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Take a tip from Cecil Newton and pay the players

Cam Newton would likely have won the Heisman by a record margin had 105 of the 886 voters not left him off their ballots because they thought his father might have made a few bucks off his talented son.

The player most responsible for putting Auburn in the BCS title game walked away with the trophy last month in New York anyway, though Cecil Newton couldn't share the proud moment because the moral guardians of college football were aghast at the notion he might have wanted $180,000 for a season's worth of work by his son.

Here's hoping Cecil Newton got his money. It's only right, because everyone else gets theirs.

The sham that is big-time college athletics was on full display this week in the Arizona desert, where the Oregon and Auburn faithful gathered by the thousands to dump millions into the state's tourism economy on behalf of their alma maters. It was all set to conclude Monday night in a spectacle suspiciously reminiscent of a big game the NFL itself will be holding in just a few weeks.

The Ducks against the Tigers. Nike versus Under Armour. The new granddaddy of them all, wrapped up in a bow by ESPN and delivered to your living rooms later than any BCS game ever before.

The last time both teams played there were still Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator. Now, while Newton's classmates start making plans for spring break, the Tigers have been playing and practicing for more than five months and most everybody outside of Alabama and Oregon never wants to see another bowl game again.

The new schedule may not be traditional, but there's little argument that is profitable. Each team will get some $21 million to share with its conference foes, ESPN will cash in on extra timeouts it inserts into each half, and the two millionaire coaches and their well-paid staffs will get even richer (Auburn's Gene Chizik will make a cool $500,000 extra if the Tigers win).

And the players who got them here? The NCAA is graciously allowing them up to $500 in gifts, enough for an X-Box or maybe a new recliner for the dorm room back home.

And you were wondering why Cecil Newton wanted his money up front?

The hypocrisy that is college football is no secret, of course. The NCAA long has been pretending it oversees a purely amateur sport and the big time schools are more than happy to collect their millions and go along with the charade.

The industry is so important and the stakes are so huge that Cam Newton plays in the BCS title game even though the NCAA came to the conclusion Cecil Newton was indeed shopping his son to the highest bidder. And while Terrelle Pryor and three other Ohio State starters were given suspensions for next year for the ghastly crime of selling their championship rings and other memorabilia, they were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl anyway after bowl officials — worried about lower ratings and attendance — lobbied on their behalf.

The decision was ludicrous enough. But you didn't need a college degree to get a laugh out of the NCAA's contention that any insinuation that money had to do with the decision was absurd because the NCAA doesn't get the money itself.

It doesn't, but the BCS system that has hijacked college football from the NCAA certainly does. That money is funneled to schools in the cartel so they can build even bigger and better programs to give their alumni something to brag about.

So what's in it for the players? Not much other than a chance to earn a piece of parchment, except for the rare few who matriculate to the NFL.

Those degrees are the payoff players get for toiling for their respective schools, something the NCAA likes to brag about even though only about six out of 10 players end up graduating. And those that do graduate often do so with degrees in areas like general studies that barely qualify them for their post-college careers.

The better payoff would be in something that actually pays off — like cash. There seems to be plenty of it being made off their sweat and talent, certainly enough to keep Pryor and his teammates from having to sell the shirts off their backs at tattoo parlors.

Let coaches hand out signing bonuses along with the key to a dorm room and the phone number of a tutor. Pay players a monthly stipend and let them earn even more by reaching certain goals for the season, just like their coaches are able to do.

Give everybody on the team, say, $25,000 for being in the BCS title game. Let them buy their new Escalade instead of having to sneak it in a special deal with the booster who owns the dealership.

Make Cecil Newton look like a man ahead of his time.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org