SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 10: This is the 50 yard line marker in Rice Eccles Stadium before the Utah Utes and Brigham Young Cougars college football game on September 10, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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New pro league would help players bypass college, prep for NFL

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College football’s talent pool could get a bit shallower if one “in-between” football league comes to fruition.

According to the esteemed Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, a handful of individuals, including Mike Shanahan, ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter and officiating guru Mike Pereira among others, are among a group in the midst of creating what’s being called Pacific Pro Football.  Unlike other pro leagues, however, the PPL wouldn’t look to compete with the NFL; rather, it will look to develop college-aged players in the pro-style aspects of the sport, particularly on offense, and becomes what Wetzel writes is “a place with a preferable set-up for training and identifying potential draft picks.”

Each team in the four-team league, all based in Southern California initially, would consist of 50 players, with those players receiving $50,000 apiece — and full workers’ comp — instead of tuition. The league, which is tentatively scheduled to begin play in 2018, would also offer tuition reimbursement if a player wanted to go to a community college. There would be an age limit, with players only permitted to compete up to being four years removed from high school.  Those who have already played a year or two in college would also be welcome, provided they’re not beyond the age limit — someone looking for a non-NFL option for his fifth year would not be permitted to play in the PPL.

As for the financial particulars, Wetzel writes that “[a] round of angel funding recently closed and additional funding efforts are possible.” There’s also hope that a media rights deal could be reached as the group includes former ESPN and FOX Sports executives.

If the league is ultimately launched, the season would consist of a maximum of eight games (six regular season, up to two playoff games) and be played on Sundays in July and August. The following, from Wetzel’s report, though, will likely most raise the interest of those in the NFL charged with procuring talent:

  • Each team will have eight full-time coaches with pro and college experience, plus about eight part-time assistant coaches.
  • Play will be pro-style, and based on development and evaluation. For instance, there will be no spread offenses. Quarterbacks will take snaps under center, need to call plays in the huddle and identify defenses at the line of scrimmage. There will be a premium put on one-on-one plays to get viable tape. For example, perhaps rules that prohibit crossing routes for receivers.

Also of interest to the NFL?  None of the practices will be closed as is the case at some colleges, although most of the successful programs provide extensive access to NFL personnel any way.

Non-qualifiers coming out of high school who would normally go the junior college route before heading to the FBS level would seemingly be prime candidates to join the league.  Because of NCAA bylaws, however, they couldn’t go from the PPL back to college football because they would’ve been paid to play the sport.  The league could also be a landing spot for players who find themselves with academic or even legal issues after beginning their careers at the collegiate level.

Wetzel himself acknowledges, though, it would have little effect on big-time college football.

It certainly won’t be the preferred option for every player. The majority of the best college-age players seek the glamor and excitement of the collegiate game.

No one thinks it will topple, or even adversely impact major college football. Certainly, there will be a few less players, but Alabama or Clemson isn’t under any threat of needing to shutter its program.

One of the biggest impacts this league, if it actually launches and is even mildly successful, could have: drive college coaches back toward more of a pro-style offense and away from the spread offenses that have somewhat leveled the playing field all across the sport.  In its never-ending quest to find the unicorn also known as a serviceable quarterback, let alone a franchise one, the NFL will leave no stone unturned.  One of the biggest issues the NFL faces is trying to project how a successful spread quarterback will translate to the pro game.  If a quarterback has spent the previous three years being tutored by former pro coaches on the pro-style game, why wouldn’t the NFL at least give them the same look they give a successful college spread quarterback?

And why wouldn’t the quarterbacks themselves seek out a route to the NFL that wouldn’t have them learning a spread offense for 3-4 years before having to unlearn it?  Conversely, there’s no replacement for steeling and improving yourself against high-level competition, so that would be something both the player and the pros would need to factor in as well.

Another potential impact, if the league were to thrive and grow beyond its Southern California roots? Creating a bigger gap between the Power Fives and Group of Fives by siphoning off talent. By and large, the big names in the high school recruiting game will still go the collegiate route and opt for big-name programs; it’s the shallower end of the talent pool, the recruiting fields the G5s harvest, that would potentially be drained by the PPL.  Three four-team “pods” — Southern California, Northern California, Midwest — with 50 players each means 600 highs schoolers who may otherwise be available to FBS programs would suddenly vanish and have an effect on the G5s’ recruiting bottom lines as the P5s will still get theirs.

All of that, and the effect it would have on the FCS hasn’t yet been mentioned, either.

There is another potential game-changer, if the league is successful and puts players in the NFL causing the salaries to jump from $50,000 a year to, say, $100,000. Or even $150,000  Then, Houston… and Alabama… and Florida… and campuses all across the country, the college football game could have a problem.  That, of course, is a long way down the road, but this league and what if any viability it may have is certainly something to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of the sport.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.