10 biggest stories of college football off-season

2:54 | College Football
UCF kicker/YouTube star slams NCAA: "It's time to fight back"
Thursday June 29th, 2017

With barely more than a month remaining before preseason camp is in full swing, we’ve reached something of a college football dead period. Spring football seems like an eon ago, and games are still in the distant future. Even news is difficult to come by; it’s hard for players to get hurt when they’re not practicing, and we’re close enough to camp that any major coaching personnel change is unlikely.

Keeping that in mind, let’s look back at the biggest news stories of the 2017 off-season, from the serious to the bizarre to the shocking.

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Jan. 16: Three Michigan State players allegedly sexually assault a woman

Three Michigan State players have been under investigation since January, when a woman alleged they assaulted her at an on-campus apartment. During spring football, coach Mark Dantonio spoke for 27 minutes about the allegations and investigation, telling reporters it would be “trivial” to talk about sports in his first public comment since National Signing Day on Feb. 1. In those comments, Dantonio discussed the suspensions of three players, who at the time remained unnamed, and the fact that they’d also been removed from university housing.

Out of those allegations came three investigations: a criminal case, a Title IX investigation and an external probe into the football program. For much of the spring, those inquiries unfolded, and on June 6, Dantonio confirmed that the three players—Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance—had been charged with sexual assault and dismissed from the program regardless of the final verdict in the criminal case.

In addition, football staff member Curtis Blackwell was ruled to have violated Michigan State’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy; his contract was not renewed this spring.

And finally, the external investigation revealed no wrongdoing on the part of Dantonio, who alerted the proper officials immediately upon learning of the incident.

It’s impossible for a headline of this magnitude not to make the list, but what’s most interesting about the Michigan State incident was that it was, on the whole, handled properly. What a rare happening in the world of big-name sports—and though I’m not sure a school or team deserves congratulations for a proper response to sexual assault, I do think the Spartans deserve acknowledgment not only for their process, but also for Dantonio’s relative candor. It’ll be interesting to see if other schools in similar positions look to this as a model going forward.

Feb. 7: Steve Sarkisian leaves Alabama for the Atlanta Falcons

After Lane Kiffin was named head coach at Florida Atlantic—though he coached for Alabama in the Peach Bowl—Sarkisian was named the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator. He’d served as a consultant at Alabama during the 2016 season, and on short notice he called plays in the national championship loss to Clemson.

After that game, his relationship with Saban deteriorated, and after Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to lead the 49ers, Sarkisian jumped to the NFL. Alabama replaced him with former Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll.

This news was nothing short of shocking. It’s not uncommon to see coaches jump after one season, but after one game? An SB Nation report indicated that Saban had the same conflicts with Sarkisian that marked his time with Kiffin, and the two found a good opportunity to part ways. That makes sense—and it says a lot about what it’s like to work with the best coach in college football.

I can imagine it’d be difficult for coaches like Kiffin and Sarkisian, who have led big-name programs of their own, to subsume themselves to a system, albeit one that wins and wins. Alabama’s choice to go with Daboll, a long-time assistant accustomed to working for a brilliant and respected coach, makes complete sense.

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Feb. 22: Ole Miss self-imposes a postseason ban for 2017

In February, Ole Miss received word from the NCAA that it would be charged with eight additional rules violations, for a total of 21 alleged infractions. In reaction to this news, the school self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season and will also forfeit its share of SEC postseason revenue.

The allegations surrounding Ole Miss are wide ranging. On draft night in 2016, Laremy Tunsil’s social media was hacked, the contents of which alleged the former Rebels offensive lineman was receiving improper benefits. Later that night, in a news conference, Tunsil acknowledged being paid by the school. In addition, Ole Miss is alleged to have given improper benefits to recruits and to have exhibited a lack of institutional control.

The situation in Oxford is still unfolding, and coach Hugh Freeze will be on the hot seat going into 2017 not just because of these investigations, but also because of how they have affected and will continue to affect the Rebels’ recruiting. How this case plays out in full will be a fascinating story to follow, and with so many wide-ranging and serious implications, Ole Miss could have plenty more punishment to contend with when all is said and done.

April 12: Kicker Becca Longo signs scholarship papers to play at Adams State

In April, Longo became the first woman to earn a scholarship to play football at a Division-II or higher program when she signed with Adams State in Colorado. Longo will also play basketball for the Grizzlies.

This story is just, well, fun. According to ESPN, Longo didn’t realize the significance of her scholarship until the day of her signing ceremony, when her high school coach revealed that after doing some research, he believed her to be the first-ever woman to sign such a scholarship. He was right.

Longo will be one of three kickers on the Adams State roster this season. The school brings back sophomore Eduardo Majalca, who did not attempt a field goal in 2016, and it also signed another freshman, Tiago Paim.

April 14: Division I Council announces ban on multiple contact practices per day in preseason

This decision came in April and was endorsed by sports medicine organizations and the NCAA Sports Science institutes. It restricts teams to just one contact practice and one walk-through per day. Practices can be no longer than three hours, and in walk-throughs, conditioning activities, helmets, pads and contact are banned.

May 8: 72-hour December early signing period gets official sign-off

Here’s another rule change, one that codifies something that had happened unofficially for years. The seeds for the early recruiting period were sown in April, at the same time as the above rule changes were legislated, but it wasn’t until May that the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which runs the National Letter of Intent program, approved it. February’s National Signing Day may never be the same.

In 2017, the early signing period will run from Dec. 20–22. Starting in 2018, players will also be allowed to start taking official visits beginning April 1 of their junior year of high school.

It’ll be interesting to see how fast the December date takes hold. Plenty of past players made up their minds by that date but preferred the pomp and circumstance of announcing closer to signing day. Will they embrace the earlier date or still hold out another six weeks? Signing early will restrict their flexibility to flip commitments, but it’ll also offer more security sooner.

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June 7: Bob Stoops retires as Oklahoma’s head coach

Stoops, coming off an 11–2 season, shocked nearly everyone in college football with his decision to step down. The Oklahoma coach was the longest-tenured in FBS ball—he was hired in 1999—but only 56 years old. Stoops ceded his job to Lincoln Riley, who’d just finished his third year as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator and, at 33, became the youngest FBS coach.

Oklahoma appeared on nearly every too-early preseason top 25 list, often in the top 10. With quarterback Baker Mayfield returning, there’s no reason to think the team will be anything other than the offensive juggernaut it’s been since Riley’s 2015 arrival.

But the coaching change does create more questions about the Sooners. How will they adjust without a decades-long constant? How will things fare with Riley continuing to call plays?

June 10: Donald De La Haye says UCF told him his YouTube channel might render him ineligible

De La Haye’s YouTube channel, “Deestroying,” has (as of June 29) 77,609 subscribers and more than 3.7 million views. He uploaded his first video more than a year ago, on May 11, 2016—and now, he’s at the center of the conversation on collegiate eligibility.

On June 10, De La Haye posted a video titled “Quit College Sports or Quit YouTube,” announcing that UCF had told him he’d be in violation of NCAA rules should he make any money off his channel. He says in the video that he was told he needs to avoid presenting himself as a college football player because doing so means he is profiting off his likeness.

On June 13, ESPN published a story citing a source who said UCF didn’t offer De La Haye an ultimatum but rather offered to work toward a solution. As of June 27, De La Haye’s primary channel still runs ads, but he’s also started a second channel. Titled “TD Loyalty,” it features a collaborator and doesn’t reference De La Haye’s status as a student-athlete.

Though De La Haye told SI Now that taking on the NCAA would be a “David and Goliath type of fight,” it’ll be interesting to see how the situation plays out. His case is a clear indication that eligibility guidelines can be outdated—or at least unable to adapt to the current Internet landscape. This case might not cause a tweak, but it certainly hints at future murky situations, especially should the player in question have a higher profile than that of a UCF kicker.

June 21: Kansas announces it will spend $300 million to renovate its stadium

Earlier this year, Kansas athletics director Sheahon Zenger acknowledged the importance of his football program when he received a three-year contract extension. The Jayhawks under Zenger have won a total of 11 games in six seasons, but regardless, this is quite an investment.

Not much is known for now about the plans, which will include an indoor practice facility, but it’s still noteworthy that one of the worst programs in college football is willing and able to write this kind of check for its facilities.

June 23: Missouri announces it will rent vacant dorm rooms to fans on football weekends

We’ve officially reached the point in the off-season where nothing is really happening, so I’d first like to thank Missouri for throwing this news nugget into the stratosphere. In recent years, since the 2015 football boycott and ensuing institutional drama, Missouri has experienced low enrollment and financial strains. It hasn’t helped that its football team has had two down years and its basketball program has foundered until recently.

Luckily, administrators came up with this plan: to offer $120-per-night dorm rooms to fans and alumnae during sporting events. These accommodations come with bedding, towels, high speed Internet—and a disturbing and acute sense of being 18 again.

I have so many questions about how this will go. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that university leaders are still debating if alcohol will be permitted in the dorms, an argument that seems to be a giant waste of breath. There’s going to be alcohol. There are going to be 20-somethings falling back into recent habits, and 30-somethings chugging Natty Light out of nostalgia. It’ll likely be great. It also might be a giant mess.

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