the first team ran about 55 plays, while the second team got in about 45 snaps. A lot of situational drills.
"I was hoping the offense would perform a little bit better than they did today and execute at a little higher level," Mullen said. "They were a little herky-jerky. Pleased with some of the play of the defense, the consistent play of the defense."
The scrimmage ended with sprints, and then Mullen announced he'd awarded two walk-ons scholarships: DB Emmanuel Gatling and OL John McMillan. According to team spokesman Joe Galbraith, the rest of the team "went crazy" at the news.
This scrimmage provided a good chance for Mullen to take stock of the quarterback race between incumbent Tyson Lee, Chris Relf and freshman Tyler Russell.
"I’d say there’s nobody that’s in the lead right now. I’d say Chris and Tyson are dead even right now. If Tyler had come here and enrolled in January and had the opportunity to go through spring, I think it’d be a three-man race. I think just the fact he’s mentally behind everybody else hurts him a little bit. That’ll be a wide-open race right to the end."
Speaking of freshmen, Mullen said freshman receiver Chad Bumphis "looked fast," as did sophomore tailback Robert Elliott. "One of the big things offensively was to try to find some playmakers. We’ve got to go back and watch some film, see hopefully we have a couple we can get the ball to."
So what went wrong on offense today? "Just poor execution. Guy running the wrong route, guy missing a protection, quarterback reading it the wrong way."
And what went well on defense? "They kept fighting all day long. Even if they gave up a big play, they came back and responded the next play."
MSU will check out of its hotel tomorrow morning and then will come together about 1:30 p.m.
A few other issues were addressed:
• On RB Anthony Dixon's punishment for his DUI arrest: "He’s still in the process, he’s serving different punishment things right now. At some point, when we figure it all out in the end, we’ll release what all his punishments were."
• Starting LT Derek Sherrod (knee) could return to practice Saturday but might be held out until the next session, on Tuesday.
• Freshman WR Ricco Sanders still hasn't been academically cleared by the NCAA. Just waiting on official word from Indianapolis.
Earlier today, the International Olympic Committee's executive board shortlisted golf and rugby for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics. That means baseball and softball got left out. Both were voted out for the 2012 games.
MSU softball coach Jay Miller, who coaches the national softball team, was hopeful his sport would get voted back in. He recently led Team USA to gold medals in the Canada Cup, World Cup and Japan Cup.
"Obviously it’s one of disappointment and frustration," he said of his initial reaction to the news. "The big disappointment really came four years ago when we were voted out of the games for ’12 and beyond. All the work and effort that’s gone into trying to get back in the last four years, I think it’s real sad for the future and the dreams of a lot of young girls all around the world."
Here's some reaction from USA Softball executives.
Miller wasn't surprised to see rugby – actually, a "light" version called sevens – get put in. It's IOC President Jacques Rogge's pet sport. Miller figured the other sport shortlisted would be either golf or softball. (By the way, the final vote on golf and rugby comes Oct. 9.) Miller said the "big names" and big sponsorship dollars that come with golf are "hard to overcome."
Now, Team USA must figure out how to fund itself. The United States Olympic Committee's funding will dry up now that softball is not an Olympic sport for the foreseeable future. The same will go for other countries' programs. The ability to fund these teams, said Miller, will "really determine the level of competition we’re going to be provided now internationally."
With no Olympics to look forward to, the big event now is the World Championships, to be held next July in Oklahoma City. "That’s still going to be a goal and a dream," Miller said, "to play for the national team and compete with USA on your chest."
I hope you read yesterday's Q&A with the NCAA's Bob Williams, who was responding to several claims made by Don Jackson, attorney for MSU signee Renardo Sidney. And here's my story for today's Journal. Jackson read the blog, and then he sent me a lengthy text last night responding to it. Some excerpts:
"One question you didn't ask: After having received in excess of 1,000 pages of documentation, do you have ANY evidence of ANY single violation?" Actually, I did ask if a violation had been found, but Williams kind of dodged the question.
Jackson again: "Is it the family's obligation to prove their innocence to your (NCAA) satisfaction or the NCAA's obligation to establish violations?" I had asked Williams about working from a presumption of innocence, but he said it was not a matter of guilt or innocence.
Jackson also questioned from whence the NCAA derived the authority to exclude him from third-party interviews when he's not the interviewees' legal counsel. Much of what Jackson said in the text reiterated previous comments, including this: "In the absence of specific evidence to establish a violation of some type, he will either be cleared by the Eligibility Center or the court system."
• MSU's football team had two practices yesterday, and today the Bulldogs will hold their first full scrimmage of preseason camp. Too bad it's closed, but I'll be down there this evening to report on what coach Dan Mullen has to say about it.
• MSU's women's track and field team picked up another Jamaican.
During the NCAA's amateurism evaluation of MSU signee Renardo Sidney, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams has commented on the matter several times, usually in response to something said by Don Jackson, Sidney's attorney. Up until now, all of Williams' comments have come via e-mail.
A few moments ago, in response to my latest request for comments on something said by Jackson, Williams called my cell phone. So I conducted an impromptu, and I think informative, Q&A with the man. Here it is – most of it, anyway – starting with Williams' initial comments to me after we exchanged pleasantries.
BW: Basically nothing has changed in terms of our policy. The requirement for a confidentiality statement is required in what we call third-party interviews. That is, interviews attended by an individual who is not the primary subject of the interview, or the interview’s for that person’s attorney. In this case Mr. Jackson is saying he represents the individual being interviewed, so there’s no requirement for a confidentiality statement.
If we determine that he is not representing this individual, then he won’t be allowed to be in the interview without a confidentiality statement. It’s that simple.
BL: He did mention this person was a client of The Sports Group …
BW: Just like the interviews with Mr. Sidney, he wasn’t required to sign a confidentiality statement, because that was his client.
BL: He keeps saying that the NCAA policy is actually on his side when it comes to being a part of these interviews.
BW: It’s simply not true.
BL: Can you point me to specifically what the policy is, where I can find it?
BW: It’s basically a policy that we have in both of our investigations and also with the eligibility center. But the bottom line is that, if he’s not the individual’s attorney that’s being interviewed, then he has to sign a confidentiality agreement. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t attend the interview; it’s that simple. I don’t know what he’s trying to say, but if he’s saying that he can do it either way, he’s wrong.
BL: Another thing he has an issue with is he says nothing has been found as far as a violation, so he questions why y’all are pursuing the case if there’s nothing found. Can you kind of clarify a little bit how y’all operate as far as trying to find a violation?
BW: That explanation is pretty easy as well. It’s not that nothing has been found, it’s that we don’t have all of the information necessary to render a determination. So if he refuses to provide information, that doesn’t mean that, well, everything’s OK. No. That means we don’t have the information. Until we get the information, then he won’t be cleared.
BL: So you’re saying something has been found?
BW: I’m not saying anything has or hasn’t been found. All I’m saying is, until we get all of the information that we need to make a determination, his client’s not cleared, period.
BL: I guess what he’s saying is, he wonders why y’all are not operating from a presumption of innocence.
BW: This isn’t a debate over innocence or guilt. We’re trying to determine what the situation is. And that’s the bottom line. So, if the thought is that he thinks that he can withhold information and that that’s going to change the status in any way, that’s simply not the case.
BL: What exactly prompted this evaluation in the first place? Was it the L.A. Times story, information in that?
BW: Well yes, there have been public reports, and I’m not going to get into any other details other than that. But the fact is, the investigation has been started.
BL: Don said that y’all have basically imposed a deadline for getting that financial information that y’all requested, and according to my math, that would be August 19, is that accurate?
BW: We have not imposed a deadline, no. We’ve told him what information we need to make a determination. Period.
BL: He said that in an e-mail from (NCAA rep) Alex Hammond, that if that information wasn’t turned in within 21 days (Aug. 19), then Sidney may get a “not certified” ruling.
BW: If he’s not certified, (it’s) because we’re needing information.
BL: That’s not like a permanent ruling?
BW: It essentially means that we can’t make a determination because we don’t have enough information.
Jackson State was allotted 5,000 tickets for its season opener at Mississippi State on Sept. 5, and the school announced on its Web site Tuesday that it's returning 2,800 of them to MSU while keeping 400. According to my sketchy math, that means JSU has so far sold 1,800 tickets.
"I don’t know that we had any expectation. They asked for 5,000 and we accommodated them. I still think we’ll have a real good market for those tickets," said Scott Stricklin, MSU's senior associate AD for external affairs.
Stricklin said he's not sure how many single-game tickets remain for the JSU game, but he expects a packed house.
On the subject of season tickets, MSU is nearing its goal of 40,000. The latest numbers we have are from the close of business Monday, with the total at 38,839. That's assuming MSU sells 10,000 student season tickets, so actual sales are near 29,000. Student tickets don't go on sale until Aug. 24, and there are actually 11,000 allotted. Stricklin thinks they'll all sell, so reaching 40,000 seems inevitable.
Don Jackson, attorney for MSU signee Renardo Sidney, has called what he thinks is a bluff by the NCAA, and the NCAA folded. Jackson sent a lengthy text message today, and in it said, "notwithstanding NCAA spokesman Bob Williams’ unenlightened statement to the contrary a week ago, both Mr. Sidney and prospective future interiewees will be adequately represented in future interviews."
Williams said on Aug. 4 that if he did not sign a confidentiality agreement, Jackson would not be allowed to sit in on interviews related to the NCAA's amateurism evaluation of Sidney. Alex Hammond of the NCAA eligibility center made an unannounced visit to the mother of one of Sidney's former summer teammates, and the sides agreed to set up an interview. Jackson e-mailed Hammond and told him he planned to be a part of the interview, which could happen as early as tomorrow in Arizona (Jackson will join via phone).
In an e-mail reply to Jackson, Hammond wrote, "I did receive your e-mail this morning, and I will contact you later this week to arrange a mutually convenient time to conduct the interview with" the woman.
So why did the NCAA yield to Jackson's demand to sit in on interviews? "Because they're wrong," he said.
Jackson also said he recently sent some supplemental information to the NCAA, nothing major. He also hopes Sidney's academic clearance will come soon. MSU's fall term starts Monday. "We're getting closer," Jackson said.
I'm awaiting a reply from Williams on why the NCAA reversed its stance on excluding Jackson from such interviews if he didn't sign a confidentiality agreement. I'll update this post when/if I receive a reply.
Last season, Mississippi State had a lot more drama in its kicking game than one would like. Missed chip-shot field goals, shanked punts, a promising kicker who never panned out – it was a constant source of frustration for the Bulldogs.
They hope those days are over thanks to a pair of junior college transfers, kicker Sean Brauchle and punter Heath Hutchins. I spoke with both for a story in today's Journal examining their role and just how much coach Dan Mullen demands of them. Mullen also coaches special teams, and as I write in the story, he expects them to work just as hard as everyone else. And Brauchle and Hutchins like it.
"Having the head coach as your special teams coach is good. That’s really worked for me," Hutchins said. "The more pressure put on me, the better I do. That’s really the best thing for me. The more people that doubt me or the more people I have behind me – I just don’t want to let anybody down, that’s my thing."
Brauchle doesn't mind the extra work that comes when, say, he drops a snap. Comes with the territory. "You’re gonna drop a ball, you’re gonna take a million handoffs until you don’t drop a ball, stuff like that. I can handle his coaching," he said.
• In other news, here is my notebook on MSU football, talking about injured OL Tobias Smith, freshman WR Ricco Sanders (still not cleared yet) and Mullen's thoughts on redshirting.
• ESPN.com's Chris Low writes about Alabama. He's in Tuscaloosa and will be making his way to Starkville later this week to write about the Bulldogs.
• I'm afraid I won't be in Starkville today. Our annual Football Journal requires my attention, as the copy deadline is fast approaching. But I'll be back down there Thursday. State has two practices today and will hold a full scrimmage tomorrow.