End the hypocrisy involving college football players

Neil Nakahodo and Noah Musser / MCT

There’s more and more talk about giving college football players more money for providing us all that excitement on Saturday afternoons.

Just do a computer search for “pay college football players” and see what comes up.

This season some players wore wristbands with “APU” on them during games. That stands for All Players United, “a movement promoted by the National College Players Association (NCPA) to assist players in gaining a bigger piece of college sports’ growing financial pie,” according to the Denver Post.

I applaud the effort, but raising the stipend a few thousand dollars a year will not eliminate the hypocrisy that plagues big-time college football and basketball.

What universities need to do is hire players. If they want to pursue a degree, give them a scholarship. If they don’t, just pay them $20,000 a year to play for your school and let them live in your dorms and eat your food.

That way, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher won’t have to answer any awkward questions about the football team’s embarrassing graduation rates.

The arguments for providing players with higher stipends are valid. Major college football and basketball programs generate huge amounts of money.

Next year, Nick Saban will get about $7 million at Alabama, Fisher about $3.6 million at FSU and Will Muschamp about $3 million at Florida.

Universities spend millions to build posh stadiums and mind-boggling weight and training rooms.

But boosting player stipends so they don’t have to beg mom and dad to subsidize their off-campus apartment each month won’t cleanse major college athletics.

With rare exception, talented football and basketball players don’t choose FSU, UF or the University of Central Florida because of their impressive academic offerings. They dream of NFL and NBA careers, and playing major college ball is the road to riches despite the grim odds of playing pro.

Now, add the crazy boosters. These are the most dangerous people in college athletics. Many of them desperately want to hang out with Jameis Winston. They have money and are giddy about sharing some with impressionable star athletes.

These goofballs regularly ruin college coaches’ careers. Look at Jim Tressel at Ohio State. With his sweater-vests and spectacles, Tressel was regarded as a paragon of college football virtue. But he was brought down by a gang of players who traded their Big 10 championship rings for cash and free tattoos.

I suspect many college coaches lie awake at night worrying about things like: Is Aaron Hernandez out wandering Gainesville tonight shooting into cars?

Just hire Hernandez. Don’t pretend he’s a student. If he wants to take money from a booster, let him. All he has to do is get to the weight room on time in the morning.

So, here’s my plan:

• Colleges can recruit high school stars just like they do now, but the kids have the option of enrolling or not enrolling. This will eliminate the preposterous charade of the “student-athlete.”

• Pay all the players a salary of no more than $20,000 a season plus room and board. The NCAA and the various conferences can set the limits so that all schools are on an equal footing when they recruit.

• Limit the time an employee-athlete can work for a school to four years. Impose an age limit.

• Offer the kids scholarships after they finish playing so that when they realize that their bodies are damaged and they’re not going to become rich pro athletes, they can learn something useful.

Don’t worry about the alumni reaction. They just want a winner. If UCF, UF and FSU regularly appear in bowl games, you won’t hear a peep from alums about the purity of amateur college athletics, which is a joke.

Thomas O’Hara is editor of ContextFlorida, an online opinion network on Florida topics. He is a former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

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