Published November 29, 2012
Hey, major college football player. Can you give us a few minutes of your time?
Don't worry about drawing the attention of your school administrators. They're too busy scurrying off to a new conference or lining up some exorbitant television deal to notice what we're about to discuss.
You're getting ripped off. Big time.
Have you considered a strike? Really, I'm not kidding
Oh sure, you're getting a college education out of the deal, but that's not even close to being fair. While you're out there busting your butt every day, the guys in suits are padding their coffers with your efforts.
What you guys need is someone like Marvin Miller, the late, great baseball union chief who died this week. Someone who can drop some knowledge about just how badly you're getting hosed. Someone to get you organized. Someone with the guts to say, "Play fair, or we're walking."
While the last thing we need is another labor dispute in sports, there may be no greater miscarriage of economic fairness than what's going on amid the ivy-covered columns of higher education.
"There's a reason we call it higher education," said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor in the Department of Sport Management at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "It's supposed to aspire to higher ideals, to try to do what's best from a social justice point of view. It's such a shame for higher education to have a system in place that has really exploited the athletes in a way that is not defensible."
Think that college degree makes it defensible? Not even close.
Oh sure, a school such as Georgia might fork over around $40,000 a year to pay for your room, board and tuition, but let's do some quick math and see how you're making out.
Say a football program provides 85 scholarships a year. Multiply that by what they're spending on each of you, and it comes out to $3.4 million.
So, what does the school get out of this?
Well, let's look again at how the Bulldogs are making out.
According to Forbes, which does an annual ranking of the nation's most valuable programs, Georgia turned a nifty little profit of $53 million on football last year. That figure will only rise as leagues expand into super conferences, television deals keep hurtling toward the stratosphere, and the suits figure out how much more they can make off a playoff system.
A four-team postseason starts in 2014, and ESPN has already signed on for a dozen years. You know it's just a matter of time before the four-team playoff become an eight-team affair, then an eight-team endeavor morphs into a 16-team version. Why not? With labor costs so low, schools would be foolish not to add a few more playoff rounds and cram a few more millions into their already bloated accounts.
If that cuts into your time for classwork and taking final exams, so be it.
Maybe you haven't gotten the memo yet, but our colleges and universities aren't all that concerned about providing an education that will actually enhance your life after football. They tout tougher academic standards and improved graduation rates, but they're mainly concerned about keeping you eligible to take the field.
That's where your real value lies.
When you look around the classroom, you're likely to see many of your teammates. That's not mere coincidence. Last year, The Associated Press found that schools continue to be adept at a tactic known as "clustering," where they put a bunch of you in the same class, one they figure will make it easier for you to pass. They probably didn't bother asking if you were actually interested in that field of study.
Even with clustering and all the extra tutoring they provide, three out of 10 football players still fail to earn a degree. Better hope you're good enough to make it to the NFL. And if you are, you'll be in for a real eye-opening experience. While the stadiums and media coverage might seem largely on par with what you just left behind, there is one big difference.
Yep, in the NFL, they actually pay you to play.
At that point, it might occur to you, "Hey, why didn't I get a paycheck for the last four years?"
A few folks are on your side. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier suggested that he and his coaching colleagues, who also make millions off you, reach into their own wallets to provide a little somethin', somethin' for the help. His plan was derided as folly, the ramblings of an aging coach who doesn't really understand how the system works.
Actually, he knows exactly how it works. But you're young, so we'll let you in on a little secret: People in power are real reluctant to give up their loot, and they'll go to great lengths to tell others why they don't deserve any of it.
Just last week, after Maryland was lured away from its historic association with the Atlantic Coast Conference by the promise of more riches in the Big Ten, another coach floated the idea of giving the players a cut.
As it stands now, the NCAA won't even allow schools to provide a little financial assistance to help your family travel to a bowl game, the bowl game you made possible.
"It would be great to be able to take care of their families or guardian, to be able to help them fly to a bowl game," Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald said. "And take some of the money and allow them to get more money from bowl gifts and things of that nature that they've earned."
A nice gesture, but that's only the tip of this dollar-shaped iceberg.
The NCAA, which senses that you might be getting a little upset with the current arrangement, is considering whether to allow $2,000 stipends for athletes.
Don't be fooled. They're just trying to buy you off.
"It's notable that while coaches have access to representatives who negotiate those multiyear contracts, the athletes are expressly denied that same kind of representation," Staurowsky said. "It speaks to just how big of a conflict there is."
So, let's try this.
Hit up Twitter. And Facebook. And any of those other Web sites you kids hang out on.
Start talking about this issue.
Who knows? If social media can help overturn entire governments, maybe it can bring about real change in college athletics.
We've even got a hash tag for your cause: "treatusfair."
If they won't, tell them you're walking.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963