Report: Big 12 may get title game in ’16; ACC to three divisions?

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It appears the Big 12 will get its wish without having to add to its membership roll. At the same time, it appears the ACC is thinking of getting downright radical with its lineup.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com is reporting that legislation that would deregulate conference championship games is set to be implemented and would likely be in place for the 2016 season.  As it stands now, conferences can only conduct championship games if they have at least 12 members split into two different division; this new legislation would allow any league to hold a title game regardless of their membership numbers.

The Big 12, with just 10 members following years of conference expansion across the country, has been precluded from hosting a championship game.  The school of thought following the 2014 regular season was that the Big 12 in general and Baylor/TCU specifically were in large part left without a spot at the first College Football Playoff table because they didn’t hold a title game like the other Power Five conferences.

Beginning in 2016, and if they so desire — and they in all likelihood do as they were one of the two developers of the legislation — the Big 12 would thus have the ability to conduct its first conference championship game since after the 2010 season.  With the AAC adding Navy, splitting into two six-team divisions and adding a title game for the 2015 season, the only other conference this part of the legislation would impact would be the 11-member, one-division Sun Belt.

The other developer of the legislation, the ACC, may be set to make an impact on how conferences construct their divisional alignments moving forward.

According to new NCAA Football Oversight Committee chairman and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, some in the ACC are considering expanding its current two-division lineup of the Atlantic and Coastal into three divisions.  Bowlsby intimated that it’s the uncertainty over just what the ACC wants to do that’s somewhat bogged down the legislation moving forward, although, again, it’s expected to be in place in time for the 2016 season.

“I think there’s some belief that ACC would play three divisions, have two highest ranked play in postseason,” Bowlsby told Dodd. “Really, nobody cares how you determine your champion. It should be a conference-level decision.

“But because the ACC has persisted in saying, ‘We’re not sure what we’ll do,’ there’s probably a little bit of a shadow over it. In the end, I don’t think it’ll be able to hold it up. We’ll probably have it in place for ‘16.”

The reason for the potential move to three divisions would be a very simple one: to better position itself for the College Football Playoff. Theoretically, three divisions would allow the ACC to create a stronger conference championship game, which would then strengthen its case for a spot in the four-team playoff.

The problem, of course, would be that the ACC currently consists of 14 members, and would likely need to add a 15th school — three divisions of five teams each — to make that setup work. Notre Dame is already a scheduling partner with the ACC, although it seems unlikely that the conference would be able to convince the school to shed its football independence and become a full-time member of the league. Other potential additions — again, if they go the three-division route — could include Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF and UConn.

That’s still a ways down the road, if it happens at all, as three divisions is simply something that’s been bandied about by the conference’s brain trust, not something that is being aggressively pursued at the moment.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.