NIL is sensible. It was ridiculous that “amateur” athletes were not allowed to accept anything of financial value for their athletic talents, except for the fees to attend the institution so that they can play on the team and be properly housed and nourished so they can play well.
Athletes work for their schools. They can only take classes at certain times and must keep their bodies in outstanding physical condition so they can help generate money for the institution while wearing its colors. Yes, college is ridiculously expensive, so the free tuition and room and board are helpful, but that serves the school as much as the athletes. Without scholarships, there’s no way that schools could fill out football rosters with talent that people would pay admission to watch play, much less a network shell out billions of dollars to air the games on television.
What happened with Florida A&M over the weekend is a reminder that while college athletes are free to accept money now, it’s not enough. The labor that they put in both in and out of season generates revenue for the schools and conferences. If college football was amateur athletics, then when FAMU’s football team originally decided as a group not to travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on North Carolina, no one should’ve batted an eye.
FAMU was going to be down 20 players due to compliance issues. Only seven offensive linemen were going to be eligible to play. The team was informed of this information the night before the game. The players originally decided that they weren’t going to play. It was a reasonable decision. They were going to play football — a collision sport — against a Power 5 school with a limited roster not due to injury, but because of compliance issues a significant percentage of the roster was ineligible to play.
FAMU’s coach, Willie Simmons, left the decision to play up to the players, but they weren’t the only people involved in the discussion. Simmons said in a statement that, after they had originally decided not to play, the players talked with some university officials, including the president, and then came to the conclusion to participate in the game.
Why would FAMU’s leadership be so vested in the players’ decision that they wanted to speak to them? There were trying circumstances that led to non-professional athletes lacking some of the necessary confidence, and players, to take the field. If football isn’t their job, it shouldn’t be an issue that they decide not to play. But if football wasn’t their job a $450,000 check would be in jeopardy.
I don’t know what was discussed in those meetings. The players wrote a letter stating that after serious thought and dialogue they decided to play, not for the institution, “but for our families, teammates, classmates, our rabid fanbase, and our coaches who had prepared us and loved us.” They also stated in the letter that they are going to kneel during FAMU’s alma mater after games, because they are not satisfied with their circumstances as athletes at that school, and unhappy with how news of all those ineligible players made the team look, when they don’t believe what happened is their fault.
However, I am an American. I know the worth of $450,000, and what the overwhelming majority of organizations in this country would be willing to do to ensure they received that money. Also, the fact that the players participate in a game and the university gets a giant check destroys any concept of amateurism. FAMU’s players played a game of football for money, like every other Division I team did in Week 0 and all will do through the National Championship Game. Whether it’s a Power 5 program part of a major television contract, or an FCS school that needs the check to balance the budget, money is exchanging hands for the players’ services. Except that money is going from one cuff-linked hand to another, and none to the people whose sweat-inducing labor is providing the entertainment.
NIL took far too long to get to college sports, but thank goodness it’s here now. It allows the players to receive some sort of financial compensation for the work that they put in, and the revenue that they generate. Still, it’s not the crypto and HVAC companies that are reaping the benefits of the players’ training and performance. It’s the schools. And if the Big Ten is going to be signing all of these television contracts, and the president of a university is going to talk to students at a moment’s notice when they feel uncomfortable about playing football undermanned, those are professional athletes.
They deserve more than a sponsorship.