Across America on Saturday, thousands of college football players will compete in front of millions in the stands and millions more watching on TV.
And not one of those players will be getting paid for his efforts. Well, they’re not supposed to be.
Which is the way it should be. Sorry, Johnny Football.
Once again, the issue of whether what used to be quaintly called “three hots and a cot” is adequate compensation for those who provide us entertainment — by fueling our passions for institutions of higher education that we don’t necessarily have any other direct contact with — has been raised in several quarters.
Time magazine recently thought it was so vital to our national security that its cover-story headline was “It’s Time to Pay College Athletes,” not “What Should We Do About Syria?” Included on the cover was the eponymous Mr. Manziel taking time away from his autograph session obligations to do a Heisman pose.
Manziel, it was pointed out, has helped generate millions in revenue and donations for Texas A&M (minus the legal fees for getting a slap on the wrist from the NCAA for his alleged rule violations), so shouldn’t he be able to share in the proceeds?
And for that matter, shouldn’t every player in bigtime college football be able to enjoy a rightful portion of the fruits of their labors?
Forget Title IX, the article contended, as if the legal issues (not to mention tax ones) can be resolved as easily as figuring out how to go to a four-team playoff. That only took 16 years. Or how all of this might be regulated by an already ineffective enforcement body.
And certainly don’t deny players the right to market themselves while still in school: “I couldn’t go to class today, Coach. I was making a personal appearance at Winn-Dixie.”
But, contends Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports, going to class is what it should still be all about. Or at least a substantial part of it.
“What’s lost in the discussion is that these ‘kids’ are being admitted to colleges which in many cases they would otherwise not be admitted,” Gottlieb said. “And it’s all free — the tuition, room and board and new textbooks. And then, they’re given free access to first-rate coaches, trainers, tutors, equipment, luxurious amenities in most cases — you name it. It’s a priceless opportunity, and yet many think you shouldn’t have to wait to cash in on it.”
Plus, Gottlieb points out, even if an athlete can’t or won’t take full advantage of the educational component for which most students and their parents pay thousands, the connections made and the identification as a member of a group more exclusive than a top fraternity are worth just as much.
Have you ever heard of an unemployed ex-LSU football player? Well, maybe JaMarcus Russell, but that’s a story for another time.
The point is that college football, and all of college sports for that matter, is a uniquely American institution and thus has been fabulously flawed since the days of leather helmets.
As it always will be.
For the players, it’s the system you sign up for. It may be the last vestige of the antiquated notion of amateurism, but it’s the one we’ve had for almost 150 years.
Plus nobody forces you to do it.
Do others profit from their efforts? Of course.
But even Johnny Football would have to admit he’s standing on the shoulders of those who preceded him. Long after Manziel has departed College Station, they’ll be selling No. 12 jerseys in Aggieland without E. King Gill, the inspiration for the 12th-man motto, even getting a dime in royalties.
There are a lot of well-meaning people on both sides of the argument and, as Gottlieb points out, there is a multitude of layers to the matter.
But portraying college athletes, and in particular players from major football programs, as deprived and exploited is just plain wrongheaded.