The Florida A&M football fiasco reminds us that college sports are professional sports

Florida A&M Rattlers Head Coach Willie Simmons

Florida A&M Rattlers Head Coach Willie Simmons
photo: AP

NIL is reasonable. It was ridiculous that “amateur” athletes were not allowed to accept anything financially for their athletic talents other than fees to attend the institution so they could play on the team and be properly housed and fed so they could play well.

Athletes work for their schools. They can only attend classes at certain times and must keep their bodies in top physical condition so they can help generate money for the institution while wearing its colors. Yes, college is ridiculously expensive, so free tuition and room and board is helpful, but it serves both the school and the athletes. Without scholarships, there’s no way for schools to fill football rosters with talent that people will pay admission to watch a game, much less for a network to shell out billions of dollars to televise the games.

What happened to Florida A&M over the weekend is a reminder that while college athletes are free to accept money now, it’s not enough. The work they put in both in and out of season generates revenue for the schools and conferences. If college football were amateur athletics, then when the FAMU football team initially decided as a group not to travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face North Carolina, no one would have batted an eye.

FAMU would lose 20 players due to compliance issues. Only seven offensive linemen were eligible to play. The team was informed of this information the night before the game. At first the players decided not to play. It was a wise decision. They were going to play football — a scrimmage sport — against a Power 5 school with a limited roster not because of injury, but due to eligibility issues, a significant percentage of the roster was ineligible to play.

FAMU coach Willie Simmons left the decision to play up to the players, but they weren’t the only people involved in the discussion. Simmons said in a statement that after initially deciding not to play, the players talked to some university officials, including the president, and then came to the conclusion to participate in the game.

Why would FAMU management be so true to the players’ decision that they wanted to talk to them? There were dire circumstances that resulted in non-professional athletes lacking some of the necessary confidence and players to take the field. If football isn’t their thing, it shouldn’t be a problem that they decide not to play. But if football wasn’t their thing, the $450,000 check would be in jeopardy.

I don’t know what was discussed at these meetings. The players wrote a letter stating that after serious thought and dialogue, they decided to play not for the institution, “but for our families, teammates, classmates, our rabid fan base and our coaches who prepared us and loved us.” They also stated in the letter that will kneel at FAMU’s alma mater after the games because they are unhappy with their circumstances as athletes at that school and unhappy with how the news of all these ineligible players has made the team look when they don’t believe what happened their fault.

But I’m American. I know the value of $450,000 and what the vast majority of organizations in this country would be willing to do to ensure they get that money. Also, the fact that the players participate in a game and the university receives a huge check destroys any concept of amateurism. FAMU’s players played a money game of football like every other Division I team did in Week 0 and they all will through the National Championship game. Whether it’s a Power 5 program part of a big TV deal or an FCS school that needs the check to balance the budget, money is exchanged for players’ services. Except that the money goes from one hand in cuffs to the other, and none to the people whose sweat-inducing labor provides the entertainment.

The NIL took too long to make it to college sports, but thank God it’s here now. This allows players to receive some kind of financial compensation for the work they put in and the revenue they generate. It’s not crypto though HVAC companies which take advantage of the training and performance of the players. These are the schools. And if the Big Ten will sign all of those television contractsand the president of a university will talk to students at a time when they feel uncomfortable playing football without personnel, these are professional athletes.

They deserve more than sponsorship.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.