Biggest Things College Football Fans Need to Pay Attention to This Summer
Is college football season here yet?
Any fan of the college game has wondered this at least once, if not 27 times, since Florida State's thrilling last-second touchdown to beat Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. After a season as great as the 2013 campaign, why wouldn't we want the next one to get here as soon as possible?
Alas, the long national nightmare that is the offseason must exist, though several mile marker-like events have helped bridge the gap to this point. We have had coaching changes, players declare for the NFL draft or transfer and there has also been national signing day and spring practice.
What's left? Well, besides a lot of heat and even more waiting, there still are a handful of college football-related things that warrant our attention between now and the start of training camp in late July and early August. Check out our list of the noteworthy happenings, both actual and potential, to pay attention to this summer.
Ed O'Bannon Trial
On June 9 a federal judge in Oakland will begin presiding over what could be a landmark legal case when it comes to how college athletes are compensated for their participation, as well as the use of their likenesses.
The O'Bannon trial, named after former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, is a class-action antitrust lawsuit that seeks an injunction against the NCAA from profiting off players' likenesses in sports like basketball and football. Numerous other former players are involved in the suit, with separate claims being handled in future cases.
The initial suit also named video game maker EA Sports, which since 2003 has used basketball and football players' likenesses in games. Plaintiffs finalized a settlement agreement on May 30 with EA Sports, as well as the NCAA's licensing department—a $40 million deal that will be spread out to hundreds of players.
The NCAA recently reacted to that settlement, saying only the lawyers benefited from the decision based on the potential amount they will receive in legal fees.
What remains of the suit focuses mostly on the claim that the NCAA should not be allowed to negotiate large contracts for broadcasting and other media rights without the players being shown on TV and the internet and being heard on the radio receiving a cut of the revenue. Merchandising and other factors also play into the case.
Any rulings that come from the trial could drastically change the college sports landscape, especially from a financial standpoint.
Conference Media Days
When it has been this long without real college football games, even talking about college football should be welcomed with open arms, right? If so, then the upcoming conference media events should help tide you over.
Each FBS conference holds a centralized event during the summer for the media to talk to coaches and players about the upcoming season to load up on interviews to show later during TV broadcasts, and to make a bunch of predictions about who will win each league (or division) and which players will earn top honors.
It's a lot of fluff and hype, but it's better than nothing.
Every league does its media event differently, but none goes as all-out as the SEC, which has spread its 2014 event over four days in Hoover, Ala. from July 14-17. Three or four teams will be the focus of each day, with their coaches and select players available.
These events are far more important to reporters than to fans, as it is the one chance to get access to everyone all in one place. However, plenty of good nuggets of news and information tends to pop up from media days, so fans should pay attention to what's being said.
The Recruiting Trail
There is no offseason for college football coaches, who when not working with their existing players in some format are out on the road trying to bring in the next crop of talented recruits.
And one of the busiest times for this is during the summer, when a number of high-profile prospect showcases are held throughout the country.
One of the most notable is The Opening, which is set for July 5-10 at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The event will feature 162 of the nation's top prospects from the Class of 2015, who will participate in 7-on-7 competitions and other skills and agility drills, under the watchful eye of many college recruiters.
One major showcase is set to begin Friday, with plenty of top prospects participating in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Baltimore through Sunday. Later this month is the IMG 7-on-7 National Championship, held June 20-22 in Bradenton, Florida, while on July 12 in Jacksonville many of the best prospects from the Class of 2016 and beyond will attend the Rivals 250 Underclassmen Challenge. The performances of players at these events can have a drastic impact on their prospect rankings, and many recruits will pick up scholarship offers and make early commitments during the summer.
The Group of 5's Push for Autonomy
One of the most buzzworthy terms during the offseason has been "autonomy." It is a word that has come up often as the power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) seek to gain more power to do things as they please, since they have the most resources and produce the lion's share of interest and revenue in college sports.
In January, an informal poll of athletic-related delegates at an NCAA convention in San Diego said they were in favor of some sort of change to make it possible for the bigger leagues to pass their own legislation without having to factor in the needs and wants of the smaller conferences.
Various proposals and suggestions have been floated about since then, including the Pac-12's recent autonomy plan that would include stipends for athletes, adjust scholarships to meet the full cost of a school's attendance and address the "one-and-done" situation in college basketball that allows for players to turn pro after as little as one season in school.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive, a major player in the autonomy realm, used last week's conference spring meetings in Florida to float the idea of the power conferences creating a so-called Division IV within the NCAA if its demands weren't met.
None of this should have any effect on the upcoming season, but it is still worth keeping an eye on to see what impact it could have on the future of college athletics.
TV Kickoff Times
We know who is playing whom in college football this fall, as well as where and on what days. But to truly plan for our viewing binge from late August until early January, we still need to know exactly when (and on what channel) every game will be.
Planning is everything, after all.
Kickoff times and TV designations have been announced for most of the games during the first week of the 2014 season, while similar information for major matchups and non-Saturday contests have also been released. More will trickle out as we get closer to the first game of 2014, which, for the record, pits transitional FCS school Abilene Christian against transitional FBS program Georgia State on Aug. 27.
That game is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be shown on ESPNU, for those so anxious for college football they'll take whatever they can get. It will serve as the catalyst for six days' worth of games on TV, thanks to the Labor Day weekend, with Miami (Fla.) visiting ACC newcomer Louisville on Sept. 1 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) to wrap up the opening week.
Many games won't get official times or TV information until within one or two weeks of kickoff, though,because of a provision of many leagues' TV deals.
SEC Network vs. DIRECTV
Speaking of college football on TV, the fate of many fans' ability to watch their favorite teams this fall depends on the ongoing negotiations between a major satellite service provider and a new television network.
The ESPN-owned SEC Network is set to launch on Aug. 14, two weeks before its debut football telecast featuring Texas A&M and South Carolina on Aug. 28. It is one of six games that will be shown on the new channel during the first week of the season.
Currently, though, only a handful of cable and satellite companies have come to terms with the SEC Network to be on their channel lineup in August. According to GetSECNetwork.com, that list is highlighted by DISH Network, AT&T U-verse and Google Fiber.
The most noteworthy absence from the provider list is DirecTV, though AT&T's announced acquisition of DirecTV could change that soon, Bleacher Report SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee says.
DirecTV did not pick up the Pac-12 Network when it launched in 2013, and that channel remains absent from the satellite provider's lineup.
During the offseason, the golden rule that "no news is good news" takes on even greater importance in college football.
While coaches are recruiting or working on plans for the fall, the players are mostly left to their own devices. Many stay around campus during the summer to workout voluntarily in groups, and some incoming freshmen enroll in classes to get a jump on their adjustment to college, but there's something about the ample idle time that exists between the end of the spring semester and the start of preseason camp that lends itself to roster fluctuation.
Players continue to announce their intent to transfer, with Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson among the most recent to put themselves on the market. Same goes for players landing in new spots, such as former USC running back Ty Isaac choosing Michigan with the hope of being able to play this fall.
Those are examples of voluntary movement, with players choosing better situations from the one they originally picked. Then there are the involuntary departures, which are usually tied to issues with academics or behavior.
Georgia's incoming freshman class will contain one less player than planned, with Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com reporting that receiver Gilbert Johnson would not qualify. The news was better for Arizona, which got word in late May that receiver Kaelin Deboskie would be able to enroll in school after not initially being cleared by the NCAA in February, according to Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star.
On the behavior front, earlier this week Texas A&M dismissed linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive lineman Isaiah Golden. It was later reported by Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News that Claiborne and Golden had been implicated in a robbery.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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