The hidden cost of college football

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The Clemson University Tigers won college football’s national championship Jan. 9 in what became an instant classic. Quarterback Deshaun Watson marched Clemson’s offense down the field with two minutes to play and capped off the drive with a game-winning touchdown pass, setting aside Alabama’s vaunted defense and talk of a dynasty.

Earlier in the game, Watson was sent spinning in the air and awkwardly landed on his hip after a vicious hit. Before that, freshman defensive end Clelin Ferrell injured his left ankle, stared anxiously at the sideline and collapsed on the turf during the next play where he was assisted off by the training staff. Late in the third quarter, Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough fractured his leg and worked with trainers to return to action to no avail. Nearly every player was subjected to sub-concussive blows to the head, which scientists now say may drive ex-players to madness.

Players do this for what, exactly?

Alabama’s football program reportedly earned $97 million in 2016. While Clemson earned about half that, it’s still nothing to scoff at. Head coaches are typically rewarded handsomely for their role in the business. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made $5.87 million this season after bonuses were tacked on. The Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban was paid a cool $6.93 million and lived in a mansion paid for by the boosters.

College football teams in the power five conferences are not strapped for cash. Ohio State University, a College Football Playoff team, anticipates an influx of $45 million with a new Nike deal for 2018, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. This is on top of the streams of revenue already flooding the university in television contracts, ticket sales and donations.The Southeastern Conference, the most successful of the power five, pulled in $527.4 million in the first fiscal year of the CFP from August 2014 to August 2015.

What compensation do players receive? A free education and an allowance called cost of attendance. COA’s can range from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the institution. It’s enough to pay for a cellphone, put gas in a car and buy some food if they’re lucky. The prospect of receiving a college degree for free is a valuable asset, but it’s not enough.

Many players take out insurance policies and a few even skip their teams’ respective bowl games to protect themselves from a career-threatening injury and prepare for the NFL where they are compensated for their services. Watson had a $5 million policy that would have paid out if he suffered a career-ending injury during this past season. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey took a great deal of criticism when he decided to forego Stanford’s Sun Bowl appearance in December. Critics suggested he was abandoning the team.

Are college football players, who are categorized as amateur student-athletes, entrenched in a form of indentured servitude? Are universities and coaches directly enriched from their play while these players may be risking their future well-being? Yes.

Are elite college football players being ripped off? Simply, yes.