Big Ten

Lawsuit against NCAA, Northwestern takes aim at transfer rules, alleges mistreatment by NU staff

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Lawsuit against NCAA, Northwestern takes aim at transfer rules, alleges mistreatment by NU staff

A former Northwestern basketball player has filed a lawsuit declaring the NCAA's transfer rules an antitrust violation, saying that rules forcing transferring players to sit out a year before joining a new team at a new school to be non-competitive.

But on top of all that, the ex-Wildcat, Johnnie Vassar, makes numerous allegations of mistreatment by Northwestern staff in an attempt to "run him off" the team and free up a scholarship to use on another player.

Vassar signed on with Northwestern in spring of 2014, though his transfer was announced less than a year later. He played sparingly during the 2014-15 season, Chris Collins' second as head coach, appearing in only 18 games.

In the lawsuit, Vassar claims that Northwestern engaged in "deceitful behavior" with the intention of getting him to leave the program and give up his scholarship. This includes placing him in an internship during which he worked as a janitor, pressuring him to give up his spot on the team by signing a "Roster Deletion" form, falsifying timecards to show misconduct in an effort to take his scholarship away and even suggesting an offer of cash to leave the program.

Now, while the lawsuit is tying these two issues together — saying Vassar would have left Northwestern had the NCAA's transfer rules been different, with numerous Division-I programs willing to add him if he could play without sitting out a season — these do seem like two separate issues to the outside observer.

The fight to reform the NCAA and many of its unnecessarily restrictive rules is one thing, while allegations of ugly behavior by a specific coaching staff is another.

A few years ago, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter made the Wildcats' football program the center of the universe in the former battle, attempting to form a union of Northwestern football players that would be able to collectively bargain with the university and the NCAA. And while the National Labor Relations Board did seem to make an earth-shaking judgment in deeming Northwestern's football players employees of the university with a right to form a union, when the time came for the next step in the process, the board refused jurisdiction, effectively putting an end to any change in the status quo.

But allegations of mistreatment including the attempted removal of a scholarship sounds all too familiar to what happened down the road in Champaign, where Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman was found to have mistreated his players — mostly through making them play injured and influencing the reporting of injuries by the medical staff — and was fired a week before the start of the 2015 season.

Vassar's allegations against Northwestern do not include jeopardizing his health, one of if not the main point in Beckman's situation at Illinois.

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

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NBC Sports Chicago

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

After trying to add a Division I men's ice hockey program at the University of Illinois for nearly three years, the school was finally close. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Chicago Tribune reported Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman told media on Monday that the university was forced to "hit the pause button" on the hopes and dreams of alums, sports fans and young hockey players with midwest ties. 

“Clearly with everything that’s changed here in the last six weeks, it makes sense for us to hit the — at least the short-term — pause button on that project while we wait and let things unfold in the weeks and months ahead,” Whitman said.

According to Whitman, U of I was about a month away from forming the program before the pandemic changed things.

The state of Illinois produces the fourth-most college hockey players but has no Division I hockey team yet. 

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Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.