|July 07, 2009||Sidney, Varnado, and an Opinion Offering||no comments|
|July 06, 2009||More Freshmen Arrive; Plus, Other Links||3 comments|
|July 06, 2009||On the (Ugh) Monday Links||1 comments|
|July 05, 2009||On the Sunday Links||1 comments|
|July 04, 2009||Blog Bag Answers: July 4 Edition||3 comments|
|July 03, 2009||NCAA: Policy Change Unrelated to Sidney Case||2 comments|
|July 03, 2009||Sidney Update: L.A. Times Story Fueled Probe||no comments|
|July 03, 2009||Sidney: Clearinghouse Takes Over Case||no comments|
|July 02, 2009||Shaunessy Smith: Feelin' Good, Thinkin' Big||2 comments|
|July 02, 2009||Bill Byrne on Greg Byrne||3 comments|
First, a housekeeping note: No Blog Bag this week, because I'm heading out of town Thursday to use up the rest of my vacation hours.
• OK, so I'm sure you're like me and have Renardo Sidney on the brain. He and his family met with an NCAA investigator yesterday. I wasn't able to speak with Donald Jackson, the Sidneys' attorney, but I do know that the interviews ended shortly before 6 p.m. They will continue this morning.
• Speaking of MSU hoops, Jarvis Varnado had six points and four rebounds as Team USA crushed Greece 108-77 to advance to the quarterfinals of the World University Games. The USA (3-0) wraps up pool play today against host Serbia (3-0).
• I wouldn't recommend reading it, but here it is anyway: My column, in which I make some predictions about the 2009 SEC football season. Given my history of prognostication (see: Pigskin Picks), you'd do well to take your money to Vegas and bet against everything I wrote. So maybe you should read it.
Today's Random Link: The Orlando Sentinel rates the college football preseason mags.
Now that I'm back from the laundromat – stupid washing machine broke – I've got some catching up to do.
• We learned this morning that 10 freshmen football players are enrolled in classes for second summer term, which starts today. With the two that enrolled in January and the five that enrolled in June, that makes 17 of the 21 high school signees on campus. Of the four not here, one won't be at all – Billy Hamilton, who's chosen pro baseball – and two others are going juco first – WR Mardrecas Hood and DB Darius Slay. So only WR Ricco Sanders is out of the loop.
Obviously, this is crucial for coach Dan Mullen. A four-week head start for these guys will prove invaluable, especially considering most of them will be vying for significant playing time this fall. All players report Aug. 2, and preseason drills begin Aug. 3.
• MSU also announced that April 16-18 are the dates for Super Bulldog Weekend 2010. Tennessee will be in town for baseball, and of course the Maroon-White spring football game will be played. Wonder what kind of crowd will be there, and if a poor record this season will temper the excitement we saw this spring.
• Our friends at BulldawgJunction.com reported that Yazoo County DE Kaleb Eulls (6-3, 245) is the sixth MSU commitment for the 2010 class.
• Former Bulldog Jonathan Papelbon gets another All-Star nod.
Ah, Monday. I overslept, the grass needs mowing, we need a new washing machine – yeah, can't wait for the weekend. Which for me will come Thursday and stretch into next Monday, by the way.
As for today, it's a big day for Renardo Sidney, as the NCAA comes to town – Montgomery, Ala., specifically – to grill him and his parents as part of its amateurism evaluation of the 6-foot-10 MSU signee. The meeting starts this afternoon and will conclude Tuesday. Great way to start the week, with the NCAA up in your business. Guess I can't complain too much.
Got some links for you this morning:
• From our friends at bleacherreport.com (thanks for the link, dusty_dawg), a story on MSU quarterback Tyson Lee and how he'll fit into Dan Mullen's spread option offense. Two words: Chris Leak.
• The AJC's Tony Barnhart, a.k.a. Mr. College Football, is back from vacation and breaks down some recent events.
• From Journal sports editor John L. Pitts, a moving column reflecting on the recent spate of celebrity deaths and how it hits home.
Today's Random Link: This Steve McNair business keeps getting weirder and weirder.
Hope everyone had a happy July 4th and didn't get blown up. As for me, I climbed some rocks without injuring myself. Gonna be sore for days, though.
Got some good links for you this afternoon:
• I have a story on AD Greg Byrne, who's already made his mark just one year into the job.
• Accompanying that story is an update on Byrne's predecessor, Larry Templeton, who's as busy as he's ever been.
• MSU's Jarvis Varnado had a solid game – 11 points, five boards, two blocks – as Team USA rolled past South Korea yesterday at the World University Games. Team USA (2-0) advanced to the second round and will play Greece (1-1) on Monday.
• I finally got around to reading my new Sports Illustrated, and guess who I saw in the "Faces in the Crowd" section? MSU's Chelsea Bramlett, who was lauded for her three straight All-American honors and being selected to the USA Softball national team. She and coach Jay Miller – who's coaching Team USA – are blogging about the team's exploits right here.
Today's Random Link: Our old friend Ralph Russo, formerly the lead AP writer in Mississippi, looks back at Steve McNair's impact on Alcorn State football.
Happy 233rd birthday, America. Hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable Fourth. Me, I'm about to go climb some rocks in Tishomingo County. First, though, here are the best answers I could come up with this week, and we can thank the NCAA and Renardo Sidney for this being a day late.
Q: When all the football freshmen arrive, how many do you believe will start and at what position?
A: I don’t expect many to start, but several should contribute. I think the guy with the best chance of starting is WR Chad Bumphis. And we all know QB Tyler Russell will at least have a shot at claiming that first-string role.
Q: What position do you think Dan Mullen will have the biggest impact on in his first year?
A: He’s coaching special teams, so I imagine it’d be that area. Then again, he’ll be making the call on who’s at quarterback.
Q: With Mullen coaching special teams, how does he feel the units are coming along? Is the speed/tackling ability/discipline there to make our special teams units really special?
A: With this kind of team, special teams play could decide a couple of games this fall. Special teams is as much about effort as anything – finding those wedge-buster types – and Mullen’s been happy with the effort. He said after the spring game that all units had a good “foundation.”
Q: If you had to pick a football player from State to have a break-out type year, who would it be? And why?
A: I’d say SS Charles Mitchell. He played great in a backup role last season and has the build, ability and drive to be a all-SEC first-teamer before he’s done.
Q: With such a small senior class, and thus small recruiting class for this year, does the staff plan to use a large percentage of those scholarships on offensive linemen? Or, perhaps a different position of need?
A: He went light on linemen this year because he’s stocked with them. I’m sure he’ll go after a few more next year, but it’s still a pretty young unit – only two seniors on the post-spring two-deep. Oh, and you know he'll stock up on receivers.
Q: Does the staff plan on signing another kicker and/or punter in this upcoming class since our signees from last year are both JUCOs?
A: I can’t say for sure, but that would be a good idea.
Q: How much input does Mullen have with coaching the QBs? I know it is officially Les Koenning’s job, but does Mullen often take part in the process, perhaps more than he does any position?
A: I wanted to ask Les that question myself, but I’ve been unable to track him down this week. In fact, all the coaches are out of pocket this week, I’m told. Mullen will have a say in the offense, which means he’ll have a say in coaching the QBs.
Q: Do the coaches anticipate moving any linemen around, such as DL to OL or vice versa? Are there any freshmen or redshirt freshmen they plan on playing at a different position than they were recruited for?
A: You’ll usually see that to some degree most years, although MSU’s coaches seem pretty pleased with what’s up front on both sides of the ball. As to who might move, who knows, but it’d probably be second- or third-string guys. As for freshmen, Mullen’s talked about moving some of the receivers to the secondary, where MSU is pretty thin.
Q: Do you think Mullen can have MSU in place to be a contender in the SEC within four years?
A: If he doesn’t, he might be exiting Starkville. MSU can never assume it’s going to become a contender within a certain time frame, but I tell you what, if it’s going to happen, I have a feeling this will be the coach to do it.
Q: Why are cowbells illegal at our games again? That’s like part of our idenity and tradition. We shouldn't have to sneak them in.
A: I thought they had been illegal for years. Not that it’s ever stopped MSU fans or been enforced, to my knowledge. I wouldn’t sweat it.
Q: Who would you take for the long run? Mullen or Houston Nutt?
A: Tough question to answer, but Nutt’s a proven winner, and Mullen hasn’t coached his first game. So based on that, logic would point me toward Nutt. Then again, Mullen's younger and has two national championship rings.
Q: With the ESPN networks broadcasting all of the SEC games this year, does that mean that some of the games could be broadcast exclusively on ESPN360, which is an internet-only channel? Or will all of the games be on ESPN's cable channels? And is the ESPN deal for football only?
A: Some games will be viewable only on ESPN360.com. And the deal applies to all sports.
Q: What is going on with Derek Pegues?
A: His agent, Bus Cook, texted me this in a reply to my call: “Nothing to report. Still trying.”
Q: After the month long fan voting on the new Hump basketball court, which choice won?
A: I’ve been told the winner will be announced next Thursday.
Q: Do you know of any other big games for the men’s basketball team? Other than UCLA of course.
A: Nothing else as of right now.
Q: With all the talk about improving the facilities, do you think Left Field Lounge will remain at State?
A: You take away the Left Field Lounge, you’re ripping the soul out of Dudy Noble. Won’t happen.
Q: Could you give us a update on the health of basketball signee Shaunessy Smith?
A: See yesterday’s blog post on Smith.
I got an e-mail response from the NCAA – second time they've commented on this case, wow – and spokesman Bob Williams said the aforementioned policy change has nothing to do with Renardo Sidney. The replay in full:
"The transfer of this case had absolutely nothing to do with Renardo Sidney or Donald Jackson. The NCAA changed its policy so that all preferential treatment cases involving prospective student athletes would be handled by the NCAA Eligibility Center. That policy took effect July 1 and was made to streamline the initial eligibility process."
By the way, the interview with Wayne Brent took place this afternoon.
Another text from attorney Donald Jackson. He said the NCAA interviewed Wayne Brent, who was coach at Piney Woods when Renardo Sidney was there (he was ineligible to play due to residency issues). In the interview, the NCAA investigator, Alex Hammond, apparently implied that if not for a Los Angeles Times story on Sidney, the 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American "would have easily cleared," said Jackson.
In the story, former shoe rep Sonny Vaccaro was reported to have bankrolled the Sidneys' move from Jackson to Los Angeles in 2006. Says Jackson, "In an interview with Sidney's attorney, Vaccaro denied that he ever advised L.A. Times reporter Lance Pugmire that he paid for the Sidneys' relocation to L.A." I'm actually having trouble locating that particular story, but Vaccaro's role is mentioned in this piece by ESPN.com's Pat Forde.
So I'm out and about running errands this afternoon when I receive a text message from Donald Jackson, attorney for Renardo Sidney and family. It read, in full:
"On July 2, 2009, the NCAA Enforcement Staff notified me of a 'policy change.' Effective July 1, 2009, amateurism freshman certifications such as the Sidney case have been transferred to the Amateurism Certification Process Team at the Eligibility Center. Former NCAA staffer Bill Saum was assigned to this area several years ago. This 'transfer' is quite unusual, particularly in the midst of ongoing cases. A new point person, Alex Hammond, has been assigned in the Sidney case. Angie Cretors has been removed from the case."
The NCAA is coming to Jackson's Montgomery, Ala., office to interview the Sidneys on Monday and Tuesday as part of its amateurism evaluation of the 6-foot-10 MSU signee.
Cretors is assistant director for the NCAA's Agents, Amateurism and Gambling Activities department. That's the department Saum used to head up, and he's had several clashes with Jackson in eligibility cases. According to NCAA.org, Saum is now "in charge of the amateurism review component" of the eligibility center.
The timing is curious, but July 1 (or thereabouts) is a normal time for new policies, measures, etc., to take effect at the collegiate level – yearly budgets, rules changes, and so on. So who knows.
Anyway, I called up Jackson a few moments ago to get further reaction and insight. He said he thinks the case was moved so the NCAA could avoid granting the FERPA request he made nearly three weeks ago, which would provide him with the NCAA's notes on the Sidney case. How's that work?
As Jackson explains, the eligibility center – a.k.a. NCAA Clearinghouse – "has always been effectively a separate entity from the NCAA." It's under the NCAA umbrella, obviously. But to further explain, as this Web site does, "The Clearinghouse is a separate organization hired by the NCAA to ensure consistent interpretation of the NCAA initial-eligibility requirements for all prospective student-athletes at all colleges and universities."
So, the Clearinghouse does not have to provide the info because, as Jackson said, "They're not, quote, a division of the NCAA." Confused?
Regardless, the interview will go on starting Monday afternoon. Hammond will be there (Jackson hasn't yet heard from him), as will some MSU representatives. Jackson said he's not sure who else from the NCAA might show up.
Now, back to my July 4 preparations.
Shaunessy Smith was a big signing for Mississippi State basketball last fall, but he's been overshadowed quite a bit by the late arrivals of Renardo Sidney and John Riek, not to mention the eligibility issues that have trailed the pair. Smith has been quietly working his way back from wrist and hip injuries, spending lots of time at Humphrey Coliseum when he's not in class at MSU (he enrolled for the first summer term).
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound guard said the cast on his left (non-shooting) wrist came off about a month ago, and it's looking like his hip won't need surgery after all. "It feels pretty good so far. I haven’t done too much on it yet, though," he said, adding that right now he's testing it with light squats and shooting drills.
Smith, who averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game for Noxubee County last season, said he's been told he'll play the two guard, which would have him backing up senior Barry Stewart. He didn't sound too concerned about playing time on a guard-heavy team.
"I see myself fitting in pretty good in the rotations," Smith said. "Long as I keep working on my game and stuff."
Smith said he's been working out mostly with starting point guard Dee Bost and reserve forward Romero Osby, both sophomores. Their main message to Smith: Stay in the gym. He is.
Expectations for MSU are high – exceptionally high if Sidney and Riek (or at least Sidney) are cleared to play this winter. Lots of people have been touting MSU as a possible Final Four entrant. Smith agrees.
"I say we’re gonna be in the Final Four," he said. "With Jarvis (Varnado) coming back, we’ve got pretty much the same team as last year."
I had a nice conversation this morning with Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne, father of Mississippi State AD Greg Byrne. I'm doing a story on the younger Byrne for the weekend.
Bill Byrne somehow anticipated my first question, which was going to be, "As objectively as possible, what kind of job is Greg doing?" Bill said with a laugh that he could not offer an objective take. OK, I said, then in your biased opinion, how's he doing?
"He’s doing a heck of a good job. I’m really impressed, and this is coming from an AD who’s been in the business a long time. Greg has been remarkable."
The elder Byrne went on to laud Greg's handling of the Ron Polk fiasco, the football coaching change, and his "forethought" in regards to facilities.
Bill and Greg talk quite a bit, of course, but it's not just father offering son guidance. "It’s not so much advice, we just talk as two fellow athletics directors. He’s got some mentors in this business that are very good and very experienced," Bill said.
More to come this weekend.