Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Along with the annual preseason camps and expectant speculation that springs forth every late summer as players and coaches prepare for the fall college football seasons, come the attendant calls for players to be paid. Critics claim that players are being taken advantage of, as schools and the NCAA profit enormously from their athletic prowess. They often complain that players do not have enough spending money (made all the more ridiculous when you see star players cruising about campus in brand new Ford Explorers and luxury automobiles, in their tatted skin with diamond earrings and dripping gold). Others attack NCAA enforcement efforts---I can't but believe many of them are just hoping to make it easier for boosters to evade the rules and continue to fund their players. Some people claim that impoverishment of players forces them to engage in illegal activities (selling drugs, stealing, accepting improper payments). Bosh, I say. There is a symbiotic relationship that the player benefits from, and very well, I might add. Yes, many college programs profit mightily from their football (and basketball) programs, but almost all other sports are money losers; most schools barely scrape by putting sports teams on the fields and courts. A small group certainly get rich, and the ultimate beneficiaries are professional teams who have an unofficial minor-league system and agents who represent their cash cows. Granted that there are abuses within the system, and some players who may have been able to turn pro out of college (but those are few and far between, and professional teams would not want to carry them) might be taking a bit of a bath. But most players on these teams are not going to turn pro, even many who hold scholarships, but they get a great deal. And, I may add, it is a voluntary thing: no player is forced to sign with a college. They can go out and find a job or join the military.I also hate that a player can turn pro in one sport, scrape in whatever money and bonuses they can, and when they realize they might not make it, they are allowed to return to college in another sport.

Scholarship athletes receive generous benefits, starting with the opportunity to receive a college education for free (usually including bed and board, books, academic tutoring), in some cases to the tune of tens of thousands each year. They usually eat well, for free. They have access to modern weight equipment and medical expertise far beyond that of most semi-professional teams; there are myriad opportunities for entertainment and social activities that a large percentage of these athletes would never have been able to participate in. Not all, of course, but I wager a large percentage. They get to continue being big men on campus. They are showered with jerseys, clothes, shoes, workout outfits, and, when they win or play in bowls (a reality for many in top-level divisions) they get rather nice benefits packages (including vacations, electronics, watches, etc.) and rings. They get to travel. They are often provided small stipends. They get specialized athletic guidance and coaching from staffs whose goal, beyond that of building winning teams, is to prepare them for a shot at the big leagues and the huge financial reward that comes with that leap. And it is on the big-time college stage that many have the opportunity not only to hone their skills, but to have a stage to show off for prospective employers. Star athletes who finish their pro careers often have what amounts to sinecures in cushy positions with boosteristic companies if they want them, are hired as coaches, or announcers, and many other nice positions. A superstar at a school can almost guarantee he will be taken care of later in life. They are the privileged. 

Yes, some claim they spend too much time practicing, at the detriment of their studies. What?  No one forced them to play. In some cases university-paid employees shepherd these student athletes to their classes, provide tutoring (if not even more, as in doing their work for them), and monitor their behavior. Often special study centers costing millions are built to help a small group get through their classes. Some universities have been guilty of at best carving out easy programs for their athletic charges to at worst signing them up for no-show classes and artificial grades to keep them eligible for play. Many walk away or jump to the pros without completing their programs and earning their degrees, but how is that so different from all the other dropouts? Most schools also allow player to return later, for free, to finish their studies. And everyone knows that sheepskin usually can result in better jobs.

Yes, injuries cut short careers. But wouldn't that also happen if they were in a minor league, with low pay and few benefits, as they tried to impress a pro team? And usually universities provide amazing health benefits; injured stars get premium care and rehabilitation for free in order to get ready for an opportunity for professional play.

I doubt most communities would be able to provide a comparable stage for these players if they had developmental leagues and such. Some cities might have decent crowds, but likely nothing as grand as college.

I say keep things basically as they are, with some tweeking.

[I may add more later] 

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