SportsBlog entries for July, 2016 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

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Entries for July, 2016


July 29, 2016

MVSU Picked Second, JSU Picked Fourth in Preseason Women’s Soccer

By bryanflynn

While college football is just around the corner, let’s not forget that women’s soccer will begin this fall. The SWAC head coaches and sports information directors made their preseason predictions for the upcoming soccer season.

The team to beat and big winner of the awards is affiliate member Howard University, which was picked to win the conference with 170 points. Howard also swept all three preseason awards for Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year. The Bison also had eight players placed on either the first-team or second-team All-SWAC.

Mississippi Valley State University was picked to finish second in the conference with 146 points, closely followed by third-place pick Alabama State University with 145 points.

Jackson State University was picked to finish fourth with 126 points, with Prairie View A&M University in fifth place at 112 points. Arkansas-Pine Bluff University was picked to end up sixth with 102 points, and another close vote had Texas Southern University in seventh with 101 points.

Alabama A&M University ended up in eighth place with 74 points, and Southern University was picked to finish ninth with 58 points. Rounding out the bottom of the conference is Grambling State University, picked to finish 10th with 46 points and Alcorn State University picked to finish last with 42 points.

Jackson State placed three players on first-team All-SWAC in midfielder Jalana Ellis, defender Kyleigh Lo and goalie Faith Toennies. The Tigers placed two players on the second-team All-SWAC in midfielders Kalen Roberts and Sie’Yara Wells. The five players JSU placed on the preseason teams were second in the conference.

Mississippi Valley State finished 2015 as regular season champions and placed one player on the first-team All-SWAC in midfielder Laadi Issaka. The Delta Devils placed two players on the second-team: All-SWAC forward Heather Craddock and midfielder Marina Balboa.

Alcorn State didn’t place any players on either first or second teams. Alabama State was third in players selected to the preseason teams, with four players. Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern each placed one player on the preseason teams.

Last season, MVSU finished 8-1-1 in SWAC play and 13-7-2 overall. JSU finished with the same 8-1-1 record as the Delta Devils in conference play and the Tigers finished 11-7-2 overall. Alcorn State finished 0-10 in SWAC play and 0-13 overall.

July 29, 2016

Lions Reward Former MSU Corner Slay with a Contract Extension

By bryanflynn

Former Itawamba Community College and Mississippi State University cornerback Darius Slay believed he was a top-seven corner in the NFL. The Detroit Lions brass must have agreed with him after signing him to a new four-year extension.

Detroit needed to lock up Slay, who is just 25 years old, to an extension after losing high-profile players the last two seasons. The Lions lost defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency after the 2014 season, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson suddenly retired after last season

The new deal is worth $48 million with $23.1 million in guaranteed money, and he will make a total of $50.2 million over the next five years. The former Bulldog was entering the final year of his rookie deal. The guaranteed money is good for seventh amongst cornerbacks.

Slay is one of the few cornerbacks to be overshadowed most of this career. At MSU, Johnthan Banks grabbed more headlines than Slay did.

Slay ended up drafted ahead of the 2012 Thorpe Award, winner Banks in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Lions selected Slay with the 36th overall pick in the second round, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Banks with the 43rd overall pick in the same round.

In the NFL, Slay has quietly become one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He slowly began his pro career with four starts and played in just 13 games as a rookie in 2013. He finished his first year with 34 total tackles and 27 solo tackles with five passes defended.

Slay started all 16 games for the Lions in his second year and made 61 total tackles and 48 solo tackles. He had 17 passes defended and two interceptions.

Last season, Slay again started all 16 games for Detroit. He had 59 total tackles and 48 solo tackles. The cornerback added two more interceptions and 13 passes defended in 2015.

Pro Football Focus rated Slay as the No. 2 overall cornerback and had him ranked No. 8 in pass coverage. He has a passer rating of 90.1 when targeted in coverage, and he only allows a completion percentage of 63.2. NFL Media research says he was targeted 68 times last season.

Slay is counted on to cover the opponent's top receiver on most plays. He will also have to be a leader in the second for Detroit, with 2014 fourth-round pick cornerback Nevin Lawson slated to start opposite of him.

The six-foot, 190-pound corner might not be under the radar much longer after signing his new extension. If Detroit could win more games after finishing 7-9 last season, Slay might become a household name with NFL fans.

July 28, 2016

After New Year’s Eve Ratings Disaster, CFP Semifinals are Moving

By bryanflynn

The idea of building a new tradition on New Year’s Eve happened just one year before college football playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock changed course. Now, the schedule has been changed in the four years that the semifinals were to be played on Dec. 31.

Hancock believed that the semifinals on New Year's Eve would create a new tradition of college football fans staying home to watch playoff football. Instead, the rating for the first game was 45 percent lower than 2015, and the second game’s rating was 34.4 percent lower than the previous year.

The ratings might have been lost due to the fact that the games in the 2016 playoffs weren’t very competitive. Clemson University bounced the University of Oklahoma 37-17 in a game that saw the Tigers pull away in the second half.

In the second game, the University of Alabama destroyed Michigan State University 38-0. Either way, both games gave football fans reason to leave the TV and ring in the New Year elsewhere.

In the 2015 playoffs, the University of Oregon pulled away from Florida State University in the second half, and Ohio State slipped past Alabama 42-35. The first year of the playoffs saw games with a little more sizzle.

Oregon featured 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, and FSU was the defending champion and featured 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. College football blue bloods Alabama and OSU were going to draw eyes from nearly all college-football fans.

While Oklahoma and Alabama are traditional college-football powers, Michigan State and Clemson have just recently become year-in and year-out conference-title contenders, meaning, to the average fan, the matchups weren’t as sexy as the year before.

Fans of the teams playing in the semifinals might want to stay home and watch, but fans of other teams more than likely wanted to celebrate the coming New Year. College football fans had been trained to watch the biggest games on New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve.

It was a tradition the college football playoff tried to break, but it failed. Fans still wanted their New Year’s Day games but didn’t want to stay at home or at least watch football at home on New Year’s Eve.

The schedule has been shifted in the four years (2018-2019, 2019-2020, 2024-2025, and 2025-2026) playoff games were scheduled to fall on New Year’s Eve. The games were moved to the preceding Saturday.

The 2016-2017 semifinals, which will be played after this season, were not changed. The 2021-2022 semifinals will still be played on New Year’s Eve, which is on a Friday, but it will be the federal New Year’s Day holiday.

ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to broadcast the playoffs and wanted the semifinals moved off New Year’s Eve after the ratings drop. Hancock stood firm earlier this year before beginning to soften his stance.

Now, with a little over ...

July 27, 2016

Deanna Favre to Present Brett Favre for Hall of Fame

By bryanflynn

In the history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only once before now has a wife presented a husband entering the shrine. Kim Singletary presented her husband, Chicago Bear great linebacker Mike Singletary, in 1998.

That will change on Saturday, Aug. 6, when Deanna Favre becomes the second woman to present her husband, former Green Bay Packer and living legend Brett Favre, at the Hall of Fame. The pair met and began dating in high school before being married in 1996.

Brett said his first choice would have been his father Irvin Favre, who passed away from a heart attack on Dec. 21, 2003, at the age of 58. The Packers star went on to have one of the greatest games in his career the next night on Monday Night Football.

In that Monday night contest, Brett threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns, as the Packers blew out the Oakland Raiders 41-7. The quarterback returned to Kiln, Miss. after the game to lay his father to rest.

It only makes sense for Brett to pass the honor to his wife, Deanna. She was the one who called him and told him his father had passed.

She stood by Brett through his retirements and un-retirements, his admitting that he had an addiction to painkillers, his scandal of allegedly sending racy text messages to a New York Jets game day host and two massage therapists and other bumps in his stellar career.

“Deanna is the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Brett said in a statement. “She has been by my side throughout this journey and I’m so excited that she gets to play such an important role for me.”

“Serving as Brett’s presenter is a great honor. I am thrilled to be able share this special moment in time with him,” Deanna said in the statement.

The other members of the 2016 Hall of Fame Class are Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., who will be inducted by daughter Lisa DeBartolo; Tony Dungy, who will be inducted by former teammate Donnie Shell; Kevin Green, who will be inducted by former Carolina Panthers head coach and current Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers; Marvin Harrison, who will be inducted by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay; Orlando Pace, who will be inducted by son Justin Pace; Ken Stabler, who will be inducted by Hall of Fame coach John Madden; and Dick Stanfel, who will be inducted by Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.

The newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be inducted in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, Aug. 6. On Sunday, Aug. 7, the Colts and Packers will face each other in the Hall of Fame Game, and the newest members of the hall will be honored on the field.

The game will be seen on ESPN and will kickoff at 6 p.m.

July 27, 2016

Jaguars Honor Former JSU Star Jimmy Smith

By bryanflynn

The Jacksonville Jaguars are adding former star wide receiver Jimmy Smith as the sixth member of its ring of honor, Pride of the Jaguars.

The five other honorees in Pride of the Jaguars are former owners Wayne and Delores Weaver, the franchise's first-draft-pick offensive tackle Tony Boselli, running back Fred Jackson and quarterback Mark Brunell.

Smith retired suddenly in May 2006, but the former wide out’s legal troubles, which include drug and weapons charges, made it hard for the team to recognize him.

Early in his career, Smith was the perfect example of a player who overachieved and overcame adversity nearly every step of the way.

At Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss., he was a standout receiver who didn’t get any looks from Division I schools. He did get offered a scholarship to Jackson State University and made the most of that opportunity. He finished his time with the Tigers with 110 catches, 2,073 yards and 16 touchdowns. The smooth wide receiver graduated with a degree in business management.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith in the second round with the 36th overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. Injuries hindered his play for most of his time in Dallas. In his rookie year, Smith broke his leg and missed all but seven games, and he didn’t record a catch in the entire season.

In his second season with the Cowboys, Smith was expected to become the third wide receiver before he was forced to have an emergency appendectomy in August 1993. He missed the entire season after developing a post-surgery infection that nearly cost him his life.

The Cowboys released Smith in July 1994 when he refused to take a pay cut. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles but didn’t make their roster.

After being out of football for the entire 1994 season, Smith’s mother sent a folder of his newspaper clippings to then Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin. This earned Smith a tryout, and the team signed him in February 1995.

In his first season in Jacksonville, Smith caught 22 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. In 1996, he scored 1,244 yards on 83 receptions and seven touchdowns, beginning a streak of seven straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards.

Smith played in all every Jacksonville game from 1995 to 2002 and became one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. In 2003, he only played in 12 games, as he received a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

The 2003 season saw Smith fail to reach 1,000 receiving yards. He only caught 54 passes for 805 yards and four touchdowns. He then bounced back in the 2004 season to catch 74 passes for 1,172 yards and six touchdowns.

In his last season in the NFL, Smith garnered 1,073 receiving yards on 70 catches with six touchdowns. His retirement in May 2006 shocked many fans. He denied rumors of facing a ...

July 25, 2016

River City League Different Opportunity for Each Player

By bryanflynn

An unrelenting rain beat down on the city of Vicksburg on Friday night, July 22. That rain didn’t seem to keep anyone away from the action at the River City Summer Basketball League, or River City League for short.

The stands were mostly filled with friends, family and people from the neighborhood at the Jackson Street Community Center (923 Walnut St., Vicksburg). Local strength and conditioning coach Ehaab Bayoumi worked the players through stretches and how to workout lingering injuries before they start play for the night.

Bayoumi worked for Jackson State University for a short time but is now the strength and conditioning coach for some of the best high-school and college kids in the state. He was quick to run down the list of players he has helped if it looked like a player wasn’t paying total attention to his words.

Several players on the floor are using the River City League to stay or get into shape before the next basketball season starts, including Chris Hyche.

Hyche is a former Provine High School and JSU star and is getting ready to resign with the World All-Stars, the team that now travels the world to get beaten by the Harlem Globetrotters. He hopes to be able to work his way onto the Globetrotters’ roster.

Jackson Showboats guard and ABA All-Star Will Werner is also using the league to get ready for the upcoming season. Werner burst on the scene at last year’s River City League to earn a spot on the Showboats roster.

Former Wingfield and Belhaven star Krayleon Winston has been a long time Showboat. But he has flirtations from the D-League and a contract offer from the Jacksonville Giants, a more established ABA team.

For some players, such as former Mississippi Valley State University star Jurmelle Hall, the RCL is a chance to get noticed again. Hall is working to get his basketball career going but had a rough night, as a lingering injury kept him off the court.

But for others, the RCL might be their only chance to continue their basketball career. Darrie Ollie spent some time at East Mississippi Community College and had a tryout at Coahoma Community College, but his grades have kept him off the court in college. He was highly coveted by MSVU until his grades derailed his chances of going.

Ollie was one of stars of the night, with a dunk that shook the rim and brought everyone in the house to their feet. He had other rim-rattling dunks and shots that were highlight worthy.

Hyche stole the night with his play. He grabbed alley-oop after alley-oop and slammed it down on just about any defender who tried to hold him. If he wasn’t catching alley-oops, he was throwing them to teammates.

The former Provine star knew he could take over the game at anytime and did when it suited him. He went on a highlight barrage in the ...

July 22, 2016

2017 NBA All-Star Game Moved From North Carolina

By bryanflynn

Since the passing of House Bill 2 in North Carolina, several boycotts and event cancellations have hit the state. The latest blow was a major sporting-event cancellation on Thursday, July 21, as the NBA decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game away from Charlotte, N.C.

According to multiple reports, New Orleans is the frontrunner to take the Charlotte Hornets’ spot. The league said in a statement on Thursday that it hopes to reschedule in Charlotte for the 2019 All-Star Game. Los Angeles is already scheduled to host the event in 2018.

"Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change,” the statement read. “We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others, but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.

"Our weeklong schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community—current and former players, league and team officials, business partners and fans. While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.”

Now that the NBA has moved its event, will other sports follow? The impact of the NBA move could have a domino effect with other sports moving or cancelling events.

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said his organization, which holds its football championship in Charlotte, will revisit the issue in October.

NASCAR will hold a sprint cup race in Charlotte in May 2017, and the PGA Championship is scheduled to take place there in August of next year. The professional golf organization released a statement on the status of its tournament venue earlier today, July 22.

"Since the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte is a private facility not subject to all of the provisions of HB2, at the 2017 PGA Championship, we plan to allow spectators to use the restroom that conforms with their gender identity or gender expression,” the statement read. “As we look to future events, our willingness to consider coming back to the State of North Carolina will be severely impacted unless HB2 is overturned."

The NCAA is now sending out questionnaires to potential host cities to ask how they would protect athletes and fans from discrimination. Cities must identify any local anti-discrimination laws in the questionnaires. The NCAA will then review the information to determine if these locations can remain hosts for events.

The questionnaires might not bode well for Greensboro, N.C., or Charlotte, which are already scheduled ...

July 21, 2016

Media Picks USM to Finish First in C-USA West

By bryanflynn

Media that covers Conference USA has made their preseason football predictions for order of finish in both the East Division and West Division. The predictions will keep expectations high on new University of Southern Mississippi coach Jay Hopson.

The Golden Eagles made one of the best turnarounds in college football, winning the West Division and earning their third appearance in the conference championship game last season. USM finished 9-5 before losing then head coach Todd Monken to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Monken will be offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers this season.

Hopson takes over after a highly successful tenure as head coach at Alcorn State University. He led the Braves to back-to-back SWAC Championships in his last two seasons in Lorman.

The media picked Southern Miss to top the West division for a second straight year, with Louisiana Tech University picked to finish second. Rice University was picked third, followed by the University of Texas at El Paso for fourth. The University of Texas at San Antonio was picked fifth and the University of North Texas was picked to finish last.

In the East Division, the media selected Middle Tennessee State University as the team to beat. Western Kentucky University, last year’s East winner, was picked to finish second, and Marshall University was picked third. Rounding out the rest of the East is Florida Atlantic University at No. 4, Florida International University at No. 5 and University of North Carolina at Charlotte was picked last.

The league coaches selected preseason awards and preseason All-USA team.

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens was named preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Mullens returns for his senior season and will try to improve on last season when he threw for 300 or more yards in 10 games.

The coaches named Mullens to the preseason All-C-USA offense. Joining him is Southern Miss running back Ito Smith. The junior running back led the Golden Eagles in rushing last season and was a big play threat.

Senior center Cameron Tom was also named to the preseason All-C-USA team. He leads an offensive line that improved greatly over the last two seasons.

On defense, the Golden Eagles placed three players on the preseason All-C-USA defensive team. USM had a player named on each level of defense from the line to the secondary.

Those players named to the defensive team were senior defensive Dylan Bradley, senior linebacker D’Nerius Antoine and junior defensive back Picasso Nelson Jr.

C-USA media days are on Monday, July 24, and Tuesday, July 25, in Dallas. USM head coach Hopson will be on hand, along with Mullens and senior linebacker C.J. Perry.

July 20, 2016

53 Former Wrestlers Sue the WWE Over Concussions

By bryanflynn

The NFL is trying to settle a concussion lawsuit against it. A concussion lawsuit against the NHL is currently pending.

Now, 53 former wrestlers are suing the WWE over concussions. It really only seemed to be a matter of time before the biggest wrestling organization in America ended up in court.

Some of the lawsuits’ better known plaintiffs are Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis. Some interesting facts: Snuka was just declared mentally incompetent to stand trial for the murder and manslaughter charges stemming from 1983, Laurinaitis’ brother John still works for the WWE, and Orndorff made an appearance at WrestleMania XXX and on Monday Night Raw in 2014.

James Harris, better known as Kamala, is a Mississippi native and is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Harris had both his legs amputated due to diabetes in 2014.

The lawsuit alleges that the WWE hid the risk of brain trauma from wrestlers and put profits over the welfare of performers’ health. Attorney Konstantine Kyros, whose name sounds like wrestling heel or bad guy, filed the lawsuit.

Kyros has tried to sue the WWE in the past and has already seen two class-action lawsuits against the Stamford, Conn.-based company dismissed. He also has two wrongful death lawsuits pending against the WWE.

One major obstacle to this lawsuit is if the wrestlers can prove the WWE knew the dangers of concussions and hid them from them. As ESPN’s legal expert Lester Munson points out, do the wrestlers and their lawyers have a “smoking gun” to prove that the WWE knowingly withheld concussion information?

Another hurdle for the wrestlers will be that they were, and still are, considered independent contractors. Unlike the NFL and other sports leagues, wrestlers don’t have a union to represent them.

The current lawsuit addresses the fact that the wrestlers are independent contractors and states that independent contractor is the wrong designation.

Even if the wrestlers get the lawsuit in front of a judge or jury, many of them worked for other organizations. In the days before the WWE became a national company, wrestlers worked for organizations that were territory based.

Several of the wrestlers in this lawsuit started out during the territorial days. In those days, the different territories were under gentleman's agreements, and the National Wrestling Alliance was the governing body.

Nearly all of the wrestlers in the lawsuit wrestled for organizations such as World Championship Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Total NonStop Action and others.

In fact, some wrestlers in the lawsuit spent more time with other organizations than they did with the WWE. The fact that the WWE bought both WCW and ECW might play a part in the lawsuit.

Any wrestler who spent time in ECW might have a hard time proving any health problems they had were suffered in the WWE. The former

July 20, 2016

NFL and Teams Are Using Technology to Improve the Game

By bryanflynn

Technology has the power to make nearly everything in our lives better. It also could have the power to make our sports better or at least provide in-game analytics that could change them for the better.

In two recent articles, the Toronto Star reported on ways in which the NFL and teams are using technology to try to improve the game.

In one article, it details how teams are using sound-producing footballs to cut down on fumbles. The ball beeps or whistles when a player is holding it in the correct way.

Players have to hold the ball at five fundamental points of pressure to cause the ball to beep. When done correctly, it beeps at around 80 decibels. This way, players can work on ball security in noncontact and contact drills. A player can have his career cut short if coaches deem that he has a fumble problem. Running backs, in particular, don’t want to get labeled as a player who fumbles.

Division II Northwood University coach Tom Creguer developed the new football, which he dubbed the “High and Tight,” or HnTv1 for short. The ball weighs 1.6 pounds more than the average game ball and costs $150.

Several NFL teams are already using this new ball, including the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, among others. Several college and high-school teams are also using the High and Tight.

NFL teams aren’t the only ones using technology to improve the game, though. The league itself has decided to add custom computer chips to kicking balls, or “K balls,” during the preseason and in regular-season games on Thursday night.

These chipped balls will give the NFL Competition Committee valuable information next offseason to determine if the goal posts should be narrowed to make extra points and field goals more challenging.

Even with moving extra points back to a 33-yard kick, players still made 85 percent of their attempts. The league wants to make extra points count and add some excitement to the play, and narrowing the goal posts could be a solution.

The current distance between posts is 18 feet and 6 inches. In the 2015 Pro Bowl, the league used goal post at 14 feet.

There could be more advantages to chipped footballs, which the NFL could decide to use on every play in the future.

A ball with a chip in it could give officials a more accurate placement when the defense tackles the carrier. In games where officials question whether a player reached a first down or not, chipped balls would provide the right spot.

This technology could also determine if a player has crossed the goal line. This might help if a player is in a scrum, making the ball less visible to the officials.

Two things could hold back the use of chipped balls on every play.

July 18, 2016

What the WWE Must Do with Tuesday’s Draft

By bryanflynn

Professional wrestling hit one of its high points with the Monday Night Wars between WWE, then known as WWF, and WCW. The battle between the two wrestling federations began in the mid-1990s and ended in 2001, when WWE bought WCW.

This was one of the golden eras in pro wrestling and featured some of the biggest names in the sport, such as Hulk Hogan, the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. After WCW folded, the product hasn’t had the same must-see-each-week feel.

During the ratings war between the two companies, WWE started the popular television series “WWE SmackDown.” While one of the wrestling corporation’s other popular offerings, “Monday Night Raw,” premiers live, “SmackDown” has been mostly pre-recorded.

In order to add some new fuel to the WWE’s ratings, “SmackDown” is now shifting to a live format and moving from its traditional Thursday night slot to Tuesday nights on the USA Network. In previous years, “SmackDown” was taped on Tuesday before being shown on Thursday.

This isn’t the first time “SmackDown” has shown live, but it is the program’s first long-term move to the format. While pre-recording shows has been a staple of the wrestling industry for a long time, the Internet has just about put an end to the process.

WWE is going to split their talent between “Raw” and “SmackDown” with a draft. This also isn’t the first time that the company has used a draft to move talent around.

The main problem with the draft is that few big names moved off the flagship show, “Raw.” One to four main-event talents were on “SmackDown,” but they normally showed up on “Raw” anyway.

If the WWE wants to make the now-live “SmackDown” a more successful show, the company will have to do a few things.

First, WWE will need to split the talent as level as possible. “Raw” can’t have all the big names with “SmackDown” getting the crumbs and having to build main-event stars.

Brock Lesnar is a good fit on “Raw” because it is the flagship show, and he has a limited number of appearance dates. John Cena, Randy Orton, AJ Styles or other recognizable names have to move to “SmackDown” to provide star power.

The WWE can and should break up the former members of The Shield. Current champion Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins can bring main-event status on either show. Once Roman Reign’s suspension is over, it might be best to leave him on “Raw.”

Another idea to help “SmackDown” out is to have that show, or as the WWE likes to say, “brand,” draft several NXT wrestlers. NXT is like the WWE minor-league system if you didn’t already know.

NXT performers such as Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura would give “SmackDown” a must-see feel for fans who don’t have the WWE Network, which is currently the only way to watch “WWE NXT.”

Those are three of the biggest names ...

July 14, 2016

SEC Media Makes Predictions for 2016 Season

By bryanflynn

When you’re the defending national champions, everyone expects you to defend your title. Even the conference media.

As SEC Football Media Days came to an end today, the media predicted the University of Alabama to not only win the SEC West but reign as conference champions once again. Last year’s playoff winners were picked by a wide margin to win both the West and conference.

The Crimson Tide received 2,220 total votes to win the West, with 246 first-place votes. The Tide received 223 points to finish as conference champion.

Schools were awarded points on a seven to one scale.

The University of Tennessee is picked to win the SEC East with 2,167 total points and 225 first-place votes, but with 29 points, the Volunteers were picked third to finish as SEC champion. Louisiana State University is picked to finish behind Alabama to win the West with 1,984 total points and 76 first-place votes, and as SEC Champions with 59 points.

Defending SEC East champion University of Florida is picked to finish second in the East with 1,891 total points and 57 first-place votes. The Gators were picked fifth with five points to finish as SEC champions.

The University of Georgia is picked to finish third in the east with 1,860 total points and 45 first-place votes. In a strange twist, the Bulldogs were picked fourth with seven points to be SEC champions.

Rounding out the East is the University of Kentucky for fourth place with 933 total points but no first-place votes; Vanderbilt University for fifth place with 810 total points and two first-place votes; University of Missouri for sixth place with 807 total points and no first-place votes; and South Carolina University in last with 800 total points and two first-place votes.

Behind Alabama and LSU in the West is the University of Mississippi, picked to finish third with 1,479 total points and five first place votes; Texas A&M University, picked to finish fourth with 1,130 total points and three first-place votes; University of Arkansas, picked to finish fifth with 1,047 total points and one first-place vote; Auburn University, picked to finish sixth with 890 total points and no first-place votes; and Mississippi State University, picked to finish last with 510 total votes and no first-place votes.

Finishing out the picks for SEC champions is UM with four points and Texas A&M, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas with one point. Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky and Missouri received no votes to win the SEC championship.

There is a ray of sunshine for fans who don’t like how the media predicted this season. Only five times—Florida in 1994, 1995 and 2008, LSU in 2007, and Alabama in 2014—in the last 24 years has the media correctly picked the SEC champion.

A record 331 media members in attendance took part in the vote. The preseason All-SEC will be released on Friday.

Eastern Division (first place votes in parentheses)

School Points

July 13, 2016

The Slowest Sports Day of the Year

By bryanflynn

Wednesday after the MLB All-Star game is without a doubt the slowest sports day of the year. Nearly every professional and college sports event takes the day off the day after the midsummer classic.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any sports on TV today. But it does mean you will have to watch reruns, catch early games, media days or sports outside the country.

Of course, you can catch SEC Football Media Days on the SEC Network nearly all day long. Various networks such as ESPNU and the Longhorn Network have replays of college football.

If you are looking for live football, look no further than ESPN3 and north of the border. Canadian Football League action features the Ottawa Redbacks against the Toronto Argonauts.

FS1 has UFC Fight Night, McDonald vs. Linker starting at 6 p.m. The UFC just sold for $4 billion this week, and on a slow sports day, you can judge for yourself if it was worth the cost.

Of course if you can always watch ESPN’s coverage of the ESPY Awards.

The network began coverage at 4 p.m. with ESPY's Countdown and continues with ESPY's Roadblock and countdown at 6 p.m., which will lead you up to the start of the show at 7 p.m. on ABC.

WWE Superstar John Cena hosts this year’s ESPY Awards, so things could get interesting.

Will the crowd chant “Let’s Go Cena” and “Cena Sucks” just like at live WWE events? Is there a chance The Rock will show up and give the host a “Rock Bottom,” or if The Rock shows up, will the two trade verbal jabs?

Other WWE superstars might not be in attendance, with both WWE Raw and Smackdown broadcasting on the USA Network, which NBCUniversal owns, but other wrestling stars could show up, as the wrestling organization heads toward the draft on the new live Smackdown next Tuesday.

July 12, 2016

Saints Celebrate 50 Seasons of Football

By bryanflynn

Before the start of this NFL season, the New Orleans Saints are celebrating 50 seasons of football. The team even has a website,, for fans to explore the last 50 years of the franchise.

One of the best parts of the website is the timeline of past seasons. Each year is shown with the team's final record, where it finished in the standings and a link to that year’s roster.

This is great to show younger Saints fans about how bad the team was in those early years. It also gives some interesting facts about each season, including first Pro Bowl player, records and retirements.

In the team’s first season in 1967, the Saints finished with a 3-11 record. It wasn’t until 1979 that the team finished with its first .500 season, going 8-8. Tom Benson bought the team in 1985 for $70.204 million.

New Orleans finally had its first winning season in 1987 when the team went 12-3 under Jim Mora in his second season with the club. The Saints posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time with a winning season in 1988.

Of course, the 2000 season brought the team its first playoff win. Every Saints fan remembers the 2009 season for the Super Bowl win, another first in franchise history.

There is plenty to explore in the timeline, with some great moments in team history to relive or discover for the first time. It is interesting to see the players who were signed or drafted and the coaching changes throughout the years.

The timeline isn’t the only thing to explore on the website.

There is #Saints50 page with social media mentions for the upcoming 50th season. Posts from Facebook, Twitter and more are on a single page for fans to explore.

Fans can build their own Saints Rushmore of greatest players and coaches. They can be uploaded to the site to be shared with other fans.

A big sports debate is who are the best players and coaches for each team, and it is interesting to see other fans take on a topic that has no right answer. Fans can see rushmores from Twitter and Instagram.

Finally fans of all ages can relive the greatest plays in team history. Plays from 1967, when the team played at Tulane Stadium, to plays from the 2015 season are featured.

You can hover over a play and see a gif or play the entire play on the website. Either way, it is a great way to spend a slow day at work or when nothing is worth watching at home.

It is a great way for fans to get ready for the upcoming season. Go check the site out even if you are not a Saints fan but love sports history.

July 11, 2016

Plenty of Questions For Rebels and Bulldogs at Media Days

By bryanflynn

Now that the four-day marathon that is SEC Football Media Days is underway, there are plenty of questions for every team. The media will get its chance at players and head coaches from Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi this week.

MSU players and head coach Dan Mullen will face sports reporters Tuesday, July 12. Mullen will have plenty to talk about while he is at the podium.

One of the biggest questions that he will face is how the university handled the Jeffery Simmons’ case. In case you missed it, Simmons was seen on video striking a woman who was involved in an altercation with his sister.

MSU allowed Simmons to enroll in school, but there were conditions placed on the player. The athletic program gave him a slap on the wrist with a one-game suspension.

Simmons, a five-star recruit from Noxubee County High School, will miss the game against the University of South Alabama. Mullen will have to answer questions on why the school let Simmons enroll and what steps they are taking to ensure that he doesn’t have a repeat of his behavior.

Finding the new replacement for Dak Prescott will also be a major focus.

After Mullen gets grilled about Simmons, attention at some point will turn to finding out who will be the next quarterback for the Bulldogs. Currently, it looks like Nick Fitzgerald is the leader for the top spot, but will that change between now and game one?

Mullen might get asked about new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon and whether he will stay in the position for more than a year. MSU has hired six defensive coordinators in eight years, which is a lot of turnover for a coordinator job.

Other topics could include satellite camps and whether the Bulldogs will find their running game this season. Plenty of questions will be on MSU facing a rebuilding or down year, but expect Mullen to quash those questions.

UM Rebels coach Hugh Freeze doesn’t face the media until Thursday and probably hopes after four days, there will be some fatigue from those firing questions. Freeze is one of the few coaches that will get grilled.

The first topic he will face is the Laremy Tunsil situation. Unless you have been living under a rock, there is no way that you missed the former offensive tackle’s draft night drop.

UM is facing sanctions from the NCAA already over violations of the football program. Now, new allegations of Tunsil taking money from a coach might add to the program’s troubles. Freeze will do his best to answer questions carefully or deflect those questions. The Rebels are considered a program on the rise, but allegations of bending, if not breaking, the rules have dogged Freeze almost since his arrival in Oxford.

The Rebels will also face some law-and-order questions after defensive end Breeland Speaks and offensive guard Rod Taylor ran afoul with the law. ...

July 8, 2016

More Athletes With Ties to Mississippi Are on to Rio

By bryanflynn

As the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials continue, more athletes with ties to our state have made the team. Earlier this week, the Jackson Free Press posted a story on athletes who made the team, as the track and field trials started last week.

Four more athletes either from Mississippi or with ties to our state have punched their ticket to Rio. So far, field events have been where the majority of athletes have made the team.

It seems fitting that that men’s pole vaulter Sam Kendricks punched his ticket to the Olympics on the Fourth of July. The current Army reservist, who was once a star at Oxford High School, won the event with a height of 5.91 meters, or 19 feet and 4 1/2 inches.

The second lieutenant starred at the University of Mississippi, where he was a two-time NCAA champion before becoming a professional. Cale Simmons who cleared a height of 5.65 meters, or 18 feet and 6 1/4 inches, for second and Logan Cunningham 5.60 meters, or 18 feet and 4 1/4 inches, for third will join him on the team.

Kendricks broke a meet record that Tim Mack set in 2004. Mack was on hand to root on Kendricks to break his mark.

Four years ago, Kendricks came to the trials to jump before he was scratched for jumpers who were ranked higher than him. Now, the 23-year-old is heading to the Olympics after disappointment four years ago.

In the men’s long jump, former Hinds Community College star Jeffery Henderson won the event, earning his place on the team. Henderson started at Hinds before going on to standout at Stillman College.

His jump of 8.59 meters, or 28 feet and two inches, was barely enough to take first place. Henderson will be joined in Rio with Jarrion Lawson, who jumped 8.58 meters, or 28 feet and 1 3/4 inches, for second and Marquis Dendy 8.42 meters, or 27 feet, 7 1/4 inches for third.

The Rebels will be well represented in Rio, as volunteer assistant Gwen Berry took second place in the women’s hammer throw. She just missed out on first place with a throw of 73.09 meters, or 239 feet and 9 1/2 inches.

Amber Campbell took first place in the hammer throw with a toss of 74.03 meters, or 242 feet and 10 1/2 inches, and Deanna Price took third with a throw of 73.09 meters, or 239 feet and 9 1/2 inches. None of the men threw far enough to meet the Olympic standard and must wait to see if they get an invite from the International Association of Athletics Federation, who may invite up to three athletes.

A perfect summer continues for Rebels star Raven Saunders. She already became a NCAA champion earlier this summer as a sophomore.

The 20-year-old is now heading to Rio after finishing second in the women’s shot put. Saunders made a throw of 19.24 ...

July 8, 2016

College Football Media Days Begin Next Week

By bryanflynn

One way to tell that college football is just around the corner is the start of college-football media days. Nearly every conference holds media days where coaches and players answer questions about the upcoming season.

The biggest media days might be the weeklong event that the Southeastern Conference holds at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. A massive amount of credentials will be given out as arguably the best football conference holds media days.

SEC media days kickoff Monday, July 11, with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey giving the State of the Conference address and fielding questions. Monday will also see Auburn University, Vanderbilt University and University of Florida coaches and players.

Tuesday begins with Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of football officials, as well as coaches and players from the University of Georgia, University of Tennessee and Texas A&M University. The second day will also see Mississippi State University head coach Dan Mullen, linebacker Richie Brown, wide receiver Fred Ross and defensive end A.J. Jefferson.

Day three features coaches and players from the University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky and University of Missouri. Wednesday will see the defending national champion, University of Alabama, take the podium.

SEC media days end on Thursday, July 14, as coaches and players from Louisiana State University and the University of South Carolina speak to the throng of sports reporters. The final day will also feature University of Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze, quarterback Chad Kelly, tight end Evan Engram and defensive tackle D.J. Jones.

The SEC Network will televise all four days of the event Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., from Wednesday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from Thursday 9 a.m. to noon.

While the SEC stretches out their event through four days, the SWAC will hold a one-day event. The day after the SEC clears out of Alabama, the SWAC will meet at the Marriott in Birmingham.

In addition to players and coaches, SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at NRG Park Nina Jackson, Coordinator of Football Officials Harold Mitchell, Executive Director of Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl John Grant and other guests will be in attendance and available to the media.

New Jackson State University head coach Tony Hughes will be on hand with quarterback LaMontiez Ivy and defensive end Javancy Jones. Alcorn State University will bring new head coach Fred McNair along with quarterback Lenorris Footman and linebacker Michael Hurns.

Mississippi Valley State University returns coach Rick Comegy, who will be in attendance with wide receiver Booker Chambers and offensive lineman Alvin Soloman. Coaches. Players from the other SWAC teams will be in attendance, as well.

SWAC media day begins at 10 a.m. and will be streamed on the SWAC Digital Network. The conference’s official website,, will carry video and audio of the media day.

July 6, 2016

East Mississippi Community College Subject of New Netflix Doc

By bryanflynn

A good few great college football and NFL players have made a stop in Mississippi over the years to play in our junior and community-college system. Throughout the years, several of those teams have won national championships.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College was the first to win a national title way back in 1971. Since that first championship, 11 national champions have come out of our state’s junior and community colleges.

Four of the last five National Junior College Athletic Association national football champions have been Mississippi schools. East Mississippi Community College has won three of the last five national titles alone. EMCC has not only won three of the last five national championships, but it has also been a feeder to the SEC.

Both University of Mississippi quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly spent time at the little community college in Scooba, Miss., as well as University of Alabama defensive linemen Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway and Quinton Dial.

With all the success of ESPN’s sports documentaries, it should come as no surprise that other media would want to cash in on sports subjects. Inspired by a GQ article with the same name, the film, “Last Chance U,” looks at the 2015 EMCC team—a team that is good enough to win a third straight national championship, though it didn’t in 2015.

Northwest Mississippi Community College did. A brawl that took place between East Mississippi and Mississippi Delta Community College ended up getting the Lions disqualified for the playoffs.

East Mississippi was up 48-0 on Mississippi Delta with 59 seconds before halftime when the brawl broke out. Earlier in the season, head coach Buddy Stephens was suspended for two games after getting into an on-the-field altercation with a game administrator in a 48-24 win over Itawamba Community College.

One of the players featured in the film is D.J. Law, who famously, or infamously, signed with both the University of Mississippi and the University of Utah on the same day. He is now at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Another player featured is John Franklin III, who started out at Florida State University before heading to East Mississippi. Franklin is now the favorite to be the starting quarterback at Auburn University this season.

Greg Whiteley, whose other works include “Mitt” and “Resolved,” is the director and producer of this film. The documentary will only be available on Netflix, and all six parts can be streamed on July 29.

July 6, 2016

Reese, Bowie Heading to Rio as Thompson, Engels Fall Short

By bryanflynn

Defending women’s long jump gold medalist Brittney Reese looks ready for Rio. The Gulfport High School star broke records as she made the U.S. track and field team.

Reese jumped 7.31 meters, or 23 feet, and 11 3/4 inches, which is just nine inches short of breaking the world record. She did tie the longest jump at Hayward Field, where the track trials are being held.

The former University of Mississippi standout also broke the Olympic trials record of 23 feet and 8 1/4 inches. She made the longest jump in the world since 2004 and the longest jump for an American since 1998.

Reese was still short of the world record of 24 feet and 8 1/4 inches and the American record of 24 feet and 6 3/4 inches , which the great Jackie Joyner-Kersee holds. Tianna Bartoletta, 2015 world champion, finished second in the event, and Shakeela Saunders finished in third. Those three should be a strong group for the American team in Rio.

So far, Reese isn’t the only Mississippian to make the Olympic team in track and field. Tori Bowie, former Pisgah High School star and Sandhill, Miss., native, punched her ticket to Rio in the 100 meters.

English Gardner won the women’s 100 meters with a time of 10.74 seconds. Bartoletta was second in the event.

With a time of 10.78, Bowie finished third, as she lost her first race in the 100 meters all year. A long jumper until 2014, the former University of Southern Mississippi star is one of the favorites to win gold in Rio in the 100 meters.

Next up for Bowie is to try and make the U.S. team in the 200 meters. She has run the fastest time in the 200 meters for an American this year with a time of 21.99 seconds.

While Reese and Bowie are heading to Rio, two other athletes with ties to Mississippi just missed out on making the team.

NCAA champion in the javelin Curtis Thompson set a new personal best of 271 feet and 11 inches. That left him five inches short of a qualifying mark for Rio of 272 feet and four inches. Thompson finished second in the event.

Cyrus Hostetler won the men’s javelin with a throw of 273 feet and one inch. The other two members joining Hostetler are Sam Crouser, who finished fourth with a throw of 256 feet and one inch, and Sean Furey, who finished 11th with a throw of 227 feet and 10 inches. Only Hostetler, Crouser and Furey had the qualifying mark to reach Rio heading into the event.

University of Mississippi star Craig Engels finished fourth in the men’s 800 meters, just missing third place and a spot on the Olympic team. Engles posted a time of 1:46.03, completing an impressive showing at the trials.

Clayton Murphy finished first with a time of 1:44.76, with Boris Berian in second with a time ...

July 6, 2016

Saints Email Fail, Rebel in Supplemental Draft

By bryanflynn

Sending an email or text to an unintended recipient is something that has either happened to you or something that you fear. An email fail from the New Orleans Saints cost them a chance to add a player late last week.

When the Cleveland Browns cut quarterback Connor Shaw, his rights went on the waiver wire. The Saints put in a claim on Shaw, but instead of sending their intentions to just the league office, New Orleans emailed the other 31 clubs.

That email let the Chicago Bears know the Saints plan and claim Shaw instead. Chicago was awarded the rights to the quarterback due to having a worse 2015-2016 season than the Saints.

Shaw became expendable in Cleveland after the team signed Robert Griffin III and drafted rookie quarterback Cody Kessler and veteran Josh McCown to their roster.’s Adam Caplan was the first to report on the Saints email blunder.

Chicago might have had plans on claiming Shaw regardless before knowing the Saints intentions, or they could have played some gamesmanship on New Orleans. In addition to Shaw, the Bears now have starter Jay Cutler and backups Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Dalyn Williams.

New Orleans has stated that it would like to add another quarterback for training camp to go with starter Drew Brees, backup Josh McCown, brother to Luke McCown, and second year quarterback Garrett Grayson. The Saints will have to continue their search before camp opens later this month.

Former University of Mississippi cornerback Tee Shepard is one of six players eligible for this year’s NFL Supplemental Draft. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the annual summer draft will be held July 14 at 1 p.m..

Shepard is a former four-star recruit from Fresno, Calif., who originally signed with the University of Notre Dame in 2012 out of high school. He enrolled early, but a reported academic issue forced him to leave the school.

His next stop was Holmes Community College in 2012 and 2013, and he committed to Mississippi State University before flipping to the Rebels. Shepard missed the 2014 season due to a toe injury.

Shepard, who is deaf, appeared in the first five games of the 2015 season before announcing he was quitting football. He later alleged that the coaching staff cut his playing time due to the fact he was deaf.

Then came the announcement that he would transfer to Miami University in Ohio if he could graduate by May. Shepard’s graduation is now moot since he applied for and has been accepted into the supplemental draft.

Joining the former Rebel cornerback in the draft is long snapper Eddie D’Antuono out of Virginia Tech, defensive tackle Ra’Zahn Howard out of Purdue University, running back Jalen Overstreet out of Sam Houston State University, defensive end Cameron Walton out of Concordia College and wide receiver Rashaun Simonise out of the University of Calgary in Canada.

The format for the supplemental draft is ...

July 6, 2016

Newman to Kansas, JSU Tennis Placed on Probation

By bryanflynn

After a less-than-stellar freshman season at Mississippi State University, guard Malik Newman decided to test the NBA waters. Newman chose to return to school once it was certain that he wouldn’t get drafted late in the first round or early in the second.

Signs showed that Newman might not have heard his named called on draft night in either round.

As one of the top recruits in the nation and the top recruit in Mississippi, it was expected that the star guard would spend one season in college. Instead, he averaged just 11.3 points per game and only shot 39 percent from the field.

After withdrawing from the draft, Newman has ultimately decided to leave MSU. Newman informed ESPN that he will be transferring to the University of Kansas.

The Jayhawks, along with Kentucky, were one of several schools vying for Newman’s college commitment. The six-foot, three-inch playmaker decided on Kansas after trips to North Carolina State University, Western Kentucky University and the University of Oregon.

Currently, the starting Jayhawks guards are senior Frank Mason and junior Devonte’ Graham. Newman will have to sit out next season under the NCAA transfer rules.

In Mississippi tennis news, Jackson State University won the 2016 SWAC Men’s Championship, but the actions of a former coach have put the program in hot water with the NCAA. The Division I Committee on Infractions placed the program on one-year probation from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017.

The violations occurred when former coach Scott Pennington used an ineligible student athlete under the name of a student who was eligible to play. The NCAA cited that the former coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and knew the student wasn’t eligible to practice or take place in competitions.

Still, Pennington allowed the player to practice and reimbursed the student for travel-related expenses on at least two occasions. The NCAA determined that the student received impermissible recruiting benefits.

The NCAA’s other penalties and corrective measures include a public reprimand and censure of the university, a two-year show-cause penalty for Pennington from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2018, a $5,000 fine, and the forfeiture of any wins that the ineligible student athlete participated in.

Pennington committed these violations in 2015 before Lois Alexis replaced him. In her first season as the men’s and women’s coach, Alexis earned the honor of the SWAC Men’s Tennis Coach of the Year after leading the JSU men to a title.

*CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, Mississippi State was incorrectly named the University of Mississippi State. Also, Malik Newman committed to MSU after Rick Ray was fired, not before.