Let the NFL Take Over College Football

To understand what college football has become, consider the past few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of fans traveled thousands of miles to the BCS and other bowl games, generating billions of dollars in television advertising, tourism, and apparel revenue. Some of these “amateur” teams will earn nearly $20 million each (and, yes, some of them will have to share those winnings with their conference).

Add to this the fact that conference realignments are forever changing the college football

Notre Dame Stadium

Notre Dame Stadium

landscape, the sports’ history and traditions usurped by the pursuit of the next big TV contract. In short, college football is becoming more and more like the NFL, complete with multimillion dollar media rights deals, apparel contracts, and luxury suites for wealthy alumni boosters. It would seem that the time — and circumstances — are right to let the NFL take over college football.

Don’t laugh. The NFL is the only professional league that does not have a minor-league system. (Yes, most NBA players come from college programs, but there is also the fledgling NBA Development League.) Only the NFL uses our colleges and universities almost exclusively as a free training ground for its players. The NFL brings in close to $10 billion a year; it could — and should — foot the bill for training its future stars.

Here’s how it could work: The 110 or so elite college football programs should be realigned into conferences that are essentially minor league franchises of the NFL. Each one of these conferences would be affiliated regionally with an NFL conference. For instance, the Big 10 could be affiliated with the AFC North, the SEC with the NFC South, and the Pac-12 with the AFC West. The NFL would pay each school a licensing fee for their image, and a rental fee for the stadiums and practice facilities that they’ve already built.

The Wisconsin Badgers would still play in Camp Randall every Saturday afternoon and wear the same uniforms. The NFL would keep the money from TV, ticket sales and concessions. Otherwise, these top-tier college football programs would operate completely separate from the university. In fact, the players wouldn’t even have to be students. The NFL could pay them a modest salary and perhaps take care of their housing, just as Major League Baseball does for its minor-league players. If, say, a guard for Alabama actually wanted to enroll in classes in Tuscaloosa, he could do that. But there would be no athletic scholarship, there would be no special housing, training table, free tutoring or other academic services outside those offered to every other student. The player’s job with his NFL minor-league affiliate would be treated the same as the kid who works at Starbucks or the college bookstore.

How could all this work? Forget the 12-member BCS oversight committee. This will require a meddling Congress.

The Congress has leverage with the colleges and universities through the tax code. When T. Boone Pickens, Phil Knight and other wealthy boosters donate hundreds of millions of dollars to their alma maters to build stadiums and practice facilities, that money is a write off. Similarly, these colleges receive millions of dollars in federal aid every year. Only Congress has the leverage to make this all work. And it could do so by simply decreeing that colleges that receive federal financial aid, including the federally guaranteed student loans that have driven up tuition costs across the country, can no longer receive tax-free athletic gifts, award athletic scholarships, or sign contracts for television rights with ESPN or merchandising deals with Nike.

Enter the NFL.

Under my plan, the schools that belong to the SEC, Big 10, the Pac-12 and every other major conference would essentially become farm clubs of the NFL. Everywhere else college football would return to what it once was: a modest Saturday afternoon game for students and alumni at places like Lehigh, Slippery Rock and Harvard. Would boosters at, say, James Madison, still slip a coupla bucks to the quarterback? Sure. But it wouldn’t be the rampant, systemic billion-dollar corruption scheme that we see today at places like Miami, Ohio State and Michigan.

For those of us who have been railing against the corruption in college athletics for decades, the economics of the bowl games make it clear: college football is nothing more than a mutli-billion-dollar training ground for the NFL. It’s time for the NFL to start paying to train its players. More importantly, it’s time to get these so-called “student-athletes” off of our college campuses. They never belonged there in the first place.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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