Plan B as in BYU: Cougars face Chanticleers on short notice

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Word came to Coastal Carolina on Wednesday that the most significant home game in the history of the program was in serious jeopardy.

The 14th-ranked Chanticleers were scheduled to face No. 25 Liberty on Saturday in an unexpected Top-25 matchup that persuaded ESPN to send “College GameDay” to Conway, South Carolina, for the first time.

But COVID-19 had crept into the Liberty program. Coastal Carolina needed a Plan B – as in BYU. Coach Kalani Sitake‘s eighth-ranked Cougars have been primed to pounce on short notice if the opportunity arose to bolster their chances to reach a major bowl.

“Last week I said: ‘Kalani, it’s kind of like when there’s a married couple about ready to have a baby and you have your bag packed by the door, that’s how it’s going to be maybe,”‘ BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “You might have to pick up your bag and go.”

With ESPN and the Sun Belt Conference’s assistance, Coastal Carolina and BYU finalized a deal Thursday morning to play a game about 56 hours later.

The upstart Chanticleers (9-0) and barnstorming Cougars (9-0) meet Saturday in maybe the most intriguing game of the college football weekend, one that could position the winner for a multimillion-dollar postseason payday.

Coastal Carolina athletic director Matt Hogue said Liberty officials reached out Wednesday to say the Flames might not be able to play. Holmoe said a friend reached out the same day to tell him to keep an eye on the Liberty situation.

“Once you’re in that situation this year, you know we’re all kind of playing by a different book,” Hogue said. “We obviously have a lot invested in this weekend so we wanted to start exploring what opportunities might be out there.”

Kurt Dargis, director of college football for ESPN, said he got a call from Sun Belt Conference officials Wednesday afternoon informing him of the potential problem with what the network had turned into a showcase game.

ESPN owns the television rights for both the Sun Belt and BYU, and has been helping the independent Cougars rebuild a schedule that fell apart when Power Five conferences decided to play mostly league games during the pandemic.

Dargis called Holmoe and asked if BYU was interested. Holmoe said he needed to run it by Sitake, but it only took the AD about 45 minutes to get back with the news: If Liberty could not play, BYU would.

“It was really a whirlwind and went very quickly,” Dargis said.

Even though the Cougars did not have a game scheduled for Saturday, they had practiced Monday and Tuesday as if they might. No set opponent, only possibilities.

“I’m grateful to our coaches,” Holmoe said. “They’ve watched a lot of film this week.”

BYU’s next scheduled game is Dec. 12 vs. San Diego State.

Holmoe has been trying to add games for weeks. Washington called the week before Thanksgiving, but the Huskies couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t have to pull out if another Pac-12 team became available. BYU wanted to see where it stood in the College Football Playoff rankings before it committed to a game that ultimately would not have happened anyway.

On Wednesday, BYU quickly transitioned to Coastal Carolina prep in practice and coaches pulled long nights at the office with no assurance the game would be played. Even though the game was not yet a done deal, BYU’s equipment truck started Wednesday night on the 2,200-mile trip from Provo, near the foot of Utah’s Wasatch mountains, to Coastal’s campus about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

At Coastal Carolina, where the Chants are having their best season since moving to the highest level of Division I football in 2016, the transition from prepping for Liberty to BYU went into overdrive. Coach Jamey Chadwell said they’ll have to keep it simple.

“When it’s this short of a timeframe, you got to go back to things that you hope you can do well and see if it will hold up against a really quality opponent that’s coming in here,” Chadwell said.

Kickoff for Saturday’s game was pushed back 3 1/2 hours to 5:30 p.m. EST because, well, every little bit helps.

What’s at stake?

BYU is currently 13th in the College Football Playoff rankings. That is not only way too far back to be considered a playoff contender, it also means star quarterback Zach Wilson and the Cougars need to climb at least a couple spots to have a chance to earn a bid to a New York’s Six bowl game.

An appearance in the Fiesta or Cotton bowls would be worth $4 million to BYU. If the Cougars can’t crack the top tier of postseason games, it would likely mean no highly ranked opponent and a fraction of the payout.

Coastal Carolina is No. 18 in the CFP, even farther out of range for a major bowl bid – though the Chants have two paths. They could work their way into the top 10 or so and pick up an at-large bid. They could also earn a spot as the highest ranked conference champion from outside the Power Five leagues, though they would probably need some help in the form of a loss or two by No. 7 Cincinnati from the American Athletic Conference.

Coastal has already clinched a spot in the Sun Belt title game on Dec. 19 against No. 20 Louisiana-Lafayette.

For college sports fans, this game probably feels like a Bracket Buster, those made-for-TV matchups of mid-major basketball teams looking to improve their March Madness resumes.

That kind of scheduling flexibility is unheard of in college football, where nonconference games are usually set years in advance. In the spring of 2019, Clemson and Oklahoma announced a home-and-home series for 2035 and ’36.

But there has been nothing typical about 2020.

“It’s exciting. And it’s fun,” BYU offensive lineman James Empey said. “Everybody’s just kind of been riding the wave and trying to prepare the most they can.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.