Alan Dell

Commentary | Money triumphs over player safety in college football playoff proposal

Those who hope to own the rights to the proposed four-team college football playoff are already counting the cash.

The only major question is how to pick the participating teams.

Unfortunately, no one is considering the players who are needed to make this happen.

If your team is in a conference that has a championship game and it reaches the national title game, you will have played 15 games.

Excuse us for the uncomfortable math, but that is one fewer game than an NFL regular season.

Remember what happened when NFL owners tried to shove an 18-game regular season down the players' throats? The NFL Players Association told them where they could stick that idea.

The NFPLA has enough sense to know additional money won't do their players much good if they can't find the front door to their house because their brains have turned into Alaskan mush.

College football players will not get one additional cent for playing a 15-game schedule and risking their well-being so coaches, athletic directors and schools can stuff their wallets.

An estimated 300,000 sports-related traumatic brain injuries, most of them concussions, occur annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Football is at the forefront.

Silent on the increased

danger is NCAA President Mark Emmert, the man who promotes the word "student-athlete" to show his organization cares about those who generate the money while living the life of an indentured servant.

If you don't care about players' safety, then at least pay them.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier took a stand for the players at last week's SEC spring meetings when he proposed giving college football players additional money to help cover their expenses, which are way above what a "full scholarship" involves.

All the SEC head football coaches agreed. A good part of the rest of the college football world acted as if Spurrier's head must be damaged from all the times he threw his cap to the ground.

"We think they need more and deserve it. It's as simple as that ... because of the tremendous amount of money they're bringing in," Spurrier said in part.

He was calling for his football players to get a stipend that would cover expenses above the cost of attendance and said that number should be around $3,500 to $4,000 per year.

Spurrier's plea was not officially heard, but the SEC announced it would distribute at record $241.5 million to its 12 member schools for the 2011-12 school year, an average payout of about $20.1 million. About $166.1 million of the total was generated by football.

Maybe the other SEC coaches were feeling guilty about the millions they earn thanks to their players or worried Spurrier would get a recruiting edge.

He has been out front in leading the charge that big-time college football players are getting cheated and are at the back end of the food line.

Most colleges already have their PR machines well-oiled to spit out the reasons why they can't give football players more money.

Their trump card is Title IX. It throws gender equity into the equation and is the best weapon in their arsenal. Nobody wants to be called a chauvinist.

There is a simple solution. It is so simple and fair that the NCAA is sure to reject it.

Let the players get their own endorsement and sponsorship deals. They did it for Olympic athletes before they took the amateurism out of the games and allowed pros to play.

It makes sense. If an athlete can accept endorsement money or sell his name to a company, it doesn't cost the school anything and you can't claim gender discrimination because it's a free-market system.

Everybody makes his or her own deal based on demand.

But this won't happen.

Universities dependent on football revenue to survive will see the cash that an apparel company gives an athlete as something that will diminish the available money that could go into their vaults.

There also will be charges that certain schools -- shall we dare say those in the SEC? -- will have a clandestine marketing firm available to get their athletes the best deals.

And if it turns out that it might be better for a five-star football player to attend Rutgers over Alabama because of marketing opportunities in the New York metropolitan area, how long will it take Nick Saban to jump off his soap box to help his economically deprived football players.

Emmert is not a physician, but he surely can work through a simple math problem that two more college football games a year will not ensure the improved health of the players.

"It was a common occurrence to have eight, 10, 12 kids a year die in the early 1900s playing college football," he said at the Big 12 annual meeting last week. "The NCAA was formed in part to say, 'We can't have that.' And today if we had anything like that happen, we'd go appropriately berserk."

University of Washington defensive back Curtis Williams died in 2002 from a football injury, and the NCAA wouldn't give his family money to pay for the funeral.

Emmert, the former president at Washington, has done little to change the NCAA catastrophic insurance program that falls way short of helping players with catastrophic injuries, and no one is going berserk.

They are more concerned about how to pick the four teams for major college football's first playoff in 143 years.

That's what they call progress!

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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