You know, it has everything to do with what benefits the program and nothing to do with what’s good for the student.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Leave it to college football coaches to take a stand and do the right thing …but only in the name of self-aggrandizement.

Thursday, Pac-12 coaches and program surrogates got together in Hollywood for a preseason media circle jerk just a little more than one month out from this season’s kick-off. One of the topics covered, mightily, was the NCAA’s new implementation of an early signing period that will enable players to lock in their commitments in December (the traditional signing day is the first Wednesday of February.)

Coaches could have supported keeping the signing day later in the year for myriad good reasons: 1) It gives the individual more time to vet and consider the best-fit options for their academic and athletic career. 2) Don’t discount the maturity and growth that occurs over a few months in high school, especially when a recruit has some time to focus on academic performance and their own physical and mental health after their school’s fall campaigns. 3) Signing in the heat of college football’s own playoff run will certainly skew decision-making. 4) Most importantly, and in every cliched way, let them be kids for a few more months and worry about grades, lunch, prom and finding a ride somewhere.

Instead, Pac-12 coaches expressed concerns about things like coach turnover after signing.

“…You’re going to recruit and sign an offensive lineman,” Stanford coach David Shaw explained at a presser Thursday. “Great, he’s committed, his family’s committed. He wants to come. He wants to be there. The O-line coach may get a coordinator job someplace else, may become a head coach someplace else, now you might talk about changing the offense with a new coordinator and new line coach. Well, he may not want to play in that new system, so now we’ve created a problem in December that we wouldn’t have had in February because he wouldn’t have signed to begin with.”

Wazzu coach Mike Leach broke rank and did consider the students for a moment, but not necessarily for reasons that would potentially benefit …the student:

“Guy’s 18 and making a very important decision, and between him and his family needs more time to make that decision,” Leach said. “In addition, as a school, you try to evaluate character and things like that. The more opportunity you have to get to know them and spend time with them and their family, the better your chances of making accurate judgments on that. So from that standpoint, I think the additional time is helpful.”

So, basically he’s saying early signing gives the student that much more time to mess up after he’s committed …which could be potentially be a bother for the school and the program.

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, the would-be savior of Phil Knight’s biggest investment, stuck to his playbook, that regardless of time of year (or day) “…you’ve got to recruit, recruit, recruit and get guys to come into your system, the right guys.”

A few years ago, then Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones—now on his second professional team, the Chargers, in two years after having been shipped from Buffalo this week for a conditional pick—posted a real-talk tweet about student athletes: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

Since college football switched to playoff system the sport has grown into an $8 billion/year enterprise. The NFL, which at least pays its players for their literal pound of flesh, generates about $9.5 billion/year; though its product, which has stalled out in recent years due to owner greed, uninspiring and homogeneous play and the recent reveal that literally everyone who plays at that level gets severe brain damage, hasn’t benefited from the same fan ignorance and blind loyalty that college football does quite possibly because the league doesn’t have built-in alumni and public and private institutions of higher learning associated with the product.

Rah rah and flying the school colors is fine and good, till one realizes that ESPN alone is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to telecast seven games a year—four major bowl games, two semifinal bowl games and the national championship game; it’s the kind of coin that has not only sunk ESPN but is the irrefutable evidence that those institutions are profiting, mightily, off free labor that amounts to indentured servitude.

With fewer than 2 percent of college football players matriculating to a professional contract, there should be a moral imperative for the NCAA, along with ADs and coaches, to take a good hard look at students playing football, including but not limited to, changing the rules for safer play (no above-the-waist tackling, period), giving players a cut of the action to be put in a trust accessible when they’re 25 (Oregon’s athletic department made more than $200 million last year, football is said to account for roughly half of that), and making sure graduation rates stay above 80 percent in order for programs to remain eligible for postseason play.

These options are perhaps laughable in some circles. Schools don’t want to share revenue with students and fans don’t want to see the product on the field slowed down or diminished in any way. If anything, the NCAA’s luring of majority black children (60 percent of NCAA football players are black as opposed to 13 percent of the general population) into their clutches even sooner than before is a sign that they’re moving further away from what’s right for the student.

…And that’s not a good sign.

Andrew J. Pridgen helps run sister site Goner Party and is the author of the novella “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in late-2017.

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