College Football Has Become More of a Business Than a Sport


Guess you have heard about NIL in college football. That stands for “Name, Image, Likeness,” reflecting a radically new compensation arrangement for players. Simply put, if a college or university makes money by selling items with a player’s name, photo or sketch on them, the athlete gets a cut of the deal. That’s cash I’m talking about.

Paying players to participate in a game they love seems quite unnecessary to me–when they already enjoy free repeated exposure in every type of media daily, free tuition, free celebrity status, free travel across the nation and the potential for moving onto a lucrative professional career. Granted, few get to move to that acclaimed next level, yet all have the opportunity to try.

Without question, college football has abandoned its amateur status. For me, that’s sad. Whatever happened to “the love of the game”?


And there are other drastic alterations I consider harmful. I’ve been around long enough to remember when:

–a player started his football career with one team, considered playing there a privilege and never thought about moving elsewhere.

— a player dreamed about playing in his own state, which had groomed him in one of its high schools. Growing up in Mississippi decades ago, I noticed that Ole Miss might have three or four out of state players. Yet usually those were from just across the state line. Nobody showed up, or got recruited, from Oklahoma, Michigan or Ohio.

–games took place outdoors. There were no protective domes. So young men learned how to play, and play quite well, in heat, rain, wind, mud and snow. Spectators in some climates laughed as they sipped coffee and wrapped up in blankets they brought to the game.

–substitutions were minimal. In “one-platoon” football you played offense and defense. There were no “specialists.” At Ole Miss the kicker played the entire game at tackle.

— the referee made a call, such as “First Down,” and that was it. Coaches and players recognized the authority of the man in stripes. No need for cameras to show the play fifteen times while debates went on about the validity of the call. The game moved along quicker and with less friction.

–there were four major bowl games: Sugar, Rose, Orange and Cotton. Do the math, and you’ll see that we identified only eight teams as being worthy of top billing. In recent years, we shifted to rewarding mediocrity, adding a multitude of bowl games and the requirement you only had to win half your games to participate.

How much do I love college football? As much as anybody I know. I attended twelve Sugar Bowl games and more than two hundred Georgia home games.

Yet as I’ve made clear, I’m convinced that monetizing the game by paying athletes diminishes a great tradition. Also, as a confessing curmudgeon, I think the good ole gridiron days were great for colleges, players and fans. They won’t return, so I’ll cherish them as I remember them.

Oh, and games that ended in a tied score were equally as exciting as the overtimes we added to declare a winner.

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