College Football

The Biggest Stories of the 2016 College Football Off-Season

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Tomorrow night, Cal and Hawaii kick off in Sydney Australia, ending the 2016 college football off-season. In the coming weeks, and more likely throughout the entire season, lots of people will be talking about what happened this last off-season. For you serious CFB followers out there, who will likely be involved in such discussions, this will not be an issue. For anyone and everyone else, it might be. So, to help give you a crash course to know just enough to follow along and nod your head and be able to say, “Oh yeah, I was reading about that somewhere…” before going back to wondering if there’s any cheese dip left in your friend who can actually cook’s crockpot while pretending to listen, I’m going to go over some of the biggest stories of the off-season.

The Baylor situation.

I’ve been avoiding putting anything out on Baylor for a long time. I was initially going to put something up that could be updated with each new development, however as the story took longer and more developments kept coming up, I gave up hope on that. Also, several other people have been closely following and ordering the events going on there since it started, and have put together timelines and such that include all the pertinent details. I urge you to read up on the events in detail, simply because it’s a very important thing to learn about, and because its importance stretches far beyond what goes on between the hashes on Saturdays. But here’s everything in a very brief format:

After Baylor player, and former Boise State Bronco, Sam Ukwuachu was indicted and found guilty of sexual assault, news outlets reported that Ukwuachu had been previously kicked off of Boise State’s football team because of a previous incidence of violence towards a female, and alleged that Briles was aware of those circumstances, which he denied. After Ukwuachu’s conviction, Baylor hired an independent law firm, Pepper Hamilton, to conduct a formal investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault/violence cases.

However, before those findings were released, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported several more instances in which Baylor “either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence.” This included, in one instance, taking more than three years to hire a full-time Title IX coordinator, to comply with a federal directive. Outside the Lines would then later report that Baylor took two years to investigate a sexual assault report that involved two football players, which upon investigation led to neither player being charged with a crime. Around this time, former Baylor All-America defensive end and NFL draft prospect Shawn Oakman was arrested on charges of sexual assault. This was after a previous assault accusation in 2013, which included no charges being pressed and no punishment being handed down, by either the football team or university.

Just after Baylor received Pepper-Hamilton’s findings from their investigation, Outside the Lines again reported on the school, with findings that suggested school officials knew about sexual assault investigations with current players, did not investigate them, and may that the Waco Police Department may have helped cover up such cases.

It was after all of this that Baylor removed president Ken Starr from his current position; however, they offered him a position in their law school, from which he would later resign from. Baylor also fired head coach Art Briles, who would then sue the school for wrongful termination, and would go so far as to say that he expects to be coaching again by the end of the year. This came in conjunction with the school’s releasing of the Pepper-Hamilton investigation results, although the full contents of the report have not been released.

And now we come to the season. Baylor will be playing football in 2016, whether that’s the right decision or not. But these issues coming out of Baylor are worth talking about, and need to be talked over and thought over relentlessly. There are undoubtedly people who watched Baylor’s rise to national power and thought, “They’re doing things the right way.” This should cause those people, and everyone else, to step back and look at not just Baylor, but also their own school, and wonder if the procedures and protocols put in place by the school really are working and really are right. It’s not a fun topic to think on, nor is it something to simply go in on half-minded. But what’s fun or easy to think about doesn’t matter when something of this magnitude can so easily occur for years in a major U.S. educational institution.

The Big XII brought back their conference title game, which is…kind of weird.

The Big XII made waves as a conference this off-season for a couple of reasons, the first being the decision to bring back a conference championship game in 2017, after not having one since 2010. The logic behind the decision is fairly simple, if not necessarily bulletproof: giving the best Big XII teams an extra game to add to their resume, which should help them look better to the college football playoff committee. There are some pretty good arguments that that won’t be the case though. For one, the math behind a conference championship positively affecting a team’s playoff odds doesn’t necessarily check out. And secondly, the timing of this decision is very strange. Had this decision been made after the 2014 season, in which Baylor and TCU both watched Ohio State beat Wisconsin so bad in the Big Ten title game that it actually vaulted them over the two into the playoff, it would be reasonable logic. However, this came after a season in which Oklahoma was the first team to all but punch its ticket to the playoff, due in part to not having to play another game. Regardless, fans will likely ignore either side of this argument depending on how things go in 2016. If a team narrowly avoids being selected because its resume wasn’t quite strong enough, the conference’s decision will be validated, and if they get in due in part to not having one, it’ll at least be something to laugh at down the line.

The Big XII is also expanding the conference.

In an effort to compete against other power five conferences for things like money and recruits and money and television broadcasts and money and also money, the Big XII is looking to add to its list of ten teams. Some folks are taking this very seriously and breaking down and ranking all of the possible candidates, and others would prefer the conference stop faffing about and just pick two teams and move one already. There are some very strong candidates out of the field of potential ones, however they also have their potential problems. Houston resides in the state and is enjoying some success on the field lately, however continuing to do so could hurt the other Texas schools in terms of recruiting, primarily the University of Texas at Austin, which if you don’t know, kind of runs the show in the Big XII. There’s also BYU, which seems like a good fit, but also has an honor code that isn’t necessarily something the conference wants to be a reflection of how they view certain social issues. Cincinnati is also a contender despite being way out East, but hey, so is West Virginia, which also made little sense adding into the conference, so maybe they’ve got a shot.

Anyway, eventually this will probably happen, and until then you’ll be hearing a lot about it anytime a potential candidate is playing.

Rest in peace.

The college football world also had its losses this past off-season. Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were tragically killed in a car accident that also injured LSU punter Colby Delahoussaye, who recovered from injuries sustained in the crash. Arizona offensive lineman Zach Hemmila was found dead in his sleep by his brother. Buffalo football player Solomon Jackson died a week after collapsing during an off-season workout. This is all very sad.

There will be tributes, and those who feel inclined to pay their respects, due to allegiance to team or merely as an act of good will, should do so. And for those that don’t feel inclined, simply don’t say anything. Deaths like these are a sobering reminder that life goes on outside of football stadiums, and for the grieving friends, families, and teammates of these players, these tributes will be the only part of those men that make it on to a field this season. Let them have that.

So that’s it. Those are some major things to know heading into the 2016 college football season. We made it y’all. We’re finally here.

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