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Dan Bickley

Power shifting from coaches to players across college football

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Change is washing over the world. Statues of ill repute are coming down. The Southeastern Conference told the state of Mississippi to get a new flag. It won’t be long before the Redskins join Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth at the table of retired logos.

A moment has become a nationwide movement, and no sport will be more affected than college football, a seedy place where salesmen reign, where dictators once hid, where tyrants once flourished.

Already, we’ve seen player uprisings at Iowa, Florida State and Oklahoma State. True colors are beginning to matter to college athletes. If you’re a head coach in 2020, you must do more than say the right things. You need to prove it. You need to pick the right side.

If you want players to fight for you, well, you better fight for them.

It’s a new realm, and it began with college athletes daring to skip meaningless bowl games to protect their financial futures. It expanded to players hell-bent on earning a slice from their name, image and likeness. It’s grown to a collective mindset that must be terrifying to some of the control freaks still in charge.

To wit:

Noted SEC media expert Paul Finebaum questioned how honest college football coaches will be in the face of a pandemic, and whether they’d be inclined to bury positive COVID-19 tests during rivalry week or before a huge game. He said the sport is “rife with lying and cheating and fraudulence and deception.”

Heavy, ugly words. And on Thursday night, they all came true.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 30 UCLA players do not trust their school to act in their best interests. They demanded that a “third-party health official” be on hand for all football activities to ensure that UCLA is following COVID-19 protocols.

“If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities,” the document reads. “The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win …”

This a stunning indictment of their UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, just like the mutiny at Oklahoma State and their pigeon-brained head coach, Mike Gundy. It symbolizes what’s happening in college football, where power is being seized by those who have had none in the past; players who have been underserved by the system for decades; players who make the plays on the field that make the money for a cash-flush, sham system, one that has been preying on student-athletes forever.

We didn’t know any of this when we initially laughed/scoffed at Arizona State University for their unconventional hiring of Herm Edwards. No one could’ve foreseen the tumult that awaited in 2020. But ASU is very lucky. They picked a better man than head coach, and that’s what these times require. They picked someone sincere and trustworthy, striving for a higher purpose. Someone who isn’t climbing the money ladder in college sports.

That matters more than ever.

College football was once a yes sir universe. If that meant no drinking water over the course of practice or verbal abuse that lasted four years, such was the price of glory. That was the cost of playing college football before mascots, marching bands and enormous crowds.

Those days are over. The scales have been tipped. College athletes are flexing like never before. They understand their value, their importance and their enemy. The best ones know they are worth far more to their university than their university is to them.

It’s a simple equation, really. Unlike NFL players, the great college athletes are not getting paid for their talents. And when you’re getting next-to-nothing for your spectacular contributions on the football field, well, that makes you dangerous.

Because you have next-to-nothing to lose.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier