There will come a moment in the history of football as a national pastime when the violence of the game will no longer allow casual fans to enjoy it. Last night's Super Bowl was quite lax in terms of injuries and ghastly moments, and yet it still had instances that made one turn away. A knee turned awkwardly; a head shot or a body slammed violently to the turf; broken collarbones or twisted ankles. This is the reality of the game we call football. Every game offers myriad chances for injury.
But what we say when it comes to these athletes is that, while they put their bodies on the line, they are compensated handsomely. They are adults, know the risks inherent to the game, and willingly do what it takes in exchange for financial stability.
Compare that argument to the argument proffered for the college game. This is a game that offers a similar level of violence as well as similar level of risk. But instead of financial stability, the argument here is that these players are given the chance to walk away with a degree. They put their bodies on the line and, in the end, they are offered a chance to get a general studies degree to fall back on.
This is the context in which the issue of oversigning of college football players makes any sense. In case doubts remained about the college game and the way college athletes are viewed as pawns in a much larger financial game, look no further than three of the responses three of responses post-singing day to the oversigning issue. The first came from Nick Saban, coach at Alabama and one of the coaches singled out for oversigning players. Here is what he said during his press conference:
There has been quite a bit written about oversigning, so to speak, but we have never gotten rid of a player because of his physical ability.
Any player that has left this program prematurely has created his own exit route. He's created his own conditions for leaving, if that makes sense. Whether they are academic in terms of not doing what he needed to do academically, whether it is some violation of team or school policy, some of those things we are not allowed to talk about.
We have so many seniors; we have some guys going out for the draft. Nobody really knows how many guys we had on scholarship last year, but it wasn't 85, I can tell you that.
We have some people that could not finish the season that will probably not be able to continue to play, that will be replaced, and we have several players that can graduate and may not come back for their fifth year, who have been redshirted. When you add all those things up, plus guys we have that may not qualify, it is not fair to criticize the numbers.
When you look at the numbers without knowing all the facts and internal information, I think that is a little premature and unfair. Then for people to go out and use that against you in recruiting is even more unfair. This is the number of players that we could take, and we could add one or so [more] if the opportunity presents itself in the future.
And we do have some guys that may grayshirt. Let me address that too, because I think there is a lot of criticism in grayshirting that is unfair.
First of all, we have never grayshirted a guy here who when he decided to come here didn't know the circumstances that we were going to take with him at The University of Alabama. The reason is sometimes academic, the reason is sometimes physical development and maturity, but never has a player not known [he might be grayshirted.] ... Now I don't think that is a bad thing. If we were not able to do that, those players would never have the opportunity to come here. So we are actually creating an opportunity for a guy to come here, not taking one away. That is why I think there is some disconnect out there and understanding about what grayshirting is all about.
The cliff notes: we don't know how many players are on scholarship, so the 85-player limit does not mean anything to him; if players leave early, it's their own fault, and I can't talk about it for the players' own benefit; numbers alone don't mean a thing, because there are many different reasons why players come and go, leave or stay.
In sum: he is just a regular guy who happens to make $6 million a year who loves his players and would never do anything to their detriment. Take his word for it. He'd love to tell you more, but the rules won't allow him to do so.
The second is from Houston Nutt, coach at the University of Mississippi. In his words, "Those things usually work themselves out. . . . I've never had a mother come up to me and say 'Hey, you weren't very truthful with me.' We always lay things out in the front, in the beginning, or in the middle of the recruiting process where they have time to have their options if they want to go elsewhere."
Cliff notes: These are transactions between equal parties, and the athletes come into the relationship with their eyes open. The coach is honest from the beginnings, and what happens, happens.
The third is from Allen Wallace, Scout.com National Editor. This is my favorite response, because it does not sugar coat anything. It is the most direct and honest of the three, largely because he does not need to go on the recruiting trail next week. According to Wallace,
I'm of the laissez faireoversigning should not be allowed if it's not your job. But ... these guys are paid millions and millions of dollars to protect their team. You're asking him to put his moral obligation to the player above his obligation to the school.
Cliff notes: it's about winning, baby, and anything goes. Coaches are paid millions of dollars to win, not to play the role of moral arbiters. If a student, or two, or a hundred get hurt in the process, that's somebody else's problem. They have an obligation to the school that pays them millions to win ball games, not to graduate players or treat them as individuals worthy of respect.
Taken together, these three responses add to one overarching fact: college athletes are the means to a much larger and lucrative financial end game. That's the reality of big time college athletics. Give us your body for the chance at a degree.