Robert Craft

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Golden Future

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the 2023-24 basketball season in the rear view, Florida coach Todd Golden and his assistants will now turn their attention to the transfer portal and adding more pieces to the roster for next year.

The Gators must replace graduate transfers Zyon Pullin and Tyrese Samuel and will have at least one more scholarship opening to fill. Here’s a look at UF’s returning roster and recruiting needs for 2024-25.

Priority No. 1 for Golden is recruiting Walter Clayton Jr. back to Florida for his senior year. He was the team’s top playmaker this season, hitting several clutch 3-pointers and leading the Gators in scoring at 17.6 points per game, ranked No. 5 in the SEC.

Clayton also had the fifth-best single-season scoring total (633 points) in Gator history. His return for 2024-25 would help maintain Florida’s high-powered offense and give Coach Golden a dynamic shooter to attract a top point guard in the portal.

Clayton plans to make a decision on his future after taking some time to weigh his options on declaring early for the 2024 NBA Draft or returning to UF.

Will Richard returns at the 3-spot as a senior, which will be his third year in the starting lineup for Florida. He averaged 11.4 points in 2023-24  up from 10.4 a year ago  and had a few standout performances, including a pair of 23-point games in home wins over Alabama and Mississippi State.

Florida’s backcourt could also bring back Denzel Aberdeen and Riley Kugel for their junior years and Kajus Kublickas as a sophomore. Kugel has decided to transfer, no surprise especially after Kugel was relegated from a starting job to a backup position.

The Gators lose one of their two starters in Samuel, but sophomore center Micah Handlogten has a long rehab process ahead of him. He will spend the offseason recovering from a fractured lower left leg in the SEC Tournament final.

Golden didn’t have a timetable on Handlogten’s return after his injury.

The 7-foot-1 Handlogten was one of the best rebounders in the country this season, ranking in the top five nationally for offensive rebounding percentage (17.8%). He had four double-doubles, including a 23-point, 17-rebound performance vs. Georgia, and averaged 3.5 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Florida’s frontcourt returns Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh. They outperformed their recruiting rankings (although On3 did rate Condon as a four-star and the nation’s No. 124 overall prospect).

Condon, an SEC-All Freshman selection, led the league’s freshmen in rebounding (6.4) and blocked shots (45). He also averaged twice as many points (7.7) as Handlogten and more minutes played (20.3). Haugh averaged 3.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 14.7 minutes.

.The Gators lose at least three scholarship players in seniors Pullin, Samuel and Julian Rishwain. One of those scholarships goes to 2024 signee Isaiah Brown, a four-star shooting guard.

Golden and the coaching staff will look to fill the other two roster openings with a point guard and big man from the portal. Finding a replacement for Pullin will be another top priority.

Given the uncertainty of Handlogten’s status and when he’ll be available, it’s also important for UF to land an impact power forward to join the frontcourt of Condon, Haugh and Szymczyk.

After Pullin posted one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation and Samuel led the SEC in field goal percentage, Florida will be able to sell point production on the transfer market.

The Gators also need to improve defensively, so it will be key for Golden and his staff to add some transfers who are strong defenders and can make a difference on that end of the court.

Coach Golden has built a culture that players like and a style of basketball fans enjoy watching. He has the Gators on the right path to be top program in the SEC and the country.

Gator Basketball fans: the future is Golden.

The Bottom Half

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

That’s right everyone, it’s time for my bottom half ranking the head coaches for the 2024 SEC season.

A few of these coaches are new coaches and others are on the Hot Seat waiting to be fired.

No. 9 Mike Elko, Texas A&M: Elko is 16-9 in two seasons as Duke’s head coach, leading the Blue Devils to one of their best seasons in school history in 2022.

He got the Texas A&M job because of his coaching (and player development) acumen, plus a personality that should play well with the Aggies’ fickle booster base.

No. 10 Hugh Freeze, Auburn: Freeze remains the most difficult coach to rank in the SEC. How do you weigh his accomplishments previously at Ole Miss (two wins over Nick Saban) versus his recent results at Liberty and Auburn? The history is not promising.

No. 11 Brent Venables, Oklahoma: Venables bounced back from a tough first season as a head coach, guiding the Sooners to a 10-win season in advance of the program’s move to the SEC.

A bad loss to UCF squandered a chance to play for the Big 12 Championship, but Venables did beat Texas in Red River and fixed a bad Oklahoma defense.

No. 12 Shane Beamer, South Carolina: After two straight seasons of exceeding expectations under Beamer, the Gamecocks regressed to the mean in 2023 — going 5-7 with a slew of frustrating losses.

South Carolina dealt with all sorts of injuries last year (particularly at OL and with wideout Juice Wells), but the team ultimately wasted a solid season from quarterback Spencer Rattler.

Beamer has had a bunch of staff turnover, this offseason, too.

No. 13 Sam Pittman, Arkansas: Pittman is a beloved character in college football, but the shine has worn off the Pit Boss’ star since he led the Razorbacks to a surprising 9-4 season in 2021.

Like Napier, Pittman must win now or else he probably won’t be on this list next spring.

No. 14 Jeff Lebby, Mississippi State: Lebby finds himself last in the 2024 SEC head coach rankings solely because he hasn’t been a head coach previously.

The guy he replaced Zach Arnett was ranked at the bottom of this list last spring, too, but here’s guessing Lebby will have a much longer stay in Starkville.

No. 15 Billy Napier, Florida: No head coach in the SEC faces more pressure than Billy Napier in 2024, and the stakes were raised earlier this month when Steve Spurrier openly said, “There’s a feeling around the Gators of ‘What the heck are we doing?’”.

Napier is just 11-14 in two seasons with the Gators. He secured a signature win over Utah in his debut as UF’s head coach, but pretty much everything since the 2022 opener has gone wrong.

Florida’s defense has been a disaster for two seasons.

No. 16  Clark Lea, Vanderbilt: The expectation was that Lea would receive a long leash to rebuild his alma mater in his image, but the results have been so dire (2-22 in SEC games in three seasons), that suddenly the former Vandy fullback is facing pressure to deliver more wins.

Not looking great for Vandy.

I believe 3 coaches on this list are on the Hot-Seat: Shane Beamer, Sam Pittman and Billy Napier.

All 8 of these coaches have something to prove. Last year, I ranked Eli Drinkwitz at 14, so who on my bottom half will rise and who will be fired?

Rank Em

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It’s the pollen-covered cars spring, which means March Madness and head coach rankings!

For the uninitiated, these lists are totally subjective. This is meant to be a fun exercise, and it’s my ranking.

While career achievements are considered, college football has become a sport that’s constantly changing, so recent performance (wins, recruiting, working the transfer portal, hiring assistants, producing NFL Draft picks, etc.) will be taken into account.

Entering the 2024 season, the SEC features two new teams (so two more coaches to rank), and two new head coaches at Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

No. 1 Kirby Smart, Georgia: Smart is the undisputed top-ranked coach in America right now. He’s won at least 11 games in six of the last seven years, has a pair of national titles and just inked another No. 1 recruiting class.

Georgia has sent more talent to the NFL than any program in the country in the last few seasons, and the Bulldogs are the early favorites for the national championship in 2024. Clear number one here.

No. 2 Brian Kelly, LSU: Kelly has done everything but win a national championship at the FBS level. He’s won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons, producing a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jayden Daniels in Year 2 at LSU.

No. 3 Kalen DeBoer, Alabama: While DeBoer’s resume as FBS head coach is fairly light, the man rarely loses, whether it’s at Sioux Falls or Washington (104-12).

He won 21 straight games with the Huskies, beat Texas twice and made the national championship in Year 2, which is why he became the coveted target to replace Nick Saban at Alabama.

No. 4 Steve Sarkisian, Texas: Sarkisian won 10 games for the first time in his career in 2023, resurrecting the Longhorns’ program back to national prominence by winning the Big 12 and making the CFP.

He’s arguably the best play-caller in college football and is certainly one of the top offensive minds.

No. 5 Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss: Kiffin just led the Rebels to their first 11-win season in school history, and like Sarkisian, has overcome a rocky start to his head coaching career (be it the one-and-done season at Tennessee or the stint at USC).

Before Kiffin arrived in Oxford, Ole Miss had just three 10-win seasons in 48 years. He could top that in 2024 with the Rebels pushing their chips for a potential SEC title run.

No. 6 Josh Heupel, Tennessee: A year after leading the Vols to their best season in nearly 25 years, Heupel managed to win nine games in 2023 despite erratic quarterback play.

That shouldn’t be an issue in the future, though, as the Nico Iamaleava era starts this fall and 2025 5-star commit George MacIntyre is waiting in the wings.

No. 7 Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri: Drinkwitz is coming off the best coaching job of his career, leading the Tigers to a surprising 11-2 season and a win over Ohio State to finish in the Top 10.

Before the season, he shrewdly delegated play-calling duties to new OC hire Kirby Moore, which allowed Drinkwitz to focus on his entire team and move worked brilliantly.

No. 8 Mark Stoops, Kentucky: Stoops has been the Wildcats’ best football coach since Bear Bryant, elevating the program with multiple 10-win seasons for the first time in more than four decades.

Stoops’ ranking requires perspective though, Kentucky football was basically nothing before he arrived and the ‘Cats have made eight straight bowl games. He’s raised the expectations, which is why 7-6 is seen as a poor season.

Here are my top SEC coaches entering the 2024 season.

Scheduling For Money

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The SEC is likely to stay with an eight-game football schedule for the 2025 season, but that could be the final year before going to nine games, according to Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte.

The main news: the SEC is sticking with an eight-game schedule for the 2025 season. There was no confirmation from the SEC office or anyone else at the town hall event Del Conte spoke at.

Several conference sources emphasized that there has been no official decision either way on the 2025 season or beyond.

But indications are the SEC does not want to have its annual meetings in Destin, Fla., this May be dominated by another debate about the future schedule format. The conference could announce well before that it’s going with an eight-game schedule for 2025, then make a decision later for 2026 and beyond.

When Oklahoma and Texas announced they were joining the league a few years ago, the momentum was toward going to a nine-game schedule. But that momentum stalled mainly because ESPN did not agree to increase payout to the SEC in exchange for adding a ninth game.

At last year’s spring meetings, the SEC announced it would keep an eight-game schedule for the 2024 season. That was the first eight-game schedule for Texas and Oklahoma, and it postponed the long-awaited decision on whether to go to nine.

The biggest reason is money. Even schools that favor a nine-game schedule, such as Georgia, have wanted ESPN to increase its payout in exchange.

The television contract, which was signed about six months before Oklahoma and Texas announced they were joining, just has a pro rata clause, which means the payout goes up by an equal amount to what the current 14 schools were getting.

SEC officials have argued that eight more conference games  the result of going to a nine-game schedule is worth more money. But ESPN, dealing with Disney-ordered cutbacks, has not agreed.

There is another reason for the SEC to punt: It can see if only playing an eight-game schedule helps or hurts its teams for the 12-team CFP when the Big Ten and other conferences are playing nine games.

There have been two formats under discussion: In the eight-game format, every team would have one permanent rivalry and rotate everyone else.

In the nine-game format, every team would have three teams it plays every year and rotate everyone else. In both formats, everybody plays everybody else at least twice every four years.

The downside of an eight-game schedule is traditional rivalries that wouldn’t be played every year: Auburn and Georgia or Alabama and Tennessee, for instance.

While Texas-Texas A&M was considered one of those, Del Conte also said that the Longhorns would play the Aggies every year. It could be Oklahoma and Texas that wouldn’t be played every year if an eight-game schedule were adopted.

This year, while the SEC stayed with eight games, it kept those traditional rivalries as rotating games. That could be done again in 2025.

In result, the traditional rivalries would stay intact if the SEC went to a nine-game schedule starting in 2026. If the conference sticks with eight games, the rivalries would go to a non-annual basis.

In your opinion, does the SEC rotating rivalry schedules create a significant enough loss in media dollars to justify a pay increase for nine games?

Because if not having those secondary rivalries played every year, the SEC can justify to Disney that they have to pay more in fear of missing out on rivalry media dollars.

The $100 Million Dollar Knee

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

A collective sigh of relief blanketed the Atlanta Braves, their fans, and superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.

Dr. Neal ElAttrache confirmed a team doctor’s diagnosis of meniscus irritation in Acuña’s right knee. Any injury more serious than that might’ve made the National League MVP go into surgery.

The Braves said that Acuña will gradually increase baseball activities and he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

The Braves open the season March 28 at their NL East rival Phillies, who beat the Braves in four games in the Division Series in October for the second consecutive year.

After feeling soreness in his surgically repaired right knee Friday, Acuña  was scratched from the lineup Friday and underwent an MRI that showed irritation of the meniscus.

To make sure, and for peace of mind for all parties involved, the Braves decided to have their dynamic leadoff hitter and 2023 MLB stolen-base leader travel to Los Angeles to be examined by ElAttrache, the surgeon who repaired a torn ACL in Acuña’s knee in July 2021.

That was a season-ending injury and surgery that spoiled what had been an MVP-caliber start to 2021.

When soreness and inflammation lingered during his first season back from surgery in 2022, Acuña needed occasional days off to drain fluid from his knee. There were questions regarding how long it might take before Acuña was back at full pre-injury capacity, or if this issue will continue to affect his all-star career.

In 2023, Acuña wasn’t as good as he’d been prior to surgery, he was far better. In fact, he was historically good. The Braves led the majors in almost every major offensive category in 2023, and Acuña was their star of stars.

He became the fifth member of the 40-40 club (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases) and much more, becoming the first player to have 40-50, 40-60 and, finally, 40-70 seasons. Acuña finished with 41 homers and a majors-leading 73 stolen bases while batting .337 with an MLB-best .416 on-base percentage and NL-leading 1.012 OPS.

There was understandable concern when Acuña was flown across the country during the weekend to get a second opinion on his knee. Manager Brian Snitker said Saturday that he was trying to remain optimistic, but that until Acuña was examined by ElAttrache the Braves wouldn’t know for sure.

If ElAttrache found something worse than the original diagnosis, such as a meniscus tear that might require arthroscopic surgery, there was a likelihood that Acuña would miss the early part of the 2023 season. And if that put him behind, there was no telling how long it might take for him to get back up to full speed after returning from a stint on the injured list.

The Braves might need to add a proven outfielder if Acuña was to require an IL stint to begin the season.

That didn’t happen, and the Braves and their fans, along with other fans of the wildly popular Acuña, let out a big sigh of relief.

Meniscus irritation can heal without any form of surgery.

Nothing was any more important for the Braves so far this spring than the medical update on Acuña.

The Amateurs

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NCAA’s amateur model is crumbling right before our eyes.

The free agency market for college athletes is taking shape.

The preliminary injunction against the NCAA that will prevent the association from prohibiting athletes from negotiating NIL compensation with collectives and boosters – shouldn’t even be considered momentous. It should be considered obvious and overdue.

This is a landmark ruling in college sports, and this ruling is in effect and largely consequential because an entire industry has been conditioned for decades to believe that it’s against NCAA rules for athletes to be able to gauge the true value of their labor like any other American.

Now, Judge Clifton L. Corker, ruling in the NIL lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia, is signaling that the NCAA’s suppression of a free market – at least as it pertains to NIL – is on the wrong side of the law.

“Without the give and take of a free market, student-athletes simply have no knowledge of their true NIL value,” Corker wrote in his decision. “It is this suppression of negotiating leverage and the consequential lack of knowledge that harms student-athletes.”

The court ordered that the NCAA and “all persons in active concert or participation with the NCAA” are restrained from enforcing the interim NIL policy, NCAA bylaws or any other authority that prohibits athletes from negotiating NIL compensation.

God forbid a college athlete, like the rest of us, can gauge what he/she is worth on the open market before they make life changing decisions about their future.

It’s another loss for the wigs and suits and the NCAA, and a massive one.

Athletes shouldn’t have been brainwashed to the point where news like this is celebrated. This needs to be normal. It is a good step in the right direction from a business ethics standpoint.

However, the athletes’ free market model needs to expand to further benefit the people who make the NCAA what it is.

What this decision represents is the continued demise of the NCAA’s amateurism model.

Here is what will take hold: another much-needed step toward the formation of a long-overdue free market for the athletes.

Athletes also need the ability to gauge how large of a slice of the enormous broadcast rights pies they deserve. They need to be empowered to collectively bargain with schools, leagues or the College Football Playoff on  any number of issues related to compensation, health, welfare matters and much more.

The fact that 10 FBS commissioners engaged in a nearly nine-hour College Football Playoff meeting Wednesday and broached the possibility of expanding the newly expanded 12-team tournament to 14 teams without a peep of input from athletes  tells you how far college sports still needs to go.

But change is coming. Considering the pace of change in 2024 alone, it’s coming fast.

Time will tell how the case plays out. In the meantime, we are now witnessing, in real-time, the NCAA’s amateur model crumbling. And we’re seeing the college athlete free market take shape, a change as obvious as it is overdue.

Dynasty

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Go ahead and crown the Kansas City Chiefs as the fourth NFL dynasty of the Super Bowl era.

They have joined the post-2000 New England Patriots, 1980s San Francisco 49ers and 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers in a class apart from all others. Theirs is a dynasty in progress — just getting started, perhaps. But these Chiefs have done enough to belong.

That is the big-picture takeaway from the Chiefs’ 25-22 overtime victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII which delivered Kansas City its third Lombardi Trophy in only five seasons.

What makes an NFL dynasty? Patrick Mahomes- obviously, and there’s more to it than just that.

The Joe Gibbs-era Washington Redskins and early 1990s Dallas Cowboys were great, but they belong in separate categories, as we’ll explain.

The public-address announcer at Allegiant Stadium introduced the Chiefs as a “dynasty in the making” before the team ran onto the field.

For much of the game, the Chiefs played like a dynasty in the unmaking. They fumbled, wasted timeouts, incurred costly penalties and were fortunate to trail only 10-3 at halftime.

But when Kansas City had to score or else, Mahomes and the Chiefs did, just as even the most ardent 49ers fan should have expected.

Here they are, with three Super Bowl victories in five seasons, are they a dynasty?

After studying the greatest Super Bowl-era runs, the 1974-79 Steelers, 1981-94 49ers, 2001-18 Patriots and 2019-23 Chiefs emerged as the only teams fitting what I think are logical requirements for dynasty status:

After studying the greatest Super Bowl-era runs, the 1974-79 Steelers, 1981-94 49ers, 2001-18 Patriots and 2019-23 Chiefs emerged as the only teams fitting what I think are logical requirements for dynasty status:

  • Winning three-plus Super Bowls over five-plus seasons
  • Posting the NFL’s best regular-season winning percentage, beginning with the first Super Bowl-winning season and ending with the most recent one
  • Reaching the conference championship round more than half the time during the dynasty

These benchmarks display dominant success over time.

The Chiefs to their dynastic peers in the Super Bowl era. All the relevant boxes are checked. Kansas City, like New England, has won big in the free-agency era, which complicates keeping great teams together.

For now, the Chiefs are the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-04 Patriots.

If they become the first team to win three in a row, they’ll match those 1970s Steelers with four Super Bowl victories in a six-season span, leaving only the 1980s 49ers and post-2000 Patriots left to conquer.

That will take time, maybe some luck.

Mahomes did it again on the biggest stage. Just think how many Super Bowls the Chiefs will win once they get Mahomes a little more help on offense. They’ve already given him a young defense that ranked among the NFL’s top five in EPA (Expected Points Added) per play this season.

Red, yellow and white confetti falling at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was the confirmation of their coronation. Once again, the Chiefs experienced the feeling only one team achieves in an NFL season, accomplishing a daunting objective that leads to an exhilarating sensation.

To quote Ric Flair,”Whether you like it or not, learn to love it, because it’s the best thing going. Wooooo!”

The Future Is Now

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The two most powerful conferences in the NCAA are teaming up to tackle the biggest issues in college athletics.

The Big Ten and the SEC are forming a joint advisory group of university presidents and athletic directors.

It will discuss recent court decisions, pending litigations, governance proposals, and state laws. Their goal , is to “take a leadership role in developing solutions for a sustainable future of college sports.” (Whatever that means).

The two conferences are the richest in the country and deal with large scale issues like NIL on a  differently from their peers. Sankey has long complained that the NCAA governs across too diverse a membership, with the schools in the highest-resourced leagues needing to make more decisions for themselves.

No one is looking out for the greater good of the college sports. There never has been, and I’m not sure there ever will. I’d sure love for there to be a commissioner of college football (an ideal candidate just became available in January), but why would the conferences voluntarily hire a boss?

Oh, I don’t believe Greg Sankey and Tony Petittii aren’t plotting a full-on breakaway by their conferences. At least not yet. It’s more that big market administrators want to throw their weight around while college sports are reconfiguring.

Sankey, who came up through the NCAA model and remains largely loyal to it, seems unenthused by NCAA president Charlie Baker’s proposal in December for a new subdivision of schools that can pay their athletes $30,000 per year.

Petitti is a college sports outsider who may be more willing to think outside the box than most NCAA lifers.

Also: the SEC and Big Ten need a functioning NCAA more than many suggest. Do you think Kentucky is going to bow out of March Madness in favor of a Big Ten-SEC March Challenge? Do you know what a big deal the College World Series is in the SEC and the Frozen Four in the Big Ten? Not to mention all the regulatory headaches the leagues currently get to outsource to the folks in Indy.

The issue at hand is centered around college football, but this affects all athletes across the country. Any College Football Playoff format that leaves out the ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame, among others, would lose credibility.

I suppose they could just absorb all the most credible remaining contenders (Clemson and Florida State, etc.), but unless or until a court invalidates the ACC’s Grant of Rights — which could be years — that’s not feasible.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t use their leverage to secure the most favorable terms possible in the new CFP deal in 2026. They’re certainly not going to let a two-team conference dictate how many leagues (if any) get automatic berths.

For years, College Sports Inc. has been in a state of limbo where everyone recognizes the system is broken, but no one is stepping up to do anything about it.

This was the SEC and Big Ten taking it upon themselves to do, which undermines the entirety of College Athletics for personal gain. As for the athletes and supporting conferences, they don’t have much choice but to follow their lead.

Later Gators

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Recently it was announced that the Florida football program is under NCAA investigation, and yes, that investigation is still ongoing.

Moreover, the investigation started months before the NCAA sent a Notice of Inquiry to Florida President Ben Sasse back in June.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the investigation centers around the recruitment of four-star quarterback Jaden Rashada. He flipped from Miami to Florida on Nov. 10, 2022, after signing an NIL deal with the now-defunct Gator Collective for $13.85 million over four years.

The contract was terminated on Dec. 7, less than a month later. Rashada still signed early with UF but never enrolled last January and was released from his letter of intent after the NIL deal fell through.

He landed at Arizona State and opened last season as the starter, and only played three games due to injury.

According to sources, the NCAA investigation into Rashada’s recruitment involves Marcus Castro-Walker and Hugh Hathcock. Castro-Walker serves as the director of player engagement and NIL for the football program, while Hathcock a longtime UF donor pledged a record-setting $12.6 million to Gator Boosters in 2022 and has spearheaded Florida’s NIL efforts.

NCAA rules prohibit boosters from using NIL as an incentive or inducement to recruit high school or transfer players.

California became the first state to allow high school athletes to be paid through NIL contracts, so Rashada was legally allowed to sign with Gator Collective. The issue at hand, however, is when, how and by whom that deal was facilitated.

Florida recently came under NCAA investigation in 2020 under former coach Dan Mullen. The inquiry found two violations: a Level II violation with Mullen and an assistant- they met a recruit before his junior year of high school, as well as  a Level III violation involving members of the Gators’ coaching staff having impermissible contact with over 120 prospects when seven 7-on-7 football teams visited the campus and toured the football facilities.

The assistant coach had incidental and impermissible contacts with several prospects, according to the agreement.

Last May, the NCAA Board of Directors sent out a new guidance to its Division I member schools clarifying their NIL stance and prohibiting.

“The guidance is effective immediately,” the NCAA release stated. “For violations that occurred prior to May 9, 2022, the board directed the enforcement staff to review the facts of individual cases but to pursue only those actions that clearly are contrary to the published interim policy, including the most severe violations of recruiting rules or payment for athletics performance. Schools are reminded of their obligation to report any potential violations through the traditional self-reporting process.

 

Today, the Division I Board of Directors took a significant first step to address some of the challenges and improper behaviors that exist in the name, image and likeness environment that may violate our long-established recruiting rules. While the NCAA may pursue the most outrageous violations that were clearly contrary to the interim policy adopted last summer, our focus is on the future. The new guidance establishes a common set of expectations for the Division I institutions moving forward, and the board expects all Division I institutions to follow our recruiting rules and operate within these reasonable expectations,” board chair Jere Morehead, president, University of Georgia, said in the statement

The NCAA is out to make a statement, but a toothless statement, because they are so afraid of a lawsuit and court date. Is Rashada going to haunt the Florida Football?

Navigating Rough Waters

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The undeniable sting of defeat engulfed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after their 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

It hung thick in the visitor’s locker room at Ford Field, where players dressed mostly in silence and exchanged hugs with one another and with coaches and other staffers on their way to the buses that would transport them to the airport for a long flight back south.

Moral victories garner nothing in the NFL, so the team members who spoke to the media didn’t hide their disappointment. They had failed in their quest for a Super Bowl victory, a goal they set for themselves back in the dog days of summer.

It was a goal they maintained all year, even amid a bleak 1-6 stretch at midseason, before a hot streak positioned them to finish 9-8 and the NFC South crown. Then they beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-9 in the Wild Card round.

Real talk: The Buccaneers had no business playing in the divisional round of the playoffs. Not on paper, and definitely not based on how they looked on the field earlier this season.

Many concluded in the preseason that the Buccaneers caught in the awkward spot of rebuilding while trying to cling to a few pieces from their Super Bowl victory three years ago would be one of the worst teams in the league this year.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield might not have agreed with those preseason projections, but he understood them.

Once the former top-pick-turned-journeyman locked in on Bucs coach Todd Bowles’ vision, he shared the belief that he and his teammates were capable of far exceeding outside expectations.

So, the Buccaneers went to work, began building, overcame deficiencies and growing pains, steadily improved and transformed themselves into one of the NFL’s better teams.

Mayfield, signed to a one-year, $4 million contract in March, embraced the massive challenge of succeeding Tom Brady by turning in a career year (4,044 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 64.3 completion percentage). He served as the poster child for this team’s resolve.

This season, Bowles was the catalyst for Tampa Bay’s success. Bowles was much maligned because of a tenuous four seasons with the Jets and the Buccaneers’ 8-9 drop-off last year, Bowles was believed to be lame duck when Tampa Bay officials began preparing for this season.

Purging the roster of aging stars and their bloated salaries would force younger players into duty; often before they were ready. Bowles doubled down and believed growth and a competitive campaign were possible.

He made the tough call to overhaul his coaching staff, parting with some figures who played key roles in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl win. And he entrusted the offense to two discounted figures: Mayfield and offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

Bowles, meanwhile, intensified his efforts as a defensive mastermind. He started his workdays an hour earlier than his first season as head coach and two hours earlier than his days as the defensive coordinator. That meant he was reporting to Bucs headquarters at 3:30 a.m. every day in 2023.

He didn’t, however, change his leadership style, and his stoic and patient approach was exactly what the team needed as it persevered through challenging times.

But players say there are other levels to Bowles’ personality and the way he connects and motivates.

Tampa Bay has 20 pending free agents, including Mayfield, wide receiver Mike Evans and defensive stars Devin White, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield. But Bowles, who delivered the best coaching job of his career, firmly believes his team can mount another Super Bowl chase next season.

Time will tell.

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