Know how people who've worked in restaurants always warn you to never go in your favorite joint's kitchen? I've felt that way about college football for years now.
I spend lots of time – way too much, in fact – thinking about college football, talking about college football and writing about college football. You can keep the NFL, March Madness and America's pastime. For my money, nothing beats Saturdays in the fall. If you're looking for perfection in sports, college football is about as close as you can get.
Which makes it even tougher to stomach how it all comes together for those 12 (or 13 or 14) games every year.
This week, episodes of PBS's Frontline and HBO's Real Sports plumbed the depths of the fraudulent notion of "amateurism," and while neither really broke any new ground with their reporting, they did serve to focus the sports world's collective attention on the issues that have been plaguing major college athletics for decades. Will Lyles, Jim Tressel and the Fiesta Bowl did their part, too.
Aside from the names on the fronts of the jerseys, there's nothing "college" about college football anymore. Whatever link there was that once existed between the sport and the educational mission of universities died long ago. Football's a profit center for the schools, and there are plenty of John Junkers and Mark Emmerts and Nick Sabans making big money off of it, along with some Cecil Newtons in the shadows trying to get paid.
It's tough to begrudge them that. Yet, there would be a whole lot less largesse to go around if the business' labor force was being compensated in some way commensurate with the money they're generating.
We can argue all day long about how much an athletics scholarship is worth. But Oregon has $25,000 to pay "recruiting consultants" and Notre Dame is spending money on hydraulic lifts to film practice. I'd hope we can all agree that there's plenty of economic "leakage" in the system that could be going back to the players – more than just a couple hundred bucks here and there.
(And I haven't even gotten into whether or not the golf and archery teams need to be flying across the country for matches.)
Of course, as a fan, I get a little apprehensive when we start talking all crazy like, because there's no tinkering around the edges to fix this. Rectifying the situation means picking the nuclear option. Bye, bye, NCAA, for starters. There would be some casualties among some programs that simply couldn't afford to pay the players. Given the Title IX considerations, Washington might even have to get involved, too.
If the game of college football as we know it is so great for the fans, why mess with it at all?
For the same reasons that women can vote and people can sit where they damn well please on the bus.
Spare me the red herrings like the difficulties in trying to determine out who should make what. That's like saying wrongfully convicted people should stay in jail because we wouldn't know what to do with them once we set them free.
Excuses and rationalizing shouldn't stop us from figuring out a way to see that the players earn at least some approximation of the value they're currently creating for everyone else. This is an argument that we shouldn't let the fans win.