Part of college football’s power over us comes from what I call the romance of amateurism, the idea that the kids we see on television and cheer on in our stadiums are in school for the same reason our next-door neighbor’s son is, and that, outside of those game days when we connect with them, they lead the same lives. It’s an ideal that the NCAA and the schools have done their damnedest to exploit to their profit.
But it’s nothing more than a convenient fiction.
Unless you think this is the kind of thing every college kid utters about himself…
“I’m here to serve the people,” sophomore running back Sony Michel said. “They’re fans and if they ask for something, I’m willing to give them my autograph. It’s no big deal.”
… while in almost the same breath his head coach is close to calling for an outright ban on the practice.
“You’re just about to the point where you say don’t sign anything for anybody,” coach Mark Richt said. “But that’s tough. I don’t think we can get to that point. But if you are doing it for pay, then you are wrong and you just shouldn’t do it.”
That isn’t to say Richt is a hypocrite. He’s only pointing out the consequences of living with the risk of violating NCAA norms. Sadly, between the Green and Gurley suspensions, he’s the closest thing we’ll find to an expert on the subject.
But it’s not just about autographs and some money on the side. More than anything else, it’s about control.
At Clemson, Dabo Swinney has banned his players from social media during football season.
Don’t expect to see any tweets, snapchats or Facebook posts from the Clemson Tigers the next few months.
As has become standard practice, the Tigers’ social media ban went into effect on Aug. 3, reportsUSA Today.
Players are not required to delete or deactivate their accounts, but are “forbidden” from being active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media during the season, according to the report.
The ban is intended to keep players’ focus on football as opposed to the outside world.
Now some of you may applaud this as a necessary or wise step. But if that’s the case, why is focus only important for players during football season? Why doesn’t Clemson apply such a ban to all students attending school on full scholarships, or all of its enrollees? For that matter, if the academic mission of a school is as important as the athletic one, why doesn’t Swinney ban his players from social media during the entire school year? (And while I’m asking, if you’re the parent of a child attending college and you approve of what Swinney has done, have you imposed such a ban?)
Whatever happened to letting kids learn a few life lessons from their experiences along the way? Isn’t that supposed to be part of a college education? What’s the point of treating twenty-somethings, people close to having to step out and make it in the real world, in the way we’d treat our eight-year old daughter?
It happens because they’re football players, because their coaches make millions of dollars a year and because those coaches think that control equals accountability (for them, not their players). All of which may be true, but has nothing to do with the way the average college student is allowed to lead his or her life.
Another thing to keep in mind here is that those of us outside the arena don’t see student-athletes as mere students.
Carter and teammate Jake Ganus said the attention they get is nothing compared to that of running back Nick Chubb.
Even some of the other players get extra attention simply for knowing Chubb.
“I’m not Nick Chubb, but I am Nick Chubb’s friend,” Ganus said.
Chubb is aware of the public persona that comes with being a star on the Georgia football team. He likes having the ability to have his peace and quiet every so often.
“That’s part of job,” Chubb said. “You come here to be a football player, but other things come with it and that’s one of it. People want to see me and greet me and I enjoy it. But sometimes I just like to fall back into the shadows.”
Just like… I’ll let you finish the sentence there.
But it’s not just us fans who are guilty of that. The schools themselves, the purveyors of amateurism romance, are just as bad in their own way.
Unless you think that Tennessee paints rocks for every kid who applies there.
Believe it or not, my point isn’t that this is why players deserve to be paid. It’s that the system surrounding them is corrupt and hypocritical. The NCAA and its member schools try to straddle a divide of amateur innocence on one side and big money with big demands on student-athletes on the other. And it’s a gap that grows ever wider as more money flows into the system and raises the stakes. The romance isn’t sustainable, and the sooner we realize that, the less we’ll be hurt by the sport’s changes.