Marshall, ODU, S. Miss get OK to exit C-USA for Sun Belt

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Conference USA has agreed to allow Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss to expedite their move to the Sun Belt.

The resolution announced in a brief, joint statement Tuesday allows the three schools to withdraw from Conference USA by the end of the current academic year.

Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss accepted invitations to the Sun Belt during the fall. Each announced last month they planned to terminate memberships in C-USA on June 30 to join their new conference.

C-USA then filed a request for arbitration and said the three schools were contractually obligated to stay put for another year, prompting Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss to file their own court complaints against the league.

The Sun Belt’s expansion from 10 to 14 football schools also includes James Madison, which announced in February it is moving from the second-tier FCS to the FBS level this summer. The Dukes went 12-2 last fall and reached the national semifinals for the fifth time in the last six years.

In early March, the Sun Belt released a composite schedule with the four new additions. The season kicks off Sept. 2 when Old Dominion hosts Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The next day, Southern Miss will host Liberty, Marshall will host Norfolk State, and James Madison hosts Middle Tennessee.

The Sun Belt did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment Tuesday night.

Conference USA said Tuesday it will enter the 2022-23 academic year with 11 members. The league last month had released a football schedule for the 2022 season with 14 teams, including Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion. Six other C-USA schools have announced they are leaving for the American Athletic Conference, but not until 2023.

C-USA plans to add Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State to rebuild the conference, but those schools are not scheduled to join until 2023.

Conference USA “is committed to the long-term growth of the league as we usher in new members in the coming years,” the league said in a separate statement. “As we begin this new era of Conference USA, our focus remains on providing the best possible experiences for our student-athletes while engaging in the broader national conversation and process around changing the overall model. The landscape of college athletics has shifted expansively and we will continue to be a substantial part of that evolution.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”