Though most Americans vow to bring about change in their lives at the start of a new year, there are some traditions in American culture that invariably are here to stay: the ironic abandonment of many of the fleeting resolutions made during New Years’ eve parties, the sobering realization that one still has months of winter to endure (and now without the warming comfort of a holiday season), and the season’s end of what has become the nation’s most celebrated corporate scam: college football.
For the third, it’s difficult to blame people for enthusiastically participating in the exploitation of college students across the country. After all, the suspense and excitement of football, particularly on the college level, is hard to mimic in other televised mediums. Even professional football at times struggles to match the entertainment value of its college counterpart, whose free-flowing nature and emotionally-charged match-ups are complemented breathtakingly by its passionate fan support. Indeed, the newly instated playoff system at the college level is stealing much of the thunder away from this year’s NFL playoffs, as football fans rejoice in finally being able to crown one school as having the undeniably best football team in the country. But in the shadows of all this newfound joy, the players making the magic—and money—happen are being cheated more than ever.
Each year, fans cling to their school’s football teams as they would to their own flesh: reveling in victories, shedding tears in losses, and sparking fierce debates with other fans. Even those who don’t have a dog in the race, so to speak, love to watch such a complex, strategic sport be played at a high level by some of the nation’s top athletes. The players are at the heart of it all, their value scrutinized on every play. Such is the nature of the game, but the fun ends when one then considers their value as commodities.
College football is a billion-dollar industry, garnering incredible sums of money from such sources as television deals, ticket sales, and merchandising, to name a few. These players work for hours a day to prepare for and produce the content that is so irresistibly exciting, and indeed profitable, on Saturday afternoons. The burden to deliver only increases when a top school’s hopes of appearing in a championship game—and thus guarantee even more lucrative cash returns—rest on the players’ ability to advance in the newly added playoff tournament. The stakes are incredibly high, and the pressure on these players not just to perform on the field and win their school an extra game, but also to serve as sparkling representations of their respective universities, should be enough to warrant sizable compensation. Yet, all that is afforded to each college football player is a scholarship, which on average is between $30,000 and $60,000 each year, depending on the institution. If there is a winner in college football, it certainly isn’t the players.
While it could be argued that a free education is a stepping stone to a better future, one doesn’t need an economics major to explain the disparity between value and return in this bargain. These young men dedicate their lives to playing football for schools that do not allow them to realize their own value. Such schools then turn around and make money on their players’ likenesses, soaking in millions of dollars under the blanket excuse of giving them a free college education. They are brought to these schools to deliver victories and improve the schools’ athletic prestige, which severely undermines the academic pretense of their reward. Usually in a situation like this, the proper course of action would be for players to unionize. Instead, they are told to leave it all on the field, sacrificing their bodies in the name of sport while everyone consumes the fruits of their labor. The process is sickening, and the playoff system only exacerbates the issue, moving college football a step closer to a professional sport while insisting that the workers are simply students.
For most who geared up for the National Championship game this past Monday, there is likely not a more festive event than college football in the month of January. To the players, however, the game must be a glaring reminder that a fair compensation is still far from the reach of the end zone.