Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

694382.jpg

Saints coach, GM take blame for the bounty scandal

From Comcast SportsNet
Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that "happened under our watch." "These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Payton and Loomis added. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday. Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool. "We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," they said. The league's investigation, released last Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced. The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not. The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it. Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league's ongoing investigation. Once it concludes -- the league says there is no timetable -- Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 5 years as commissioner. Goodell has frequently taken a hard line on any action that threatens player safety. He suspended Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent last season; banned Pittsburgh's James Harrison for one game after a series of flagrant hits that culminated in a collision with Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy's helmet; and has ramped up the amount of fines for what the league terms "egregious hits." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said before handing out any penalties, Goodell will review the information with his staff and consult with others, including the union and player leaders. The players' union has not seen a full report of the investigation, so it can't be certain if Goodell will levy punishment under the on-field discipline or the personal conduct policy. There's a major distinction, because players can appeal on-field punishment to independent arbitrators Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Appeals under the personal conduct policy are heard by Goodell and other league officials. "The commissioner has broad authority to impose discipline for violation of league rules. We're not going to put it in a category right now," Aiello said. The NFL hasn't cited specific players, but fines and suspensions are probable for those found to have participated in the bounty program. "We take this issue seriously and we continue to look into it," union spokesman George Atallah said. Goodell fined the New England Patriots 250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, 500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick. That violation pales in comparison to a bounty of up to 50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The Saints can expect heavier sanctions than those given the Patriots, with suspensions likely for Loomis and Payton and a seven-figure fine for the organization. "I don't think there can be a limited focus -- if the league only is looking to penalize players and coaches," said George Martin, executive director of NFL Alumni and a former player, adding: "It is kind of shocking it still goes on in this time and age. "The organization has to take responsibility for it because it took place under their jurisdiction," he said. "The league needs to do whatever it takes in the way of discipline to make sure this is stemmed." John Lynch, an outstanding safety for 16 seasons, once was fined 75,000 for a hit on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark. Lynch was one of the hardest and surest tacklers in the NFL. He is just as sure that Goodell will hand out hefty punishments. "I would expect this to be pretty severe and harsh because of the direction the commissioner has taken in making player safety if not his top initiative, then one of them," Lynch said. "If this is true, as blatant as this is, and to have a coach out there saying, You knock this guy out of the game. Get him taken off on a cart. Here is the monetary reward,' you need a severe and harsh punishment." That coach has been identified by the league as Williams, who could face a year's suspension and a six-figure fine. Maybe more. The Rams would not say Tuesday what duties Williams currently is performing. "Coach Williams has shown contrition for his actions and continues to cooperate with the NFL in this investigation," Rams GM Kevin Demoff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Out of respect for the NFL's ongoing process, we will refrain from commenting until the league has come to a final decision on all aspects of this matter." Williams could turn to the NFL Coaches Association for help. Its executive director, David Cornwell, was concerned about individual coaches being singled out. "As this matter unfolds," Cornwell said, "I will work with our executive committee to protect the interests of individual coaches without compromising the NFLCA's fundamental belief that fair play and sportsmanship begins with the men who teach the game."

Five B1G-gest things: Indiana wins first game without Anunoby, Michigan 'white collar' no more

Five B1G-gest things: Indiana wins first game without Anunoby, Michigan 'white collar' no more

In case you were too busy marching on Washington this weekend to pay attention to Big Ten hoops, here are the five B1G-gest things you missed.

1. Anunoby done for year, but Indiana on mini surge

Last week, Indiana star OG Anunoby came down awkwardly in the final seconds of the first half against Penn State. Originally announced as out indefinitely, the injury to his knee will cost Anunoby the remainder of the season. That's a massive blow to the Hoosiers, who lose not only one of their best players but one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten. It remains to be seen how Anunoby's absence will affect Indiana's attempt to crawl back into the Big Ten race, but so far the results have gone in Tom Crean's crew's favor. James Blackmon Jr. has played hero in each of the last two games, first giving the Hoosiers a win with a buzzer-beating 3 in that Penn State game, then dropping 33 points in Saturday's win over Michigan State. Blackmon hit six 3-pointers and also grabbed four rebounds in the big win over the Spartans, the Hoosiers' third straight. Indiana, which started off conference play in ugly fashion, right back in the thick of things after those three straight wins, 4-3 in the conference. Only four teams have better league records. Certainly the Hoosiers have the capability to bounce back from a slow start and compete for a Big Ten title. This could be the start of that.

2. Northwestern keeps flying high

You have to go all the way back to 1968 to find the last time Northwestern started conference play with a 5-2 record. Well, nearly 50 years later, the Cats are there again, looking like one of the league's best teams following their fourth straight win, a road takedown of Ohio State on Sunday. It was Northwestern's first win in Columbus since 1977, and it snapped a 12-game winning streak in the series for the Buckeyes. Things continue to look good when it comes to the Cats making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. They're tied for third place in a more mediocre Big Ten than usual, which helps. Finish in the top five and you should get in. But they're actually playing well enough to deserve it, too. Yes the shooting was a little atrocious after halftime on Sunday, but Northwestern found a way to win, capitalizing on the opportunities Ohio State presented. The Buckeyes turned the ball over 13 times, and the Cats turned those giveaways into 17 points. The Cats were 14-for-16 from the free-throw line, including 11-for-12 in the final minute of the game. Scottie Lindsey continued to pour in the points, scoring 19. He's scored in double figures every game this season. Quite simply this is the best 20-game start Northwestern has ever had. There should be another first coming in March.

3. Nebrasketball falls to Earth

Nebraska's hot start to conference play — the program's best since the 1970s — was one of the more feel-good stories of the early portion of the Big Ten season. Well, consider those good feelings over. The Huskers have lost four straight since a 3-0 start, including a pair of losses this past week on last-second buzzer-beaters. First it was Ohio State getting an inbounds layup to beat the clock and beat Nebraska. Saturday in New Jersey, Rutgers got its first Big Ten win of the season on a Corey Sanders putback off an offensive rebound with one second left on the clock. Those losses are heartbreakers for the Huskers and games they could've won, for sure, but in the big picture, they're struggling. On Jan. 5, Nebraska was 3-0 with road wins at Indiana and Maryland and a double-overtime victory over Iowa. Since, it's been losses to Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers. The Huskers lost starting big man Ed Morrow to injury, and his absence has shown, getting beat on the boards against Ohio State and Rutgers.

4. Michigan 'white collar' no more

After Illinois blew out Michigan on Jan. 11 in Champaign, Illini forward Maverick Morgan described the Wolverines as "white collar," a descriptor of their effort, one assumes. Well, Michigan didn't like that, and the comment has lit a fire. The defensive numbers show maybe Morgan was onto something. Michigan was and remains the worst defensive team in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 46.8 percent overall and 51.4 percent during Big Ten play. But without a doubt the Wolverines responded this weekend in a rematch with Illinois. Michigan held the visiting Illini to 45.8-percent shooting from the field, allowed them to make just two 3-pointers and forced a whopping 17 turnovers, which they turned into 22 points at the other end. Michigan responded. D.J. Wilson — who had a monster day with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a block — said after the game that Michigan wasn't the white-collar team in this matchup. And he was right. As the Illini's season continues to spiral out of control, the Wolverines have bounced back after that "white-collar" game sent them to 1-3 in the Big Ten. Since have come wins over Nebraska and Illinois and a narrow defeat at Wisconsin. Two games each against Indiana and Michigan State come over the next five on the schedule, but if Michigan steps up like it has since getting insulted, the Wolverines could be right back into things in a mediocre Big Ten.

5. Wisconsin gets clutch to stay atop the standings

There's something in the water in Madison that's giving these Badgers some clutch super powers. Tested twice last week against Michigan and Minnesota, Wisconsin dug out some big wins, getting huge performances down the stretch from its stars. Against Michigan, Bronson Koenig had a personal 10-0 run to surge Wisconsin into the lead with under four minutes to play. He scored on four straight trips down the floor, and the Badgers pulled out a midweek win. Saturday up at The Barn, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes combined for 49 points in Wisconsin's overtime win against Minnesota. Happ's stat line was ridiculous: 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. And the majority of that damage came in the second half, when the Badgers outscored the Gophers by a bucket to force overtime. Happ had 22 points, nine rebounds and two blocks after halftime. Koenig had zero points in the second half but found his clutch in overtime, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, including a go-ahead one with 44 seconds left that proved the game-winning basket. This veteran-laden Wisconsin team is still the Big Ten's best because of those three guys. Koenig and Hayes are veterans of those Final Four runs, and Koenig especially has a knack for big-time shots at big-time moments. Expect those to keep coming.

Bulls: NBA says DeMarcus Cousins didn't foul Dwyane Wade in closing seconds

Bulls: NBA says DeMarcus Cousins didn't foul Dwyane Wade in closing seconds

Dwyane Wade isn't a fan of the NBA's Last Two Minute reports. It's safe to say yesterday's findings won't change his stance on the matter.

The NBA announced on Sunday that DeMarcus Cousins was incorrectly called for a foul on Wade in the closing seconds of the Bulls' 102-99 victory over the Kings.

With the game tied at 99 and 16 seconds remaining, Wade lost control of the ball while going up for a dunk and missed the attempt. Cousins was trailing on the play and appeared to place his hand on Wade's back after Wade had already lost the ball.

Cousins was called for a foul and Wade made one of two free throws, which wound up being the eventual game-winning basket.

Per the NBA, Cousins shouldn't have been called for the foul, stating "Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade's (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt."

For what it's worth, the L2M report also stated that Cousins got away with a travel in the final minute, right before his jumper in the paint put Sacramento up 99-97.

After the game a sarcastic Cousins did his best to control his emotions when asked about the foul call against him on Wade.