Harsh penalties for UNC football

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Harsh penalties for UNC football

From Comcast SportsNet
North Carolina waited four months to learn whether the NCAA would be satisfied with self-imposed sanctions on the football program after an investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct. When the news came, it wasn't what school officials had hoped. The NCAA infractions committee hit the program with a one-year postseason ban, a reduction of 15 scholarships and three years of probation. In a ruling Monday, the committee said the school was responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud and a failure to monitor its football program. It also issued a three-year show-cause penalty for former assistant coach John Blake, who had received personal loans from an NFL agent. School officials say they won't appeal, opting instead to move on. "Obviously this has been a painful and difficult experience," UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said Monday. "We don't like to have this kind of attention brought to any part of the university, especially one as visible as the athletic program." The ruling caps a nearly 2-year case that ultimately led to the firing of coach Butch Davis as well as the early departure of longtime administrator Dick Baddour as athletic director. The scandal included players receiving jewelry and other gifts from people outside the program, as well as a tutor providing improper help to players on term papers. Davis, now working as a special assistant with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has never been named for any violation. In a statement released by his attorney, Jon Sasser, the former UNC coach said he cooperated fully with the investigation. Davis said that his staff "implemented many practices into the program to try to prevent these types of issues." "The NCAA's investigation and report is comprehensive and I am certain that all parties were anxious to be made aware of their conclusions," Davis said. "It has been a difficult process for everyone and there has been a great deal of time and effort, by many people, devoted to this matter. "I am truly saddened this matter has affected so many innocent people. I wish UNC the very best." In September, North Carolina announced it would vacate all 16 wins for 2008 and 2009, reduce nine scholarships over the next three academic years and put the program on two years of probation. The school also issued a self-imposed 50,000 fine but it didn't impose a postseason ban in what the school called "difficult but necessary steps." The committee decided that wasn't enough even though chairman Britton Banowsky commended the university's investigation. The postseason ban is for this fall and prevents the Tar Heels from playing in either the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game or a bowl game. The scholarship reductions would be five per year, also starting in the fall. "I tried to be prepared for anything," Baddour said. "You're always hopeful that others will see it like you do. But I think the important thing now here is we accept it and we move on and we be as good as we can be." The probe started in June 2010 and soon became a crisis for a school that hadn't had a major violation in five decades. In what the committee called "a cautionary tale" about monitoring top professional prospects, 14 players missed at least one game in 2010 and seven were forced to sit out all that season, with four of those either dismissed from the team or ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA. Among that group was defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little. All three players were chosen in the first two rounds of last year's NFL draft. School officials appeared before the infractions committee in October, as well as Blake and his attorneys. Blake's close friendship with late NFL agent Gary Wichard became a focus of the investigation, including 31,000 in money transferred from Wichard to Blake that Blake's attorneys have characterized as loans from one friend to another during financial trouble. Blake and his attorneys have denied Blake worked for Wichard's firm nor that there was any agreement to steer players to sign with Wichard. But the NCAA ruled that Blake had worked as an employee for Wichard after being fired as Oklahoma's coach in 1998 and "continued recruiting clients ... even after he returned to coaching in 2002," according to the report. In addition, the committee found that the financial transactions "were made to compensate (Blake) for his work for the sports agency and the access he provided to NFL-caliber student-athletes." The show-cause penalty would prevent Blake from performing any recruiting duties, which essentially prevents him from being able to coach. William H. Beaver II, one of Blake's attorneys, said they're considering whether to appeal. Beaver said attorneys provided the committee with affidavits from former players who denied Blake tried to steer them to Wichard. "We are certainly disappointed in the results and we're disappointed in the way the committee viewed what could only be characterized as circumstantial evidence provided by the NCAA staff -- and then the lack of weight given to the substantive evidence that we provided," Beaver said. Both Blake and former tutor Jennifer Wiley, who graduated from the school in 2009, were cited for unethical conduct. The committee found that Wiley had provided several players with too much assistance on research papers, and also provided about 4,100 improper benefits in travel, parking expenses and free tutoring. Wiley refused to be interviewed by investigators. The school has formally disassociated itself from her as well as former player Chris Hawkins, who had hung around the program in recent years and socialized with players until the school learned he was regarded as a prospective agent by the NCAA. Joseph B. Cheshire V, Wiley's Raleigh-based attorney, said that while the report "is not completely accurate" as to facts about Wiley's case, he was "appreciative" that the NCAA hasn't included additional sanctions against her. "It has been a hard journey for a person whose big heart caused her so much pain," Cheshire said in a statement. "I am glad for her it is finally over." Thorp fired Davis a week before training camp, citing the cumulative damage to the university's reputation by the probe. The day after the school fired Davis, Baddour announced he would step aside early from his planned retirement this summer so that his successor could hire the next football coach. The school hired Bubba Cunningham from Tulsa as AD. He then hired Larry Fedora from Southern Mississippi as the new coach. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers served as interim coach last season and guided the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record along with an appearance in the Independence Bowl. Withers is now assistant head coach under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. In a statement, ACC Commissioner John Swofford -- Baddour's predecessor at UNC -- said it's "disturbing" any time a member school has NCAA issues. "Now that the University of North Carolina has a final resolution from the NCAA, I'm confident it can learn from it, put the episode behind, and move forward," Swofford said.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.