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College football players need to go on strike, demand piece of lucrative pie

Alabamcoach Nick Saban LSU coach Les Miles make tons money. Their players don’t. | KevC. Cox~Getty Images

Alabama coach Nick Saban and LSU coach Les Miles make tons of money. Their players don’t. | Kevin C. Cox~Getty Images

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Updated: February 10, 2012 9:02AM



Players, revolt!

If you don’t, there never will be fair, reasonable change in NCAA Division I football.

History shows this.

History knows this.

The powers that be will never cede anything except crumbs of fairness, just enough to keep the feds away and enough to make it seem as if they actually care.

They do not.

If you don’t strike, using the time-honored American — yes, patriotic! — technique of banding together over endless exploitation and walking out, sitting down or disrupting the system en masse, you will always be pawns.

Is that why you go to college?

Is that how you become a man?

The BCS championship game will be held Monday night between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, and it will generate tens of millions of dollars, probably hundreds of millions, for ESPN, the NCAA, advertisers, Las Vegas gamblers, New Orleans vendors, coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors, assistant athletic directors, apparel companies, sports magazines, newspapers and on and on.

But none for the workers themselves, the stars, the talent we want to see: the players.

Only by refusing to play unless they get a reasonable cut of the revenue will the players ever be more than embarrassing stooges in this ceaseless shell game.

Has the college sports exploitation thing been going on a long time?

How about since 1864, when Yale hired a pro coach for its “amateur’’ crew team, setting the tone for winning at all costs? How about 1905, when, as historian Ronald Smith wrote, ‘‘Harvard paid football coach Bill Reid the princely sum of $7,000,’’ which was nearly double the salary of the average professor and almost as much as the school’s president of 36 years, Charles Eliot?

Now, of course, coaches — even some assistants — make more than school presidents.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly, for instance, at $3.8 million, counting bonuses, makes over four times more than the university president and the Oregon school-system president combined.

And that’s nothing compared to LSU’s Les Miles and Alabama’s Nick Saban, who each make $4 million or more and stand to earn bonuses of up to $600,000 for winning the BCS title game.

Again, and always, the players get nothing.

It seems every five years or so the rest of the world recognizes the unfairness of the ‘‘arms race’’ — called that by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics two decades ago — that brings gold to all involved in elite college football except the players. The sham of amateurism is held up as something noble, a rod to whack the players with false and shameful moralism anytime they want a cut of the pie or even, say, a couple of free tattoos.

The sham recently has been noted by the Atlantic magazine, which had a long exposé written by famed historian Taylor Branch; the New York Times Magazine, which just printed a long article by Joe Nocera with the headline: Let’s End the Corrupt, Contrived Sentimentality of Big-time College Sports and Start Compensating the Players With Hard Cash; and even Sports Illustrated, which recently ran a piece by George Dohrmann titled, ‘‘Pay for Play,’’ with the closing line, ‘‘If schools have the will to pay their players, there’s a way.’’

Of course, there is.

But NCAA president Mark Emmert has vowed that his organization will never pay players.

“Just imagine the compliance issues,’’ he told ESPN the Magazine’s Seth Wickersham in near outrage.

Yeah, imagine them.

Fairness sucks, huh?

Players would have to receive workman’s compensation for injuries, they’d have to do tax-keeping, etc.

So what!

This thing has been cooking for so long that people believe college football would die if players were paid — say, even with annuities they couldn’t cash for years or trust funds or real estate or gold doubloons — but it would not.

It could all be worked out. Trouble is, the suits in control will never relinquish power, not even a slice of the dessert so small a preschool kid would ask for more.

As the Carnegie Report on American College Athletics of 1929 stated of the unfair, corrupt system, “If commercialized athletics don’t affect the educational quality of an institution, nothing does.’’

The commercialization is rampant. And it’s never going away.

Get yours, players.

Strike, demand it!

Sit down and ask the fat cats: ‘‘Will you cut us in or should the nation watch grass growing?’’

I, for one, would stand up and cheer.



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