You watch TV and your heroes are all selling product and flashing bling and being worshipped by grown adults who should know better but don’t because there’s too much money to be made by sucking up to talented 20-year-olds.
But let’s say you’re one of the good kids who plays by the rules and goes to college, where you discover the coach doesn’t want you to go to one minute more of class than is absolutely required by the rules. The coach dresses like a movie star. The stadium is filled with 80,000 screaming fans, all of whom have paid good money to watch you play for nothing. You get a Pell Grant and you’d better be happy about it.
Then you get hurt and can’t play anymore. Or you finish your eligibility and discover you’re still three years shy of graduation and haven’t taken three meaningful classes. Doesn’t matter. If you don’t make the pros, the best days of your life are already over and you don’t have a nickel to show for it.
But the coach you spilled your blood for has a new contract and the stadium has a 10,000-seat addition and the conference has a new nine-figure television deal. The surprise isn’t that a few kids go wrong and a few would-be agents are swimming around the edges of the talent pool. It’s that most of them — kids and agents — play by the rules.
The system is wrong. Everyone knows it. But it’s like the fraud of the BCS system that awards a national championship without a national playoff. It’s too lucrative to change; too big to fail. If anybody’s going to suffer, it’s the people on the bottom of the pyramid — the players — not those on the top.
The big sports exist to make billions of dollars. The kids make that possible. It’s not about their getting an education. It’s about winning games and filling arenas. The fact they do it for free and everybody thinks that’s a good idea is what makes it such a joke.
It’s what attracts the wannabe agents who look for prey to sink their hooks into. When you leave kids without reward for their labor and without representation, something’s going to fill the vacuum. Why can’t a kid talk to an agent? Why can’t the agent give him money?
It’s not because it will hurt the kid. It’s because it could hurt the coach. It’s because it could threaten to take a nibble out a billion-dollar cheeseburger.
Saban and Vitale know that. But when it comes time to blame somebody, they point at the people who are most disposable, the people least able to defend themselves.
How brave. How very, very brave.
About 325 former Penn State players, among them Kerry Collins and Paul Posluszny, have signed a statement supporting the lawsuit filed by the family of former coach Joe Paterno.
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July 22, 2010: Alabama football coach Nick Saban thinks the NFLPA doesn't do nearly enough to protect student-athletes from agents.
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