The news out of Columbus last week only served to strengthen the perception – hell, let's call it reality – that the hook-up was a staple of the culture of Ohio State football. Even the Buckeye paper pushers have been trading their tickets for cars.
The ever-deepening scandal at OSU makes for easy media fodder about an institution run amuck and a convenient target for rivals' stones. While everyone else is enjoying the intrigue, Matt Hinton of the outstanding Yahoo! Sports blog Dr. Saturday is asking the true question of the hour: Will Tatgate provide the deathblow to amateurism in college sports?
The economics of the situation are pretty basic. So long as people want to win, the artificial price ceiling between supply and demand erected by the NCAA's amateurism rules effectively guarantees a black market for impermissible benefits. This, in turn, creates an inherent tension with the rules that schools have written for themselves.
That's how it has been since back when Grantland was a guy who actually wrote about sports. Hinton rightly asserts, however, that we've long passed a tipping point. As the money generated by major college football has continued to surge, the notion that players should receive no direct compensation appears ever more hypocritical, if not thoroughly dated.
Now is about the time when the pollyanas chime in to tell us about the great deal college football players are getting. They try to assign some theoretical book value to everything covered under a scholarship – health care, the cost of a college education, room and board, etc. – and use that as a reference point as to how much the players are being paid under the current system. The thinking goes that if the current players don't like it, there are hundreds of guys out there who would take their place and wouldn't even ask for a full ride.
So, if there are all these weekend warriors out there clamoring to play for far less than what the players get now, why do the schools bother giving out scholarships in the first place? Well, they like winning, for one. The schools also realize that, aside from their parents, no one wants to watch teams full of walk-on-caliber players.
Personally, while I think players should share in far more of football's financial pie, I rationalize my fandom with the knowledge that no one is holding a gun to the players' heads. The schools don't have to offer more, so they don't. The players don't have to take the deal, but they do.
Sure, there are benefits for the players. They have a chance to get a degree. They can train for the NFL if that's their goal. They can be Big Swinging Dicks on campus for a few years if they prefer.
But if we really want to have a productive conversation about improving the collegiate athletic system, let's give up this fiction that players are getting some kind of great deal, let alone one that is fair or equitable.
It's just the deal.