NIL and the transfer portal are transforming college football, and it sucks. I prefer cheering for players who develop, become starters, and star at the same college they enrolled in coming out of high school. However, while I may not like some aspects of where college football is going, it has never been fair for schools, coaches, administrators, bowl officials, and the media to make money from college football while denying players the same. Players should have the right to make money in a free market and change "jobs" whenever it suits them, just like non-athletes. Just like you.
Others have made money from college athletes since the game began. Walter Camp, the father of football, was an ardent proponent of amateurism through a career in which he profited from his "children." Camp made his money running a family business but enjoyed and profited from many football-related side gigs as a writer, coach, advisor, and supervisor of the Yale athletic association.
Camp recommended and pushed through a new rule requiring teams to gain five yards in three downs in 1882, so football was still an infant in 1883 when Camp made $1,200 per year running Yale's athletic organization. That may not seem like much money, but it was $35,364 in 2022 dollars or $35K more than any Yale athlete made. Just a few years later, students like Amos Alonzo Stagg bussed tables and worked odd jobs to put themselves through Yale, while the wealthy Camp benefitted financially from his efforts.
Jumping ahead more than half a century, the hypocrisy of the situation was outlined by Henry McLemore. Rather than paraphrase his comments, here are his thoughts on the situation, which are only now -eighty-plus years later- beginning to be resolved.
McLemore, who was a vociferous supporter of the Japanese internment camps during WWII, had his own issues but was spot on about this one. The late 1930s saw SEC players become the first to receive formal athletic scholarships, which may have been reasonable compensation until television money came along. Still, things have been out of balance for decades, so recent changes may address those problems.
We all have our faults, and institutions like college football also have them. As the new year begins, let's hope the next few years allow us to find a happy place that provides equity to individual players while preserving many elements of the game we love.
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