|Buckeyes seek replacement for RB Carlos Hyde|
|Wednesday, March 26, 2014 8:23 PM|
COLUMBUS — It’ll be difficult for Ohio State to replace Carlos Hyde.
All the senior did a year ago for the Buckeyes was rush for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 11 games, becoming the first running back to top 1,000 yards in Urban Meyer’s 12 years as a head coach.
Although it might be hard finding someone to fill his spot, that doesn’t mean it won’t get done.
“Someone has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said after a recent spring practice. “If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it’s going to get done.”
There are several candidates in Ohio State’s spring camp. Ezekiel Elliott, the leading returning rusher at running back with 262 yards on only 30 carries, would seem to have the inside track.
“I just think that I’m a very versatile back, I can do a lot of things,” said the sophomore, a prized recruit from St. Louis. “I can run to the outside, I can run a tight zone, I’m a great pass catcher out of the back field. I think I just bring a little versatility to the table.”
Elliott says he’s bulked up, gotten stronger and faster and knows the playbook far better than he did a year ago.
But there are still moments when he looks and acts like the youngster he is.
“Which is unfortunate,” said offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
The other three possibilities in spring camp all have some baggage.
Rod Smith, a prototypical Ohio State big back at 6-3 and 232 pounds, is a fifth-year senior who has had chances to play more but has never really grasped them. He did well at the outset of last year while Hyde was serving a 3-game team suspension for a physical confrontation with a woman at a bar. But after Hyde became available, he seldom saw the field.
He has some skills to display this spring.
“Just that I can do everything that Carlos did: Break tackles, make the home-run plays, pass protection,” he explained. “At the end of the day, be accountable, be a leader.”
Also in the conversation is third-year sophomore Bri’onte Dunne, an acclaimed recruit out of football hotbed Canton, who dropped from hot commodity to just another contender for playing time. A year ago, he was redshirted.
Asked if he thinks he’s in the mix to start this fall, he replied, “Oh, yeah. Of course. Everybody’s in the mix right now. There’s really no depth chart right now for the running backs. So everybody’s just going hard and trying to fight for the spot.”
Warren Ball, a former walk-on, is also getting carries, as is freshman Curtis Samuel, who graduated early from his high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., to play spring ball with the Buckeyes.
Dontre Wilson, who played well in limited action as a ball carrier as a freshman, is working out with the receivers group as an H-back, a hybrid between a wide-out and a running back.
Instead of one go-to guy like Hyde at the position, it just might end up being several backs, taking turns.
No matter the eventual starter, Drayton is adamant that the position is a high priority.
“I’m extremely confident that we’re going to get to where we need to be,” added Drayton. “They’re trying to be the hardest working unit on the football field and I really see them trying to do that. If they keep that mindset and keep that unselfishness in their back pocket somewhere, we’re definitely going to exceed our goals. I really believe that.”
College athletes can unionize, federal agency says
CHICAGO — In a stunning ruling that could revolutionize college sports, a federal agency ruled Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first union of college athletes.
The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board means it agrees football players at the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize.
“Based on the entire record in this case, I find that the Employer’s football players who receive scholarships fall squarely within (federal labor law’s) broad definition of ‘employee,’” Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, wrote in his 24-page decision.
An employee is generally regarded by law as someone who receives compensation for a service and is under the direct control of managers. Players argued that their scholarships are compensation and coaches are their managers.
The Evanston, Ill-based university argued college athletes, as students, don’t fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. Immediately after the ruling, the school announced it plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.
Alan Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, wrote in a statement that while the school respects “the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it.”
The specific goals of the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, which would take the lead in organizing the players, include guaranteeing coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, ensuring better procedures to reduce head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.
But critics have argued that giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize could hurt college sports in numerous ways, including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.
For now, the push is to unionize athletes at private schools, such as Northwestern, because the federal labor agency does not have jurisdiction over public universities.
Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing CAPA. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.
Colter, whose eligibility has been exhausted and who has entered the NFL draft, said nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly.
CAPA attorneys argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players’ labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. That, they contend, makes the relationship of schools to players one of employers to employees.
In its endeavor to have college football players be recognized as essential workers, CAPA likened scholarships to employment pay — too little pay from its point of view. Northwestern balked at that claim, describing scholarship as grants.
The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Other lawsuits allege the NCAA failed to protect players from debilitating head injuries.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some of expenses. Critics say that isn’t nearly enough, considering players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.
During the NLRB’s five days of hearings in February, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald took the stand for union opponents; his testimony sometimes was at odds with Colter’s.
Colter told the hearing that players’ performance on the field was more important to Northwestern than their in-class performance, saying, “You fulfill the football requirement and, if you can, you fit in academics.” Asked why Northwestern gave him a scholarship of $75,000 a year, he responded: “To play football. To perform an athletic service.”
But Fitzgerald said he tells players academics come first, saying, “We want them to be the best they can be … to be a champion in life.”
An attorney representing the university, Alex Barbour, noted Northwestern has one of the highest graduation rates for college football players in the nation, around 97 percent. Barbour insisted, “Northwestern is not a football factory.”
The NCAA says it’s “disappointed” by the ruling.
The organization issued a statement on its website after Wednesday’s landmark ruling, reading that the NCAA strongly disagrees that student-athletes are employees. It also says student-athletes play “for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”
The NCAA added improvements are needed but there is no need to abandon the current system.
MAC and UMass football to part ways after 2015: The Mid-American Conference and Massachusetts football will part ways after the 2015 season.
The MAC invoked a clause in its contract with UMass, triggered when Temple left the league in 2012, that gave the school a choice between full membership and exiting the conference in two years.
UMass chose to end the relationship with the MAC and remain a member of the Atlantic 10 in most sports.
“What I think it speaks to is the belief that we have a very stable conference,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We have enjoyed our relationship with UMass but we’re at a point that we felt everybody should be all in.”
The MAC has no plans to replace UMass or add members.
UMass made the move up from FCS to FBS in 2012 and immediately joined the MAC. UMass has gone 2-22 in its two seasons as an FBS program, 2-14 in the MAC.
The Minutemen have been playing home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., about 90 miles away from their Amherst, Mass., campus. The school is renovating its on-campus stadium,and the football team will play part of its home schedule there this season.
“We remain committed to FBS football,” UMass athletic director John McCutcheon announced in a statement. “Many institutions have successfully navigated this challenging period of conference realignment and we will do the same.”
UMass is already on its second football coach since joining FBS, firing Charley Molnar after last season and replacing him with Mark Whipple.
“I was aware of this possibility when I accepted the position of head coach and I believe this move is in the university’s best interest,” Whipple said in a statement. “My focus is on building a program that we all can be proud of and that provides a great experience for our student athletes.”
UMass has 21 varsity teams; 18 play in the Atlantic 10. UMass men’s hockey competes in Hockey East and men’s lacrosse is in the Colonial Athletic Conference.
When the MAC added UMass, it had a similar football-only relationship with Temple. Adding UMass gave the MAC a 14th football member and another Eastern school.
With FBS in the throes of major conference realignment, MAC officials anticipated possible instability and tied UMass’ football-only membership to Temple’s. If the Owls left for another conference, the MAC could require UMass to join as a full member or leave.
Temple left to rejoin the Big East before UMass ever played a game in the MAC.
Steinbrecher said discussions about invoking the Temple clause with UMass started in October and the league’s presidents voted to do so in February.
McCutcheon said that because most MAC members are in the Midwest, the conference is not a good fit for the rest of the school’s teams, noting the additional travel would strain UMass’ athletic budget and create time management challenges for athletes’ academics.
“We are confident that, within the next two years, we will find a more suitable conference for our FBS football program,” he added.
Former Heisman Trophy runner-up Lauricella dies
JEFFERSON, La. — Hank Lauricella, the 1951 Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee who went on to serve more than three decades as a Louisiana state legislator, has died. He was 83.
Lauricella’s wife, Betty, confirmed Wednesday that Lauricella died Tuesday at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson.
Lauricella was a single-wing tailback at Tennessee from 1949-51. He finished second to Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier in the Heisman Trophy balloting while leading Tennessee to a national title.
“He was a gentleman’s gentleman with the competitive edge of a Heisman Trophy contender,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart wrote in a statement released by the university. “Hank was all Vol and will be missed.”
Lauricella earned the nickname “Mr. Everything” at Tennessee, where he starred at tailback and also played safety, punted and served as the main kick and punt returner.
Lauricella was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
After his football career, Lauricella returned to his home state of Louisiana. He was a Louisiana state representative from 1964-72 and served in the state senate from 1972-96.
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones opened the Volunteers’ post-practice media session Tuesday night by saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the Hank Lauricella family.” Jones called Lauricella a “true VFL (Vol For Life) who accomplished everything that you could accomplish at the University of Tennessee. He’s what Tennessee and Tennessee football stand for.”