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Column: Past time to show the players some real money

DALLAS (AP) — They’re gathering in Big D to revel in the finale of college football’s first playoff, a long-overdue idea that is bringing in hundreds of millions of extra dollars each year to those who run this supposedly amateur sport.

No wonder the guy who oversees the playoff sounded so giddy.

“College Football Playoff,” executive director Bill Hancock said Friday, kicking off the championship weekend in a hotel ballroom not far from downtown Dallas. “Let me say that again. College Football Playoff. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?”

It sure does, especially to those who won’t play a down when Oregon takes on Ohio State in Monday night’s championship game.

A new television deal with ESPN gives the conferences and schools an additional $320 million per year, a more than threefold increase that brings the total annual payout to an astonishing $475 million. That doesn’t count anything else — ticket sales from an extra game, additional side deals between the bowls and conferences, enhanced marketing opportunities.

Now, it doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that all that extra revenue should move along the debate about giving the players their fair share, an idea that so far has focused on providing the full cost of a scholarship (translation: let’s give them just enough so they don’t have to sell autographs to make ends meet), plus some worthy goals such as paying future education costs and providing long-term health care.

Granted, that will be a sizeable chunk of money, but it’s really just chump change.

For kicks, we broke out a calculator and found that $320 million divvied up among the approximately 11,000 scholarship football players at the 129 top-level schools would come to more than $29,000 a year — FOR EACH AND EVERY PLAYER.

When those numbers are tossed around, you can see how big a con that big-time college football has been perpetuating all these years. And when you see how quickly the playoff moved to reimburse player’s families for the cost of traveling to the games — agreeing in the bat of an eye to dole out around a half-million dollars — you realize that things can move a whole lot faster that we’ve been led to believe.

But the forces against change are strong, so many snookered by the ridiculous notion that a college education is largely a sufficient reward for helping bring in millions of dollars to the ol’ alma mater.

Even Brian Bosworth, quite the rebel during his playing days, now sounds like he’s pushing to be the next leader of the NCAA.

“It’s a privilege to go to school,” the Boz said after being announced in the latest class of inductees for the College Football Hall of Fame. “That school is giving you a chance to get an education. That education can afford you an opportunity to do some great things in your youth that you’re passionate about, but it’s also a 40-year opportunity to create a work environment for you and your family. I think it’s a give-give on both sides of the coin.”

Give-give?

Give us a break.

The players are the ones doing most of the giving, and they should be peeved that the Big Five conferences aren’t pushing to do more with their so-called reform efforts to assist students doubling as athletes. We can only hope that today’s players, and those still to come, will realize just how bad they’re being ripped off. Hopefully they’ll keep pushing forward with the unionization effort that started at Northwestern.

It won’t be easy. Many of those who once played the game are now willing to go along with the myth perpetuated for so long by the NCAA.

Just listen to another Hall of Fame inductee, Lincoln Kennedy, who sounds like a grumpy old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn.

“Personally, I think what’s lost focus in this whole scope of football and sport in the college world is the value of an education,” Kennedy said. “I listen to kids talk about how many times they’re going to be on TV, whether or not the team runs a pro-style offense or defense. What type of amenities they have at their facility. Whatever happened to the education?”

Sorry, Lincoln, that horse long since left the barn.

He ain’t coming back either, despite the insistence of mouthpieces such as Hancock who say there’s still something pure and genuine about big-time college athletics.

“There will continue to be debate in the NCAA about how to do better for student-athletes, keeping in mind that this has to be part of higher education,” Hancock said. “It will not become a Triple-A for the pros. This is college sports. That is its charm, and none of us want to lose that.”

Sorry, when it comes to football and men’s basketball players, they are absolutely right to believe that college as a nothing more than a necessary steppingstone on the way to the pros. Because that’s exactly what it is, a de facto minor league-slash-deal with the devil worked out by higher education, the NFL and the NBA.

Well, enough already.

Show them the money.

Some real money.

___

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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