Belmont University Announces Rick Byrd Character Formation & Leadership Program

Pictured (L-R): Cheryl Byrd, Rick Byrd, Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones and Dr. Greg Jones. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont University

Belmont University is honoring retired basketball coach Rick Byrd with the establishment of the Rick Byrd Character Formation and Leadership Program.

The new initiative will create curriculum around Byrd’s leadership, coaching, and character formation philosophies which can be embedded in both academic courses and co-curricular programming across the University. The Rick Byrd Character Award will annually recognize an individual in the community who exemplifies the leadership and character of Byrd.

“Rick Byrd embodies the kind of character we hope our students will emulate,” says Belmont President Dr. Greg Jones. “A consummate professional who achieved unparalleled success in his field, Coach Byrd’s impact extends far beyond athletics. His integrity, grace and humility—along with his dedicated and disciplined leadership approach—will provide a tremendous model for our students to explore as we develop programming that will guide them in their own character formation. His example also is exemplary for leaders in our community as well as more broadly in the world.”

Byrd, who was recently inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, tallied 805 wins in his over 33-year career at Belmont before his retirement in 2019. He led the Bruins from NAIA to NCAA Division I, growing the program to one of the most successful in the country. In his final season, he led Belmont to its first ever NCAA Tournament at-large bid and the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win over Temple.

Along with the success Byrd brought on the court, he established a standard quo of academic excellence. Since 2001, Belmont men’s basketball leads the nation in Academic All-America selections with 18 and is the only program to rank among the nation’s best every year since the inception of the Academic Progress Rate (APR).

“Rick has previously noted how much he was influenced by his own father, a sports columnist, as well as the personal character and Christian commitment of another legendary coach, John Wooden,” shares Milton Johnson, retired Chairman/CEO of HCA Healthcare and current chair of Belmont’s Board of Trustees. “It’s exciting to me to imagine the future men and women who will note Rick Byrd as their influence in leading a life of integrity, kindness and excellence. Through these new initiatives, Belmont ensures Rick’s legacy and impact will endure as individuals across the university and in the community are inspired by his example.”

Vice President for Transformative Innovation, Character and Purpose Dr. Amy Crook; Associate Professor and Chair of Sport Administration Dr. Ted Peetz; and Assistant Professor of Management Dr. Paula Roberts will work with Byrd to develop the Character Formation and Leadership curriculum. Plans for the program’s implementation and for the inaugural Rick Byrd Character Award will be announced at a future date.

NCAA Updates COVID-19 Guidance For Winter Sports

After multiple event cancellations over the past month, the NCAA has updated its guidance for winter sports competing during the current COVID-19 surge due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

For the winter guidelines, the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group has developed a definition of “fully vaccinated” that considers both vaccination status and other immunity factors that may impact risks for Tier 1 individuals, including student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff and officials.

“The omicron variant has presented another surge of cases across the country,” says NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline. “This guidance was designed to align with the latest public health directives. Given how the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s important that staff on member campuses continue to work with their local and state health officials on protocols most suitable for their locations.”

Those considered fully vaccinated include people:

  • Within two months of having completed the primary series of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (one dose).
  • Within five months of having completed the primary series of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine, or within six months of having completed the primary series of the mRNA Moderna vaccine (two doses for both).
  • Who have received a booster vaccine if they are beyond two months of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or beyond five or six months of the mRNA Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, respectively.

A person who has had a documented COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days is considered the equivalent of “fully vaccinated.”

The updated guidance also extends to close contacts. Those who are not fully vaccinated should quarantine at home for five days with no participation in athletic activities, followed by masking for five additional days. Participation in athletic activities without a mask can be considered during days six through ten, following a negative PCR/NAAT test or antigen test.

The NCAA guidance was developed in consultation with the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Working Group, and Autonomy 5 Medical Advisory Group. They also take into consideration available recommendations from the CDC.

Jacobi Wood And Tuti Jones Lead Belmont Over Lipscomb In Battle Of The Boulevard Double Header

Pictured: Belmont’s No. 24 Jacobi Wood. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

The Belmont Bruins took both wins from the Lipscomb Bisons in the annual Battle of the Boulevard. The women’s teams played a gritty game with Belmont coming up victorious 67-62 while Belmont’s men’s team blew out Lipscomb 94-65.

Sophomore Tuti Jones led the Bruins to the first of the night after scoring a career-high 29 points, 16 of which came in the first half. She was 10-for-13 and carried Belmont when they were down 29-23 at halftime.

Jones also had six steals which was a massive factor in the Bruins win. Lipscomb turned the ball over 20 times and Belmont was able to score 16 points off those turnovers.

Former Bruin and current Lipscomb graduate transfer Maddie Cook led the team in points, scoring 20 off the bench in her return to the Curb Event Center. Cooke’s performance kept the Bisons in contention throughout the final quarter.

With the comeback win, the Bruins currently have a 49-26 lead in the all-time series and 27-11 lead over Lipscomb in the Division I era.

Pictured: Belmont’ No. 0 Tuti Jones. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

The highly anticipated men’s game was not as close as the women’s game as the Bruins took an early lead and never faltered.

Belmont’s 3-point offense was as powerful as ever as the team shot 41.5 percent from behind the arc. Sophomore Jacobi Wood played his best game of the season so far, scoring 17 points with five 3-pointers.

Eight minutes into the first half, the Bruins already secured a massive 22-9 lead over the Bisons who were without their best player Ahsan Asadullah. Asadullah averages 17 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. The Bisons struggled immensely on both sides of the court without their star-center.

The Bruins were able to capitalize on the Bisons poor shooting, having 36 rebounds. Lipscomb only shot for 26 percent from the 3-point line and was only 1-10 from the arc at halftime.

Along with Wood, senior Nick Muszynski and junior Ben Sheppard had big games. Sheppard scored 16, shooting 4-8 from the 3-point line. Muszynski scored 15 points and played a major role on defense having eight rebounds and three blocks.

Belmont has won 17 of the last 19 meetings in this legendary rivalry and has cut Lipscomb’s all time series lead to 75-74 with Belmont having a chance to tie it next season.

Titans’ Kevin Byard Placed On Reserve/Covid-19 List

Titans Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard is the latest player to be sidelined with injury or illness as he’s been placed on the reserve/Covid List.

Byard has been one of the team’s keys to success this season, leading the defense with 64 tackles and five interceptions. He is tied for third in the league.

The Titans injuries and deactivated players continue to pile up after Derrick Henry was placed on the injured reserve after needing foot surgery. Tennessee is also without star wide receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones. Brown suffered a chest injury during the Nov. 21 game against the Texans, meaning he will miss a few games. Jones has been out since Week 9 with a hamstring injury.

Tennessee has lost two straight games against the Texans and the New England Patriots after winning six straight. They now head into their bye week, but will face the last place Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 12.

NCAA To Expand 2022 Women’s Basketball Tournament To 68 Teams

The NCAA Division I Council has approved the expansion of the Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket from 64 to 68 teams, effective with the 2022 championship.

Both the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and the Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee supported the expansion, which brings participation opportunities for the women’s tournament in line with the men’s event.

“This immediate expansion of the women’s basketball championship reinforces the fact that leaders within Division I are committed to strengthening aspects of the women’s basketball championship that directly impact student-athletes,” says Council chair Shane Lyons, athletics director at West Virginia. “We look forward to the positive change this will have for the student experience at the championship, especially as it relates to equal team opportunities to compete in the tournament.”

The decision follows a recommendation from a comprehensive external gender equity review of NCAA championships conducted by Kaplan Hecker & Fink. The first phase of the review examined historical inequities in college basketball and was spurred by issues that arose during the 2021 Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships.

“This was another important step in providing additional championship participation opportunities for women’s basketball student-athletes,” says Nina King, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and director of athletics at Duke. “The committee was in support of implementing this as soon as possible and we’re pleased that the expanded championship field will be in play immediately for the upcoming championship and beyond.”

For only the 2022 championship, the four opening round games will be conducted on the campuses of teams seeded in the top 16. Sites will be selected based on bracketing principles and procedures. Beginning with the 2023 championship, the first four games will be conducted at a to-be-determined neutral site.

“The expanded bracket and championship opportunities for Division I women’s basketball student-athletes are paramount,” says Lisa Campos, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and director of athletics at UTSA. “While the 2022 championship will be conducted at top-16 seed campus sites, this is a transition year for the tournament, and strong consideration will be given for other improvement areas, including opening-round games taking place at a predetermined site, in order to improve the championship experience in 2023 and beyond.”

The Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, which now consists of 12 members versus 10, also approved an updated Selection Principles and Procedures document for 2021-22.

The document references committee voting procedures to reflect the increase in members and the move to 36 at-large teams to accompany the 32 automatic qualifying teams that will make up the 2022 championship bracket, as well as updated bracketing principles language.

Belmont Names Local Newscaster Steve Layman As Lead Basketball Broadcaster

Belmont University welcomes NewsChannel 5’s Steve Layman who will serve as the lead broadcaster for the university’s men’s basketball team. The hiring comes just four days after John Freeman announced he was leaving the Bruins broadcast.

“Steve Layman is a respected, award-winning broadcaster who will elevate our men’s basketball broadcasts and program visibility,” says Belmont Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Corley. “In his role as sports anchor at NewsChannel 5, Steve has earned a reputation as a versatile communicator and gifted storyteller. His play-by-play background and experience for the past decade covering Belmont men’s basketball will be tremendous assets.”

Layman will continue in his role as sports anchor at NewsChannel 5, the CBS affiliate in Nashville, who he’s been with since 2011. Laymen, a graduate of the University of Illinois, previously served as a play-by-play announcer for his alma mater athletics department on the Illini Sports Network and radio co-host of Sports Talk on WDWS-AM in Champaign, Illinois. He covered Illinois men’s basketball during its historic 2005 National Runner-Up season.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to call Belmont basketball games this winter,” says Layman. “There’s nothing like the thrill of calling a live sports event and college basketball is one of my first loves. To have the chance to live out those passions at a first-class university like Belmont is truly a blessing.

“I’ve watched with great admiration from just a few seats down press row over the last 11 seasons as Rick Byrd and now Casey Alexander have built one of the most successful programs in the country on the court with some of the brightest and most engaging student-athletes I’ve ever been around off the court,” he continues. “I’m humbled to have the chance to now be a part of this great program and can’t wait to get started.”

Layman hosts Sportsline on NewsChannel 5+ and has been a regular guest host on Nashville sports talk radio. He has been honored for best sportscast by the Associated Press and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. He also received three OAB Awards for best sports special for his role as host and producer.

Layman will call his first Belmont game when the Bruins play Evansville on Saturday, Nov. 13. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+, the ESPN app and the Bruin Sports Network.

College Corner: Music City Bowl, UT’s Brad Roll, MTSU Basketball Mask Requirements

Tickets For The TransPerfect Music City Bowl On Sale Now

Tickets for the 2021 TransPerfect Music City Bowl are on sale now. The postseason game will be hosted at Nissan Stadium between a team from the Southeastern Conference and the Big 10 on Dec. 30.

This is the first Music City Bowl since 2019 after last year’s game between Iowa and Missouri was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The bowl game has been hosted annually since 1998 in Nashville at Vanderbilt Stadium prior to the opening of Nissan Stadium.

The Music City Bowl has contributed $34 million in financial payouts to participating universities and has generated more than $290 million in economic impact for the Nashville community, according to the TransPerfect Music City Bowl website.

Since its inception, as many as 1,162,197 fans have attended the Music City Bowl and over 95 million people have tuned into to watch the game on TV.


Tennessee’s Brad Roll Donates $250,000 For Postgrad Endowment

Tennessee Assistant Director of Olympic Sports Performance Brad Roll is making a $250,000 donation to endow a postgraduate scholarship in UT’s Haslam College of Business. Coupled with a grant from the Haslam family that will match Roll’s donation, The Brad Roll Business Scholarship Endowment—established in memory of his mentor, Bob Slater—will grow to $500,000 by 2026.

“It’s been energizing to spend time around our teams,” says Roll. “They have an incredible drive to achieve excellence. I hope this gesture inspires them to continue winning in competition and in life.”

Roll, 63, has been a member of Tennessee’s Sports Performance staff since 2016. He trains the volleyball and men’s tennis programs while also serving as a performance analyst for all UT Olympic sports.

“UT recruits top student-athletes from all over the world,” says Dean of UT’s Haslam College of Business Stephen Mangum. “Offering scholarship opportunities to pursue graduate business degrees from Haslam is an investment that will benefit both the student-athletes and all Tennesseans. Coach Roll’s generous gift is an example of the great things that happen when athletics and academics work together to provide the best possible experience for today’s athletes and tomorrow’s business leaders.”

For over four decades, Roll has made an impact through sport by challenging athletes to pursue peak performance in competition. Now, through The Brad Roll Business Scholarship Endowment, Roll can challenge and inspire Tennessee student-athletes to continue their pursuit of excellence through postgraduate academic achievement.



MTSU Not Requiring Masks For Basketball Games At Murphy’s Center

Middle Tennessee State University is welcoming back fans at full capacity to Murphy Center for the 2021-22 basketball season.

This season, masks will not be required to be worn during games, but the university still strongly encourage its fans to do so when not actively eating or drinking. This does not apply to children under 2 years old and younger.

Last season, the Blue Raiders played in an empty Murphy Arena for the first two weeks of the season before opening up to fans at a limited capacity.

The Blue Raiders men’s and women’s basketball seasons both begin on Nov. 9 in Murfreesboro as the men face Brescia University at 5 p.m. and the women take on East Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr., Tennessee’s John Fulkerson Named First Team All-SEC

Scotty Pippen Jr. and John Fulkerson. Photos: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics and University of Tennessee Athletics

Coaches from the Southeastern Conference have voted for the first team All-SEC, selecting Scotty Pippen Jr. from Vanderbilt and John Fulkerson from the University of Tennessee.

Pippen, a Junior, has already received multiple preseason honors, among them being named SEC Preseason Player of the Year and being named to the Bob Cousy Watch List. He ranked third in the SEC and ninth nationally with 142 made free throws last season, and second in the SEC with 1.77 steals per game. He shot 42.8% from the field overall, 35.8% from 3-point range and 85% from the free throw line, leading the team in scoring 13 times.

Fulkerson, a Senior, is entering his sixth season at Tennessee, after playing 132 career games as a Vol with 62 start—including 55 of his past 56 games. A 2020 All-SEC Second Team selection, Fulkerson has averaged a combined 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game during his two seasons as a full-time starter. Last season, Fulkerson led the Vols in field-goal percentage (.527) and was the team’s second-leading rebounder (5.5 rpg). His current .567 career field goal percentage is sixth in Tennessee program history. Fulkerson needs just 11 appearances to break UT’s all-time record for career games played and 125 points to reach the 1,000-point milestone for his career.

The Commodores and Volunteers face each other twice this year which will likely be highly competitive matchups. UT will visit Memorial Gym on Jan. 18, the second matchup will be on Feb. 12 at Thompson-Boling Arena.