Oregonians love our college football, especially since the University of Oregon Ducks rose to prominence in recent decades.
We’ve created good-natured dividing lines between Ducks and Beavers, and some of us make treks across the state to support our teams from the stands and the sidelines.
And it’s not just our two big-time state schools that earn our allegiance. Plenty of us root for Washington State, Boise State, Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, too. A few even side with Alabama or Ohio State, UCLA or Notre Dame. The fandom gives us joy, something to believe in and hope for, as well as a way to pass cold Saturday mornings in the comfort of our warm couches. Some even have degrees from the schools they root for, and victories on the field give a sense of pride and accomplishment for the old alma mater.
But this week has cemented what many have long known to be true: College football is a morally repugnant scam that must be dismantled. A safer and more equitable system needs to be rebuilt in its place, somewhere far from America’s higher education system.
Ducks coach Willie Taggart has flown the coop, just a year after he was wooed to Eugene with a big contract, a $68 million athletic facility, and Phil Knight’s unlimited pocketbook and jersey colors. Taggart lasted a year, having made promises to recruits, the local community and his own family that he did not keep.
Taggart will replace former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who in turn took a job with Texas A&M, for which he will be paid $75 million as a state employee. That is patently absurd on the face of it — then add in the fact that he will be coaching a bunch of teenagers who are the reason the stands are packed, in some cases bringing millions of dollars to the university and the athletic department.
The NCAA says they pay these athletes with a college degree, an expensive piece of paper nowadays. But even that is barely true when it comes to football players. About 55 percent of FBS (top level college football) players earn a degree, according to the NCAA. And many of the athletes that do graduate are clustered into “easier” majors that allow them to focus on their sport, but don’t set them up to succeed later in life when the dream of the NFL disappears.
Even if they do graduate, that diploma is not free for many football players — many pay mightily in medical expenses, both in the short term and long term.
The NCAA allows schools to set their own policies when it comes to paying their players’ medical expenses. While some schools do pay, it is not a requirement. Many small schools require athletes to shell out up to $10,000 from their own pocket before the university steps in.
If we’re not yet ready to blow up the system — and end college football for good and remake it as a for-profit, developmental league — then we have a few small changes that are the very least the NCAA can do for its football athletes.
Each student who secures an athletic scholarship should receive free tuition to that school until they earn a degree — even if it takes them an extra year or two or three due to their disrupted schedule.
And secondly, each should have full-coverage medical insurance paid for by the school. If these young men are putting their bodies on the line, universities should be on the hook for the cost of injuries that occur in the line of duty, whenever those injuries manifest themselves.
Perhaps that will make college football too expensive. So be it. Let the best players make a buck in another league, and let colleges concentrate on what they should be doing: educating our nation’s young people.
Football is a dangerous sport, but all societies have had gladiator games and likely always will.
The NFL must do what it can to make the game safer, but in the end its athletes are paid handsomely for the risks they take. That is not the case in the NCAA. Its athletes are treated like chattel while its coaches and athletic directors accept millions and millions in taxpayer dollars.
End it. Rework the NCAA soon, but end college football now.