The Wolverines and Huskies as undefeated conference champions were considered virtual shoo-ins to make the CFP. Michigan is in the playoff for the third straight year. Washington, on the other hand, has been in the CFP only once before, losing in the semifinals in the 2016 season.
The path to the playoff was a bit murkier for Texas and Alabama.
Texas is back in the running for the national championship after booking its first trip to the playoff. Led by quarterback Quinn Ewers, the Longhorns went 12-1 and won the Big 12 championship in their first appearance in the conference title game. Texas’ lone loss came at the hand of Oklahoma in the Red River rivalry game. Both schools will head to the SEC after this season, but the Longhorns already got an SEC boost this year. Texas notched perhaps the biggest win of the college football season by going on the road in September and beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama proved that one big win can sometimes make up for one early loss. The Crimson Tide are in the playoff a day after ending Georgia’s 29-game, 728-day winning streak with a 27-24 victory in the SEC championship game. Nick Saban’s squad faced challenges atypical for Alabama, losing at home to Texas in the second game of the season and otherwise scuffling through the early part of the schedule. Part of the issue was uncertainty at quarterback. Jalen Milroe started and finished the season as the team’s top QB, but both Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner were given chances to take control of the position in Tommy Rees’ first year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Bama will now have a chance to win its fourth College Football Playoff national championship in the final year of the four-team format.
Alabama’s win Saturday ended Georgia’s pursuit of a third straight national championship. The Bulldogs had won 29 straight games, but Saturday’s ill-timed loss to Alabama in the SEC title game left Georgia on the outside looking in. As a result, the Bulldogs become the first No. 1 team in the penultimate CFP rankings to fall out of the top four after losing in Championship Week.
Florida State won its conference championship game after an undefeated regular season, but becomes the first unbeaten Power 5 champ to miss out on the CFP, a decision that rankled ACC commissioner Jim Phillips.
“It’s unfathomable that Florida State, an undefeated Power Five conference champion, was left out of the College Football Playoff,” Phillips said in a statement Sunday. “Their exclusion calls into question the selection process and whether the Committee’s own guidelines were followed, including the significant importance of being an undefeated Power Five conference champion. My heart breaks for the talented FSU student-athletes and coaches and their passionate and loyal fans. Florida State deserved better. College football deserved better.”
The committee seemed to focus on how competitive the Seminoles would be in the playoff without quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in mid-November. FSU started backup Tate Rodemaker in its regular-season finale victory over Florida, but a concussion kept him out of the ACC title game. That forced coach Mike Norvell to go with freshman Brock Glenn on Saturday, a win over Louisville in which the Noles’ defense led the way.
Washington will play Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, while Michigan will face Alabama in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential. Both semifinal games will be played on New Year’s Day and aired on ESPN.
The CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T will be played Monday, Jan. 8 on ESPN.
Ohio gaming regulators ban NCAA player props
The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) on Friday granted a request by the NCAA to prohibit wagering on prop bets involving collegiate athletes. Ohio sportsbook operators have until March 1 to implement the ban on any wager on “an individual athlete’s performance or statistics participating in a sporting event governed by the NCAA.”
Examples of prop bets include the over/under on a basketball player’s points or a quarterback’s passing yards. More than 20 states with legal sports betting prohibit or limit player-specific prop bets on collegiate athletes, according to the OCCC’s announcement. The OCCC announced the ban three weeks after Baker made a written request to its executive director Matt Schuler, which received support from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
“Today’s decision by the Ohio Casino Control Commission to prohibit player-specific prop bets on collegiate competitions marks a significant step in the protection of student-athlete well-being and game integrity,” NCAA president Charlie Baker said in a statement. “I thank The Commission for recognizing the serious threats posed by prop bets and implementing controls to help safeguard student-athlete mental health from the risks of sports betting harassment and abuse.”
Schuler agreed with the NCAA’s concerns that prop bets on individual player performance can lead to bettors harassing athletes, the solicitation of insider information and attempts to manipulate small events during games.
“I have determined that good cause supports the NCAA’s request to prohibit player-specific prop bets on intercollegiate athletics competitions because the NCAA’s request will safeguard the integrity of sports gaming and will be in the best interest of the public,” Schuler wrote in his decision.
Ohio passed a law in 2023 that aims to ban anyone who threatens athletes with violence or harm from participating in sports gaming in the state. The OCCC estimates Ohio sportsbooks received $104.6 million in bets on NCAA player props in 2023, or 1.35% of the total amount wagered last year.
McGee leaves UGA to be Georgia St. head coach
McGee’s deal is for five years, sources told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
McGee, 50, was the Bulldogs’ run game coordinator and running backs coach and has deep ties in the state from years as a high school coach. He joins the Panthers after spending the past eight seasons as a Georgia assistant, primarily working with the running backs while helping the team to College Football Playoff titles in 2021 and 2022. He played college football at Auburn and had a brief NFL career as a defensive back, appearing in three games for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.
McGee also previously coached at a rival of Georgia State, spending two seasons as an assistant at Georgia Southern and serving as the interim head coach for a win in the GoDaddy Bowl (now called the 68 Ventures Bowl) in the 2015 season.
McGee replaces Shawn Elliott, who agreed earlier this month to return to South Carolina as tight ends coach and run game coordinator.
Georgia State is coming off a 7-6 season that included a win over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The school had postponed spring practices and its spring game after Elliott’s departure.
Judge grants preliminary injunction over NIL rules
A federal judge in Tennessee granted a preliminary injunction Friday afternoon that prohibits the NCAA from punishing any athletes or boosters for negotiating name, image and likeness deals during their recruiting process or while they are in the transfer portal.
The injunction is not a final ruling in the case, but the judge’s decision will likely have an immediate and dramatic impact on how NIL deals are used in the recruiting process.
“The NCAA’s prohibition likely violates federal antitrust law and harms student-athletes,” U.S. District Judge Clifton Corker wrote in his decision Friday.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from signing NIL contracts that are designed as inducements to get them to attend a particular school — one of the few restrictions in place for how athletes can make money. For example, the NCAA recently announced sanctions against Florida State football because a member of its coaching staff connected a prospect with a booster collective that works closely with the Seminoles. The collective made a specific offer to the player, who was considering transferring from his current school to Florida State.
The attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia argued that the NCAA is illegally restricting opportunities for student-athletes by preventing them from negotiating the terms of NIL deals prior to deciding where they want to go to school. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 31, one day after University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman revealed in a letter to the NCAA that the school’s athletic department was being investigated for potential recruiting rules violations.
In Friday’s ruling, Corker determined that the attorneys general have a reasonable chance of winning their case and that student-athletes could suffer irreparable harm if the restrictions remain in place while the case is being decided.
“Turning upside down rules overwhelmingly supported by member schools will aggravate an already chaotic collegiate environment, further diminishing protections for student-athletes from exploitation,” the NCAA said in a statement. “The NCAA fully supports student-athletes making money from their name, image and likeness and is making changes to deliver more benefits to student-athletes, but an endless patchwork of state laws and court opinions make clear partnering with Congress is necessary to provide stability for the future of all college athletes.”
Anthony Skrmetti, Tennessee’s attorney general, said in a statement Friday that his office plans to litigate the case “to the fullest extent necessary to ensure the NCAA’s monopoly cannot continue.”
“The NCAA is not above the law, and the law is on our side,” Skrmetti said.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares called the win in court “rewarding” and saw it as an extension of the Supreme Court ruling in the NCAA vs. Alston case in 2021, which he said should have put the NCAA “on notice” for its legal vulnerabilities.
“We’re finally getting to the point where you’re seeing real student-athlete empowerment at the collegiate level,” Miyares told ESPN in a phone interview late Friday. “The NCAA in an arbitrary and capricious manner was trying to restrict that.”
Miyares said the NCAA model has gotten to the point where it’s unsustainable, pointing out the billion-dollar NCAA tournament television contract that was signed without the players getting any cut of it. The potential of change to NIL rules that would come with this ruling could be just the start.
“I think could be the first steps of significant change,” he said. “And I think it’s been coming for a long time.”
College athletics attorney Tom Mars, who worked with a Tennessee collective, Spyre Sports Group, on this case, said the ruling could mark the beginning of the end for the NCAA.
“I think this will be one more brick in the wall that is the end of the NCAA,” Mars said. “Short of intervention by Congress, the demise of the NCAA now seems inevitable based on nothing but a financial analysis, as it appears the NCAA is poised to lose all of its upcoming antitrust cases. The cumulative effect of which could make the NCAA financially insolvent.”
“A bad case is a bad case, and they’ve put all their defenses forward,” Mars added. “And there’s no precedent anywhere in the United States that supports their defenses.”
Corker said the NCAA’s lawyers did not make a compelling argument for why using NIL contracts as recruiting inducements would undermine the academic side of college sports.
“While the NCAA permits student-athletes to profit from their NIL, it fails to show how the timing of when a student-athlete enters such an agreement would destroy the goal of preserving amateurism,” the judge wrote.
Earlier this week, Skrmetti told ESPN that he was willing to work with the NCAA to find some middle ground on how it could enforce some of its recruiting rules while the case is resolved.
“If they want to talk about possibilities for finding a workable solution in the short term, we’re always open to conversation,” Skrmetti said, noting he had not discussed the case with NCAA leadership. “There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to reach an agreement, but if there’s a mutually agreeable path forward as we work to get these issues figured out, we’re open to that.”
In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday, NCAA president Charlie Baker said the restriction on recruiting inducements was written because the association wants athletes to choose their future schools based on the best educational opportunities rather than where they could make the most money.
“I also think it makes it enormously challenging, as we are currently seeing in the existing NIL environment, for kids and families to figure out what the right choice is in the first place because an enormous amount of information flows their way that may not in fact be accurate,” Baker said.
ESPN asked Baker if having contracts that the prospective athletes could sign before committing to a school would help ensure that the offers they were receiving were accurate or could provide some way to hold a booster or school accountable for false promises.
“I don’t know,” Baker said.
Since adopting new rules that opened the door for NIL deals in 2021, the NCAA has issued two sanctions related to how boosters used NIL opportunities as an inducement in the recruiting process: the recent Florida State case and one involving the Miami women’s basketball team in February 2023.
The NCAA has struggled to enforce the inducement rules despite widespread acknowledgement and complaints from coaches, players and administrators that offers for NIL money have become a central discussion in recruiting players out of high school and the transfer portal. The rules allow coaches and collectives to share information about a prospect’s potential earning power as long as they don’t make specific offers or promises. Without documented evidence of a violation or cooperation from parties directly involved in an offer, the NCAA’s enforcement staff doesn’t have the power to compel the information they need to levy sanctions.
Plowman, Tennessee’s chancellor, said in her letter to the NCAA that it was “intellectually dishonest” to have rules that allow collectives to meet with recruits and enter into contracts with recruits but prohibit “conversations that would be of a recruiting nature.”
“Any discussion about NIL might factor into a prospective student-athlete’s decision to attend an institution. This creates an inherently unworkable situation, and everyone knows it,” Plowman wrote. “Student-athletes and their families deserve better than this.”
Baker told ESPN that he didn’t think the NCAA was ignoring reality by asking athletes to pick their schools based on academic and athletic opportunities and worry about NIL opportunities after they arrive.
“I think the most important thing here is let’s deal with some of the issues around accountability and transparency and consumer protections first,” Baker said. “And if we then want to have a conversation about other stuff, about how this should all work, especially if we get to the point where we give schools the ability to do more in this space, I’m all-in on that.”
In a separate case about the NCAA’s rules that restrict an athlete’s ability to transfer to a new school without penalty, a federal judge decided in December to grant an injunction. That ruling compelled the NCAA to change its rules to allow athletes to transfer as many times as they would like during their college careers while the case is pending.
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