The worst kept secret was confirmed in late November. Not only is Urban Meyer coming back to coaching college football, but the Ohio native is coming home and is the new head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. As part of his deal to coach one of the best college football head coaching jobs, Meyer will be nicely compensated to the tune of $4 million per year, every year for the next six.
Yet, still people would rather debate over whether college football needs a playoff or not. All you need to know on that front is that precisely when Meyer signed his name on his 6-year, $24-million contract, the case against a playoff in college football rested its case.
It’s official now; Alabama will play LSU on Jan. 9, 2012, for the BCS national championship. This will be the second game between the two teams this season, LSU having already won 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa a month ago.
This idea of a rematch doesn’t sit well with many in the college football world. On the one hand, the first game proved that we shouldn’t believe the hype, and that a game between two great defenses and two bad offenses does not make for great football. But that’s not what this is about. Others wonder why Alabama should get a second crack at LSU. Let me answer that for them: because Alabama has proven to the BCS to be the second best team this season. It’s really as simple as that.
Let’s put it bluntly, because it’s true. The BCS is broken and could be improved. Perhaps a college football playoff would be such an improvement. If nothing else, a playoff system would give more teams a chance to compete for the crystal ball, but there’s no guarantee that the best team would be crowned champion. All it guarantees is that the team who can win however many more games it takes, would lift the Coaches’ trophy. Yet, a playoff system also comes with its own set of problems: for example, how many teams is enough? 4? 16? 32? 64?
But most of all, don’t fool yourself: the only reason why some people want a playoff in college football is because this is what they’re conditioned to believe in; because this is what they want and prefer. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they acknowledge that this is where they come from. But making a case for a college football playoff is not where you want to start acting righteous.
Perhaps you’ve read Taylor Branch’s cover story in the September issue of The Atlantic, where he examines college football in depth. If you haven’t, I’ll do just as he did in this blog post but in about one-tenth of Branch’s word count.
The NCAA operates in ways that increase their privilege and economic power, usually to the detriment of the college athletes. In the United States, amateurism is a sham. The public outcry shouldn’t be over whether or not so-called student-athletes are paid illegally or not, but rather over the fact that not more of them are paid. It wouldn’t be noble to pay college students, they say; but ideals of youth and innocence have departed college sports long ago. Universities now earn profits as large as $80 million per year while at the same time enforcing that a football player like Georgia’s AJ Green be suspended four games for selling his game-worn jersey–while still selling that same jersey and pocketing the sales’ money.
But of course, none of that should come as news to the readers.
On the one hand, the NCAA governing body and the universities make money from the unpaid labor of young athletes. How much money exactly? Apparently as much as $771 million, in 2011 only, from CBS to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament. There’s hypocrisy in play, because then the NCAA turns around and tell the public that by erasing the profit motive, sports instill values such as expression, physical well-being and creativity. This is a noble ideal, but it’s laughable that college athletes should adhere to it when the NCAA clearly doesn’t; when it leases about $1 million in 2006 for the expense of private jets for example. All the while, the free education that the NCAA’s tax-exempt status guarantees to provide for college athletes comes in the form of one-year, renewable scholarships. Plus, let’s not forget that a football playoff would also cut into the athletes’ time spent studying or attending classes. The rationale is that there’s no need to pay them since they’re paid with a free education. But if we cut into said education, what is there left?
Then, the NCAA denies college athletes their capital power. For the football players, their body is cultural capital in the sense that it informs others of their physical capacity and of the decisions they’ve made regarding health, dietary habits and general ways of life. The college athletes showcase that they live an active life, have a healthy diet and that a healthy body is also a strong body. Through football, NCAA athletes will meet others with similar interests and in turn, this allows for a greater social network–and one that’s financially viable at that, because this is really what it’s about if you look at the NCAA.
Yet, college football players are involved in violent and intense sports, and everything can come to a halt because of injuries. Branch (2011) tells the reader about TCU’s Kent Waldrep, who was paralyzed below the neck after an injury sustained on the football field. His body, a symbol of cultural capital, was broken and nine months later, TCU stopped paying for his medical bills. His case shows that while there may be some elite college athletes who will reap the (financial) rewards of their labour in a professional league, most will not. Instead, most will maybe attain fame through the NCAA, but definitely not fortune. Rather, the NCAA itself attains fortune.
This is all possible because of an ambiguous definition of college athletes as so-called student-athletes. College athletes are not athletes in college nor are they students who happen to excel at their sport; no, they’re both student and athlete at once. And in needing to be both at once, they are neither. They’re athletes when they happen not to meet the academic standards, but they’re students when it’s time to pay them for their athletic feats. College athletes join universities on the basis of renewable one-year scholarships and when they’re let go, it’s because they’re athletes and their athletic performance has dipped; yet, they can’t touch the billions of dollars that college sports make every year, because they’re students–and students don’t get paid. This is how the NCAA can justify some of its rules and in the end the college athletes can’t win, but the NCAA sure does.
All that being said, let’s indeed argue for a college football playoff. The irony, of course, being that on Jan. 9, 2012, LSU and Alabama will not be thinking playoffs. They will be like Jim Mora, and just hoping that they can win a game.