Okay, so it wasn't the most eloquent statement ever, but it was accurate.
"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS."
That bit of wisdom was shared a couple years ago in a tweet by Cardale Jones. He is the starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes, one of the four teams competing in the first ever college football playoffs to determine the national champion. The final game will be on Monday, January 12.
Jones might not sound too sharp, but I assure you he's no idiot. You can't play quarterback at that level without mastering a tremendous amount of information and having the ability to make quick and accurate decisions. So, let's stipulate that Cardale Jones is a smart guy, but with little thirst for book learning.
He's also insightful and honest. In fact, he didn't go to Ohio State to go to school. He went there to play football. Like most starters on teams playing in the big five college football conferences, Jones is not a "student-athlete," but an athlete forced to pretend that he's a student.
At the University of Wisconsin, star running back Melvin Gordon is forgoing his last year in school to make himself available for the NFL draft. Good for him. Why risk injury playing for nothing when he can make millions in the NFL next year?
Talented athletes like Jones and Gordon are being exploited by the current system. While big time college football is now rivaling the NFL for revenue, the guys who actually perform on the field get virtually nothing. Jim Harbaugh, the new coach at Ohio State's traditional rival Michigan, will receive $5 million a year in base salary. Nick Saban at Alabama gets $7 million. In face, there are more than 70 college football coaches with salaries over $1 million.
And those are just the high profile guys. Thousands of athletic directors, assistant coaches, front office staff, network executives, sportscasters and advertising executives take home big chunks of the multi-billion dollar industry that college football has become. Just one piece of that empire, the college football playoffs, is worth $7.3 billion over 12 years in the ESPN television contract.
But at least Jones and Gordon will make lots of money in the pros soon enough. The real problem is for the 95% of players in the top college conferences who will never make it to the next lucrative level. They toil away, risking injury and producing billions in profit for others while getting nothing, except maybe a scholarship.
To head off what they see coming, the big programs are doing something especially cynical. They've made a deal with the NCAA that allows them to pick up not just tuition but the full cost of going to school, including room and board. But for players like Jones who have no interest in academics, that's worth very little.
Executives of the leagues are trying desperately to cling to the false notion of the "student-athlete" because that is their defense against actually paying players like Jones what he's worth. If he's there to go to school and happens to play football, they can get away with paying him for tuition and expenses. But if the truth in Jones' tweet is recognized, then he's actually a football player working for the university and his compensation should be related to his worth.
My guess is that the big five football conferences have punctured a small hole in the dam and that will only grow. Once they've established the principle that their players should be more adequately compensated, it's only a matter of time before --- through negotiation, unions, or lawsuits -- that compensation will take on real meaning.
It's only a matter of time before big time college players will get paid something approaching what they're work is worth. And when that happens, I'll feel a lot better about being a Badgers fan. Far from destroying college sports, those of us who care about fairness and the treatment of workers will be all the more enthusiastic with this change.
So, go get 'em, Cardale Jones. You ain't playin' school out there.