Tue Mar 01 07:57am EST
Making the morning rounds.
• No turning back now. The first photographic evidence of Ole Miss' new "Rebel Black Bear" costume is beginning to leak, to the inevitable alienation of both the diehards who remain bitter over the exile of Colonel Reb and the visionary reformers who can accept nothing less than Admiral Ackbar, the mascot that was too perfect to exist. At least they can't charge the school with false advertising: The real thing appears to look exactly like the mock-ups – which, now that we can see it "in the flesh," is basically just an angrier version of Smokey the Bear. [Red Cup Rebellion]
• Happy trails. Purdue receiver Keith Smith, a first-team All-Big Ten pick in 2009 with a league-best 91 catches for 1,100 yards, was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA Monday, ending his college career. Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Boilermakers' second game last fall – one of three knee injuries that cost the Boilers their top quarterback, running back and receiver by the end of September – the ongoing rehab of which would have prevented him from working out at this weekend's NFL combine even if he'd learned his fate earlier. [Fort Wayne Journal Gazette]
• Darron don't lose that number. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is executing the rare mid-career jersey swap, opting to wear No. 5 this fall after three seasons at the top of the roster as No. 1. I would make a joke about the Ducks having to order new jerseys to accommodate the switch, but, well, you know. [Eugene Register-Guard]
• Ol' Dirty Ball Coach. The Wall Street Journal, having already set its sights on Nick Saban in a pair of articles last year, turned to three other SEC coaches to defend the practice of oversigning – knowingly signing more players to scholarships in February than the school has to give under NCAA limits in August – on the record. Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and Ole Miss' Houston Nutt both frankly characterized oversigning as insurance against inevitable player attrition, claimed they're always "very upfront" with recruits they've pegged as potential grayshirts and would never tell a player "oh by the way you don't have a scholarship" at the last minute. Petrino's usual recruiting strategy, he said, includes signing players who have "absolutely no chance" to qualify academically, so that "they feel a commitment to us" after a year or two in junior college – a tactic Nutt has specifically embraced in the past.
Steve Spurrier, on the other hand, admitted to being less than upfront with two longstanding verbal commitments with borderline grades, Jordan Montgomery and Lorenzo Mauldin, whose scholarship offers were abruptly pulled the day before they were set to sign last month because South Carolina's bulging class had run out of room. "What we probably could've done earlier in the recruiting is tell them that this could happen," Spurrier said. "But then again, we didn't know it was going to come up. It's a ticklish situation." I'm not sure "tickled" is the right word to describe Montgomery's high school coach, Walter Banks: "I told them this was foul," Banks said. "I didn't have a clue until 18 hours before signing day, and if they say anything else, they're lying." [Wall Street Journal]
• Hey, who's running this media hegemony anyway? ESPN has threatened legal action against Conference USA for the conference's recently announced deal with FOX Sports, claiming its existing contract with C-USA mandated that ESPN have an opportunity to match any competing offers. ESPN execs said they had an oral agreement with the league and were working to finalize an agreement when C-USA abruptly broke off negotiations on Jan. 4 and announced its deal with FOX the next day. The conference counters that it was under no such obligations and opted for FOX because it offered "terms clearly more favorable than those offered by ESPN" – specifically, a dramatic increase in rights fees and no more games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. [Sports Business Journal]
• Mean streets. In a story right out of "Law & Order: Los Angeles," Pasadena Police are investigating a homicide after a man's body was found in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl. Residents in the surrounding hills reported gunshots near the scene around 3 a.m. Monday morning, and the man was discovered outside the stadium about two hours later. [Los Angeles Times]
Quickly… UNC-Charlotte's fledgling football program hires a new coach from Wake Forest. … Auburn boots oft-troubled running back Eric Smith for unspecified reasons. … Former Alabama and LSU player Chris Keys denies talking to HBO, or being paid. … And even the columnists in Alabama are getting impatient with John Bond and Bill Bell.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.