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NCAA responds to push toward unionizing college football

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With today’s announcement that football players at Northwestern have taken the first step toward what it hopes to be a union protecting the interests of the athletes in that sport, there will likely be months, even years of public back and forth between that side and the universities that comprise the NCAA.

Shortly after the College Athletes Players Association, the entity that would serve as the player’s union should it be certified through the National Labor Relations Board, concluded a press conference detailing its goals and initiatives, the NCAA released a statement addressing what could ultimately become a monumental development in the sport and forever change the face of collegiate athletics.

Below is The Association’s standard-issue, laughable response, which is attributed to NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.
 
Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.
 
Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.

When it comes more to undermining the purpose of an academic institution, we’ll allow you to determine who’s done more damage: the players who are attempting to form a union or the universities that with one hand collect billions of dollars off the backs of college football players while simultaneously using the other to push its sham “student-athlete” agenda.

Bovada installs Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as a 1/25 Heisman favorite

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 26:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs  for a touchdown during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Thanks to Louisville bumbling and stumbling its way to two losses to close out the regular season, there were some who thought the race for the Heisman Trophy might be back open after belonging to Lamar Jackson for the majority of the season. While that notion is patently ridiculous, at least one sportsbook is at least considering the far-flung possibility.

Thursday night, Bovada.lv, after a brief shutdown, once again released what will likely be its final set of Heisman odds, with the Cardinals quarterback the overwhelming favorite at 1/25. For you neophyte gamblers in the audience, that means a bettor would need to wager $25 in order to win just $1.

This comes a week and a half after Bovada‘s email release contained the following note where their Heisman odds normally would’ve been: “The Heisman odds are currently off the board as the odds are astronomical in favor for Lamar Jackson. The Oddsmakers are currently in discussions on if they’ll be re-opened.”

The four other finalists, announced over the weekend, were included in Bovada’s latest set of odds.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson 7/1
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield 50/1
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 50/1
Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook 66/1

The 2016 Heisman Trophy will be handed out Saturday night in New York City.

Major Applewhite, not Lane Kiffin, named Houston’s head coach

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Here’s a stunner.

The past several days, all the signs seemingly had been pointing to Lane Kiffin as the replacement for Tom Herman at Houston. Instead of the Alabama offensive coordinator, however, the football program shocked some by staying in-house.

Friday morning, athletic director Hunter Yurachek announced that UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has been named as his new head football coach. This will be Applewhite’s first head-coaching job at any level.

One thing Yurachek noted was Applewhite’s deep ties to the state of Texas, something that Kiffin lacks.

“When we set out on our search for the new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach with great integrity who believed in our mission and truly believed in our student-athlete experience,” said Yurachek in a statement. “We had our sights set on a focused competitor who has demonstrated success and possesses a deep connection to college and high school football in the great state of Texas. As this process was completed, it was clearly evident the only individual to offer our position to was Major Applewhite and he was indeed the right man to lead our program.”

Applewhite has been UH’s coordinator the past two seasons. Prior to that, nine of his first 11 seasons as a coach were spent in the state of Texas, including two separate stints at the University of Texas.

From 1998-2001, Applewhite was a quarterback for the Longhorns.

“My family and I are excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a tradition rich program and continue our lives in one of the greatest cities is the nation, a city we love,” said Applewhite. “The student-athletes truly are the backbone of every great program and as they’ve demonstrated over the past few years, we have an exceptional group of young men in our program, and we’ll continue to add men with great character and a competitive drive in our recruiting.

“Living in the best state for high school football is a true blessing and advantage for our program and I cannot be more thankful for the support of our outstanding high school coaches from throughout the state.”

UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who interviewed for the position as well, had been named as the Cougars interim head coach. Applewhite, however, will coach the team in the Las Vegas Bowl, with Orlando staying on to coordinate the defense. Whether Orlando will remain on after that remains to be seen, although retaining the coordinator will be a priority for the first-time head coach.

Orlando, however, could follow Herman to Texas when it’s all said and done.

Western Michigan closing in on contract extension for P.J. Fleck

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Head coach P.J. Fleck asks the fans for quiet during the first half while playing the Ohio Bobcats during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With no Power Five jobs open at the moment, and the most attractive Group of Five opening on the verge of being closed, all signs are pointing to P.J. Fleck staying in Kalamazoo for at least one more season. If that’s the way things ultimately shake out, Fleck will find himself a little bit more secure financially.

Citing a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the Detroit News is reporting that Fleck and Western Michigan are engaged in what’s described as “active negotiations” on a new contract. It’s expected the extension will be finalized in the not-too-distant future.

Just how big of a financial boost Fleck would receive is unclear. Without bonuses factored in, Fleck’s total compensation for 2016 is $820,000, the highest figure for a MAC head coach by nearly $150,000 (Toledo’s Jason Candle, $675,000). It’s doubtful WMU would reach the AAC’s financial stratosphere for coaching salaries — with the departures of Houston’s Tom Herman and Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, at $2 million, is the league’s highest-paid — but something along the line of the $1.3-$1.5 million Fresno State, Colorado State and Boise State of the MWC paid their coaches this season could very well be in order.

Given the notoriety the football program’s success brought the university, Fleck would certainly be worthy of a significant bump in pay. From the News‘ report:

WMU donors have been working on coming up with the funds to help retain the 36-year-old Fleck.

Donors believe he’s worth the money, given all the national exposure he’s brought the university — including a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay,” multiple features on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and even a trip by Fleck to Bristol, Connecticut, to participate in ESPN’s so-called “Car Wash” during WMU’s bye week.

Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and other national outlets have written extensive features on WMU and Fleck this season.

Of course, WMU could find themselves in the very same situation a year from now, Fleck drawing interest from other programs, even without a repeat of a 2016 season that has the Broncos 13-0 and in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time. It appears highly unlikely that Fleck could be pried away by another Group of Five job or even an ordinary Power Five position (hello, Purdue).

If, say, Notre Dame comes open next year? That’s when you say your goodbyes to the young head coach and wish him well.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.