Press Box: Former LSU CB Mathieu checked into Houston rehab center

The SportsXchange

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

For Tyrann Mathieu, the best way to get back onto the football field -- and stay there -- appears to be taking a season off.

That's the plan according to his father, Tyrone Mathieu, who Jen Hale of Fox 8 Sports in New Orleans, spoke to Thursday night. According to Hale's report, the "Honey Badger" has been at a drug and alcohol recovery center in Houston since Monday and will not pursue playing football until he successfully graduates from the program.

CBS' Bruce Feldman confirmed the report, adding that Mathieu is specifically there to treat marijuana issues. Mathieu is also reportedly meeting daily with former NBA star and head coach John Lucas, who struggled with his own addictions during his playing career and has since become one of the more highly regarded "life coaches" for athletes battling drug and alcohol dependency.

While there has been plenty of interest from teams looking to add Mathieu since his abrupt suspension by LSU -- the university was contacted by more than a dozen teams -- time was running out for the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist to pick a new home as the college football season kicks off in less than two weeks. Mathieu's admission into the Right Step Recovery Center likely means he will not be playing college football at any level in 2012.

Whether he plays or not, because he'd technically be three years removed from his high school graduating class and therefore potentially eligible for the 2013 NFL draft following this season, pro scouts have quietly been keeping an eye on the situation.

Scouts were hesitant to speak about Mathieu, specifically, due to the fluidity and seriousness of his situation as well as the fact that he still has two years of collegiate eligibility remaining. The subject proved too topical, however, for all of them to ignore it -- even if never actually referring to Mathieu by name.

"Look, before we worry at all about grading any player on what he can bring to the field, we have to be convinced that he is a going to be a quality person in our building and in our community," said a high-ranking front office executive with 20-plus years in the NFL. "Secondly, we have to remember that these are 20-24 year-old kids. A lot of us made mistakes at that age that we wouldn't want the world to know about it. When a player acknowledges his mistakes and works to put a quality support system in place around him, he puts himself in position to make more mature decisions about his future and how he might get there. I think it is the smart move; maybe the only move."

Another scout put it more bluntly.

"He (Mathieu is a playmaker, there's no denying that, but to me that is what makes the story interesting. As big of a star as he's been for them, how bad must he have been off the field for the team (LSU) to pull the plug? It looks like he needed to do this. I hope it works out well for him. He's got talent, that much is obvious."

Of course, besides the off-field concerns, Mathieu remains a polarizing prospect for scouts despite the fact that he -- not one of the three SEC players drafted in the top 10 this year -- was honored as the conference's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.

Listed by LSU at 5-feet-9 and 178 pounds, Mathieu certainly lacks the size scouts prefer. While he's instinctive, tenacious and has proven to be a standout against the best college football players in the country over his first two seasons, many question how well he'd handle the adjustment to the greater size and speed he'd face in the NFL.

Others cite the hybrid roles he played at LSU and argue that he could play in a similar capacity in the ever-evolving defensive schemes gaining in popularity in the NFL.

Mathieu is currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 3-rated cornerback for 2014.

---The Oklahoma Sooners suspended defensive tackle Stacy McGee indefinitely for violating school policy, head coach Bob Stoops announced Friday.

McGee had told teammates in recent days that he might be punished for having broken the rules, according to an ESPN.com report. The senior had been part of a defensive tackle rotation since 2010, and started 17 starts during that span.

"It's a big loss, but we'll be all right," defensive tackle Casey Walker told ESPN.com. "It's like when you're a kid and Mom tells you not to touch the stove and you do it anyway, and you got burned. It's just one of those things. He learned his lesson and whatnot, and he's just moving forward now. You can't dwell in the past."

Starting defensive end David King will shift to tackle for the No. 4 Sooners, Stoops said.

McGee is the third starter to leave the Sooners this preseason. Center Ben Habern gave up the sport due to back and neck injuries, and right guard Tyler Evans tore the ACL in his right knee on the first day of practice.

---This time, a player is coming to Penn State.

In an interesting twist, Akron Zips wide receiver Jared Fagnano transferred to the Nittany Lions, in large part because of the NCAA's sanctions.

Nine players have already left the university amid a postseason ban and fewer scholarships, but Fagnano saw a chance. A redshirt freshman, Fagnano spent about a week discussing the situation with his parents and brother, Penn State safety Jake Fagnano.

"With all those guys leaving, it opened up spots and gave me an opportunity," Jared Fagnano told ESPN.com. "And I've just always wanted to play football there."

Fagnano, who grew up in Williamsport, Pa., asked for his release from Akron earlier this month after he wasn't invited to preseason camp. He soon contacted Penn State's coaching staff, who seemed receptive.

The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder won't have a scholarship this season and will have to sit out a year due to transfer rules. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

"I wouldn't say it was an easy decision because I liked Akron, I fit up there," Jared said. "But it was an easy decision in the sense I could play at Penn State and play with my brother. That's always kind of been a dream for me, just to be on Penn State. I was real excited when I found out I had that opportunity."

---Jury selection in the trial for former Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will begin Jan. 7, who are accused of lying to a grand jury and keeping allegations of child sex abuse from reaching the appropriate authorities.

Schultz was senior vice president at Penn State and Tim Curley athletic director when the 2001 assault allegedly witnessed by graduate assistant Michael McQueary took place. Both are charged with lying to investigators.

Sandusky is awaiting sentencing for 45 counts of child sex abuse of 10 boys. He was defensive coordinator for coach Joe Paterno at Penn State until 1999 but maintained an office and privileged access to the team's football facilities, where multiple assaults allegedly took place.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy plans to remain head coach of the Eagles, turning down an unspecific job with the Orlando Magic.

Reports indicated the Magic approached Murphy, the reigning MAC Coach of the Year, about a job in the scouting department. The former Syracuse assistant coach would have faced a buyout of approximately $200,000 -- the equivalent of his annual salary -- to cancel the final four years of his existing contract.

"I am pleased to confirm that I am remaining at EMU," Murphy said in a statement. "It is true that I had an opportunity to join the Orlando Magic. Representatives of the Magic were both professional in their approach and respectful of our situation at EMU. I am very appreciative of the opportunity to have spoken with them and would like to publicly thank them for their professionalism and interest."

COLLEGE SPORTS

Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo is leaving the position, effective Sept. 30.

DeFilippo was hired in 1997 to help school recover from a gambling scandal in which 13 football players were dismissed for betting on games.

A few years later, he oversaw BU's move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

DeFilippo plans to teach sports management courses and to work as a consultant.

NHL

NHL Players Association leader Donald Fehr said Friday the players are ready in case owners lock them out if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached by Sept 15.

Fehr spoke on a conference call with reporters after meeting with about 40 players over the last two days at a hotel near O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

He will also have similar meetings with players next week in British Columbia and Toronto.

Fehr said he does not know if there will be a lockout, and whether there is or is not depends on the owners.

"I wish I knew the answer to that, too, because I've got about 730 or 750 guys out there that would like to know the answer to that," he said. "All I can tell you, and all I can tell the fans, is that nobody on the players' side is talking about stopping the season. Nobody on the players' side is talking about saying we'll have negotiations up to a date and then that's all.

"I have been in experiences before in which you play without a contract under the old rules and continue negotiating and try to find a deal. And so I think your question needs to be addressed not to me, but to the representatives of the owners. We certainly hope there isn't (a lockout). We certainly don't think there's a reason for it. If they choose to do it, you should understand it's something they chose to do."

The two sides did not appear to make much progress in the Toronto negotiations earlier in the week.

The players had proposed a three-year deal in which players would accept a reduced share of hockey-related revenue of about $465 million over the term and that a "more aggressive" revenue-sharing system would force the wealthiest teams to subsidize struggling ones of up to $250 million a season. That is an increase from the current $170 million. The players' proposal also includes retaining the hard salary cap.

The three-year deal includes a reversal option for a fourth year in which the CBA could revert to the current terms if the owners opt for it. The union's proposal does not include the elimination of the salary cap and calls for no changes to player contracts.

The owners want to reduce the players' share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume in Toronto on Wednesday.

AUTO RACING

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- With a third-place finish last Sunday at Watkins Glen International, Jimmie Johnson accomplished a goal -- taking over the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

"To be able to leave the Glen with the points lead is something I really wanted to do," Johnson said Friday at Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday's Pure Michigan 400. "To be in this position and feel the pressure that comes with leading the points ... in years past, I think we've learned a lot from it and have entered the Chase better prepared."

But pressure? There's no prize for leading the points after 26 races. Four weeks hence at Richmond, the Chase for the Sprint Cup field will be reset according to number of victories, and the regular-season points lead will be moot.

That's not the way Johnson sees it.

"It's not the same pressure as the Chase, but a points leader is a points leader," Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service. "And when you look at all the events we've had and what's going on, there's a lot of prestige involved with it. It means you're running well.

"So we're again glad to be there. Hopefully, we can stay on top and ideally pull away and continue to gain more points than anyone else and be in that rhythm and mind-set entering the Chase."

Nor would Johnson mind seeing some sort of recognition for leading the standings after 26 races.

"It's a huge accomplishment to win the regular-season points championship," Johnson said. "I don't even think you get a sticker for it or anything. ... I'm sure the monetary side would be amazing, but we would all be happy with a little $5 trophy that you won the regular-season championship.

"So a T-shirt would be nice -- anything. You could even work up an argument that there's some type of bonus points that could be awarded to the regular-season champion that carries over, or something in the seed process, or pit road pick -- I don't know. You dream up something there that would be nice for the champion."

BUDDING TYCOON?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started his automotive career working in his father's dealership.

Now he runs his own.

The Hendrick Automotive Group recently bought two dealerships in Tallahassee, Fla., that are branded in the name of Cup racing's most popular driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Buick/GMC/Cadillac.

"Me and (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) had talked about this for a long time," Earnhardt said. "Quite a lot. Extensively. We were just waiting on the right opportunity. Dealerships are challenging and quite fickle. Depends on the market. We knew we would have an opportunity if we were patient."

Earnhardt had a strange sense of deja vu when he met with his new employees.

"That was going to be my profession if I hadn't been a race car driver," Earnhardt said. "I was going to work in a dealership as a mechanic or something. That was what I did to pay my power bill for four years, so that was what it was all about for me at one point. It was pretty weird standing in the service department talking to all my employees when I used to work in one myself.

"I never imagined that day would come. I'm excited about it. I will be hands-on, be involved quite heavily. Through the experiences I had with my dad owning the one in Newton, N.C., I'm excited to sort of carve my own path and enjoy that same experience he enjoyed, and make it successful."

Earnhardt won't have to depend on the income from his dealerships any time soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that the Army National Guard was renewing its sponsorship of Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet for the 2013 season.

EDWARDS ENJOYED THE FINISH AT THE GLEN

Yes, there was oil on the track during the closing laps at Watkins Glen, but NASCAR's decision not to throw a caution on the final circuit helped produce one of the most compelling finishes of the season.

Race winner Marcos Ambrose and runner-up Brad Keselowski did the rest. Their all-out battle enthralled veteran driver Carl Edwards, who couldn't stop watching replays of the final lap.

"As frustrating as it was for some drivers to not have the caution thrown, it was very, very entertaining," Edwards said. "I really enjoyed watching it. That's a rarity for me. I don't usually go home and watch videos of the race I was just in 10 times in a row.

"That was a very exciting race. I think that in the end, for the sport, NASCAR did a good job letting everybody figure it out on their own. I don't know all the things that led up to that decision or lack of decision to throw a caution, but I think it worked out in favor of good entertainment."
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