Picture it; 100,000 people in the stands, millions of viewers at home. Your season’s future is on the line and NBD, but this is implicitly a job interview.
Can you see it?
Now, picture this is all happening on a Saturday, the day after the midterm you took on you took Friday (but crammed all night for on Thursday) and the presentation you have to deliver in class on Monday at 8am. This is college football (CFB); six months of trying to be a full-time god of the gridiron while also trying to be a full-time (and successful) student. Over the last couple years, CFB has grown exponentially and by extension, so has the money it generates. As a result, some wonder why students aren’t receiving compensation for their work. Sure, it’s a business (and a profitable one at that), but money isn’t the only form of compensation. So, who says these students aren’t getting paid? And, honestly; who says they should be getting paid, anyway?
As a long-time college football fan, I’ve observed that what separates this sport from any other is the passion it creates. Whether it’s the tens of thousands of fans pulsating with energy in stands or the young men morphing into elite athletes (and hopefully, sports idols) when it comes to college football—Ball is Life.
The players love it; they’d do it for free, so why should they be paid? Here’s the thing–just down the road from UNC’s Tar Heels, I’m pretty sure there’s a high school football team that also garners sponsors, televises games, and prices tickets to their games. So, who’s advocating that we cut a check for that gifted high school senior quarterback? Most say ‘Why would we pay him? He’s a kid!’
That’s fair. But the difference between the high school senior version of him and the college freshman one is matter of three months. If he was a kid in May, he’ll still be a kid in September. Although the game is a business, it revolves around young, developing people. If you start to pay that young man, you’ve turned someone that loved the game into an employee, who needs a team of agents and financial advisors surrounding him and his ‘brand.’ These are still kids and some things should remain unsullied. Don’t rush to snatch their innocence way so quickly.
CFB generates millions of dollars every season through advertisements, telecasts, and championship games. It is emphatically a business and that’s emphatically why the players signed up. Yes, it’s true, many have made mention of the fact that the players don’t have petty cash, often struggle with meals and the stringent parameters placed on their time. But, so does the kid going to school on an academic scholarship. Being on the struggle bus in the college is kind of…the point of college. It’s not a story unique to the student athlete. The player and his family knew that college was expensive when they made the decision to let him play. This is not a bait-and-switch. Why cast blame on the institution now?
You could look at it like slave labor, or you could look at it like this; an athletically gift kid hailing from what is most likely an underprivileged background gets the chance of a lifetime (literally—only ~3 percent of high school students will ever be in his shoes) to attend a prestigious school, get an exemplary education and interview for a dream job with National Football League. For free. In response, the public rages:
‘Why are they not paid for the fact that they are on television?!’
(You mean, the telecasts that help them become well known?)
‘Why aren’t they being paid for the money football generates for the school?!’
(You mean, the money that goes to the athletic department which in turn covers expenses, player insurance, facility, grants and yes, scholarships?)
Student athletes don’t have it easy when it comes to studying and having practice/film/weight training for 80 percent of the day. Not that the school is advising them to do much else on campus beside live the ‘Ball is Life’ mantra. You know what 2003 Rose Bowl Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett’s major was in school? Floral Design. Clearly school was not the why he was here.
Now, who is to blame for that? I know who, and it’s not the school. Players that have an opportunity to go to a prestigious learning institution but leave feeling exploited, undervalued and undereducated have no one to blame but themselves and their families. As a matter of science, the human brain does not reach maturity until the mid-twenties. And the very last thing develops is the frontal cortex—you know, the place you use to make decisions. That’s why younger brains are in the care of older ones, or parents, who make good decisions. Or least, they should. I couldn’t fathom my parents allowing me to major in ballroom dancing like USC’s Matt Linehart did in 2005…unless, they were waiting for the same NFL millions as I. As a student athlete, you have to evaluate your chances rationally and begin to make decisions which will impact the rest of your life. Only 6 percent of student athletes actually make it to the big leagues. Once a player realizes that they are not part of that tiny sliver of lucky and gifted humans, doing anything other than making the best of their time at school (for example, focusing on a potentially marketable or profitable major) seems like the definition of insanity.
I don’t bring this post to the forefront without also looking at alternatives to this situation. I grew up wanting to play for the University of Miami and get drafted by the Packers like most of these guys and I understand that four years on college is taxing when you don’t have spending money, and feel under appreciated. The NCAA sells the football jerseys of these players and other memorabilia which can help generate money to the school. I believe that all athletes who have a jersey in the market should receive some form of compensation upon completion of college career along with the idea that students should have a percentage of the revenue bought in to the school off the backs from a game they built upon the completion of their collegiate tenure.
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