Buzz Bissinger: College Football Players Should Threaten to Boycott
The pandemic gives them an opportunity to demand what they deserve.
By Buzz Bissinger
Mr. Bissinger is a journalist and the author of “Friday Night Lights.”
NY Times, Aug. 25, 2020
College football is a mess. It has been a mess for a century, with reams of proposed reform in the wasteland of forgotten file cabinets. I was part of the reform movement for a while, writing that college football should be banned because it has nothing to do with academics. It doesn’t. But it is interwoven into the social fabric of colleges and universities. The games are pomp and pageantry and incredible athleticism and tribal fan lunacy. So I eventually gave up on any meaningful change in the sport.
Until the pandemic.
Out of catastrophe can come opportunity. With the season fundamentally half-canceled by the decision of the major conferences of the Big 10 and the Pac-12 not to play, now is the time to recalibrate the college football industry and confront the issues that players, previously shunted into silence, have brought up because of the repercussions of Covid-19: not just obvious health issues but compensation issues and racial issues and exploitation issues. None of this happens when the status quo of the season ticks on year after year. No one listens.
There are those who think the effort to fix college football is malarkey and sanctimony. It’s just sport. It’s just a game. “Game” implies something fun and benign. College football is a huge industry. The five major conferences bring in at least $4 billion in revenue annually.
Yet those who make the game, play the game, are the game, expose themselves to possible brain injury and crippling arthritis and now the pandemic, don’t receive a dime of revenue. The big programs make millions off them — the top 25 most valuable teams range from roughly $27 million in profit at Clemson University to roughly $94 million at Texas A&M University, according to a 2019 study. Head football coaches at Football Bowl Subdivision schools make an average of $2.7 million. Dabo Swinney of Clemson University, $9.3 million, Nick Saban of the University of Alabama, $8.9 million, Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan, $7.5 million. Everybody except the players. It is a system of serfdom unlike any not just in sports but in corporate America.