Show Me The Money

No, Cuba Gooding, Jr. isn’t guest blogging today, sadly. But this famous phrase, uttered by Gooding in the hit sports movie Jerry Maguire, is a great lead in to a hot topic surrounding college football today: paying players.

If you’re even a casual fan of college football, you’ve heard of Johnny Manziel, otherwise known as Johnny Football. For those unfamiliar, Johnny Manziel is a sophomore quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies football team. He tore the college football landscape apart last year with his brilliant play and was the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious award a college football player can earn.

Since winning the award, Johnny has been in the media for the things he has been up to in the off-season. Most recently, and most worrisome for A&M fans, is a video that was leaked showing Johnny Football signing autographs. The video was shot by an autograph dealer and he claimed to have paid the college sophomore for his services. This is a direct violation of the NCAA rules. A player cannot be paid for his performance, likeness or signature. Period. That is NOT a grey rule like so many other NCAA rules, it is black and white. If A&M plays him and he is found to have violated that rule, the team will forfeit any game he played in. Obviously, that’s a huge concern for the school.

On the heels of the Manziel controversy is a lawsuit by former players against the NCAA for making money off of their likeness in the EA Sports NCAA games. If successful, it could pave the way for change concerning how the NCAA compensates its players.

Currently, the NCAA “compensates” its players by providing a free education to Division I players. For most of them, that’s huge. For players like Johnny Football, they’re not there for the education. They’re playing strictly for agents and pro scouts to see them and decide where they will be drafted when they’re eligible. In the meantime, bookstores sell jerseys with the most popular players’ numbers on them, their images grace marketing materials and they’re discussed on all the major talk shows. They train for months, get knocked around on Saturdays and don’t see a proverbial dime for it.

Isn’t an education enough?! Lots of people say yes, it’s worth thousands of dollars. However, agents, players and some experts argue that the amount of money the schools are making from these marketing efforts far surpasses the value of that education. And in my opinion, they have a point. Schools can pay a limited stipend to players; enough for gas or rent, but they cannot go further than that. Players cannot be paid a percentage of the money from jersey sales or program sales. All that goes to the school. Consider this: if an NFL level player in his senior year blows his knee out and is no longer able to play at a competitive level, he is now out whatever he could have made as a pro. He will graduate debt free, but he will not have the guaranteed income he once would have.

So do we pay them or not? Is a free education and enough cash to buy a few things sufficient? Keep in mind, these young men cannot work. They are being “paid” to play football so play they must. Most of the players you see on Saturday won’t play on Sundays. They’ll become engineers or teachers and be content with the memories and the mementos they receive from playing at college’s highest level. But does that mean they should watch the schools they play for rake in the money while they cannot? The answer is not simple. The solution certainly will not be.

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The Final Countown

Cue the Rocky music! Okay, not really. Maybe we’ll cue the fight song instead. It’s game week, ladies and gentlemen! All the work in camp, the summer workouts, the time in the gym (or lack of it in some cases) has all led to this. Starting spots have or will be decided this week, final game planning is happening all over the country and crazy college football fans are spending this week prepping their best tailgating recipes in anticipation of that perfect moment right before kickoff. All fans know that moment; the crowd is electric, the players are jumping up and down, coaches are nervously watching, hands on knees, some barking into headsets and then….it’s here! With college football season officially kicking off this weekend, this week almost feels celebratory. For us football families, it signals the end of camp which means we get our husbands for an hour or two more a week. My husband took our youngest to pre-school this morning and we may even get to have lunch together today! It’s an off day because classes also open today so no practice either. The last 2 weeks have been brutal but they have absolutely flown by. When you stop and consider how fast a football program comes together, it’s amazing. You bring 100 young men together, many of whom are away from home for the very first time, and you ask them to trust each other with their lives. That may sound extreme, but with everything we now know about concussions and spinal injuries, it’s not that farfetched. We ask these young men to trust a group of coaches they’ve never met and bond with other players they don’t know. Then we ask them to perform at an exceptionally high level both on the field and off. And we ask this of them in 3 weeks. It takes longer than that for me to remember to set the DVR for my favorite shows! So as we go forward this week and cheer for our favorites and against our biggest rivals, remember what it has taken to get there. That true freshman has less than a month of practice, so if he misses a tackle, give the kid a break. When you see a coach tear his headset off and start screaming, remember he probably has a wife and children who are at the mercy of what that 20 year old young man can do on the field. And most of all, have fun! Revel in it, soak it all in and yell like a teenager. Football is here, my friends! Happy Kickoff Week!!