Home Featured The Newest Form of Exploitation in College Football

The Newest Form of Exploitation in College Football

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For most students, the price of a college education equals tuition, books, a roof over your head, and a meal plan. Small football programs across the country are using their student-athletes to work up a new equation: a few huge blowouts, some (hopefully minor) injuries, and national embarrassment equal a balanced athletics budget. Typified by Savannah State, an HBCU that lost their first two games 139-0 combined, small football programs routinely sell out their students for a big check from major universities during meaningless early-season games.

Savannah State was spared by a lightning storm and a running clock; or the beating could have been worse.

For the major football programs, these games are glorified exhibition games allowing them to tune up for the real games later in their schedule. For the small schools, these games are financial windfalls that help the athletic program survive with an otherwise shoestring budget. This is the very definition of a business transaction, and not too dissimilar from a hundred-dollar-handshake in the Champagne Room. We frown on exploitation in the latter case, then why turn a blind eye to it on the football field? Small schools like Savannah State don’t belong on the field with top 5 teams. Here are my solutions to restore balance:

Play Marquee Games at Neutral Sites –

This is a solution for both sides. The college football season kicked off with a highly anticipated game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Michigan Wolverines in the Cowboy Classic in Dallas, TX. For the trouble of being destroyed 41-14, Michigan was paid a reported $4.7 million. Not nearly as much as the $650,000 they paid to UMASS this weekend to pay their beatdown forward. While every matchup won’t be this big, or pay this well, more major programs  should schedule matchups like this early in the season.

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For one, they will make money rather than spending it for cheap wins. They will also help raise the profile of college football overall. While the sport wouldn’t seem to need the boost, how many people watched Michigan take on UMASS? Or LSU take on Idaho? The more marquee matchups teams create, the more viewers and sponsors they will attract, and the more games like this will pay in the future.

For small schools, there is some novelty (and cash) there for them as well. This past weekend, Cleveland Browns Stadium hosted the Cleveland Classic between Morehouse and Winston-Salem State University. The entire weekend attracted thousands of spectators who wanted to watch the game, the battle of the bands, or simply reconnect with alumni. There are ways to attract positive attention to your school instead of sacrificing your students to slaughter. Athletic Directors at small schools should be more creative and take advantage of these opportunities.

Don’t Count These Games Toward the Win-Loss Record –

Oregon (number 3 in the country) hosting Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech (not number 3 in the country) to open their season weren’t real games. They were 60-minute practices to help the Ducks get ready for their first in-conference opponent, #24 Arizona, this Saturday.

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Since these games were scrimmages, they should be treated as such by the NCAA. The inflated statistics shouldn’t count, the Ducks should still be 0-0, and Oregon shouldn’t be allowed to receive any votes in the major poll rankings (thus keeping them in contention for the National Championship). Why reward them for practicing? Oregon, and all major teams who begin their “season” with exhibitions, should start their march toward the postseason when their actual schedule starts; with real games.

This solution could go two ways: either every team takes the first few weeks off and no one gets an advantage, or a few schools schedule worthy opponents and earn a huge leg up in the national title hunt. With the high stakes (and huge contracts) tied to competing in postseason bowls, I believe most coaches would fear being left behind and make a real schedule.

As simple as these solutions are, they would go a long way to legitimizing the college football schedule. The result would be more competitive games and less ridicule/exploitation of small college athletes. I am not naïve enough to think of NCAA football as the haven for amateurism and spirit of competition it purports to be. It is a billion-dollar business that thrives on thousands of unpaid workers. There are things teams could do to at least make it a fair fight.

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The Athletic Director at Savannah State seems to see no problem as long as the checks clear. Yet he was not the one out there being humiliated or suffering one of the two “mild” concussions he brushes under the rug. Mr. Steward, like many officials in affiliated with NCAA football, has either forgotten or never knew what it is like on the other side of this lopsided system. It seems $860,000 is the right price for the dignity of his players.

What do you think, SBM Sports fans? Do you have a problem with the current set up in college football? Should small football programs keep using their athletes as punching bags for a large paycheck? What if there were a better option? Let me know what you think below!

Comment(26)

  1. Absolutely fair. There are teams that fall on either side of this debate year in and year out.

    Felt Oregon was a good illustration because they went with 3 cupcakes in a row. You could swap in a number of teams though.

  2. I agree. As a Michigan fan I finally understand the embarrassment of watching your weakened face an inevitable loss to a powerhouse in the name of money. I think the first few games should be treated like the NFL pre-season, as practice games that don't impact the schools record.

  3. To counter – Don’t Count These Games Toward the Win-Loss Record – what if Oregon had lost to Fresno State, I’m sure Cal would be wanting those loses to count as much as Oregon wants those wins to count. Next argument is the playoff system: USC may have dropped to the rankings they should’ve been at from jump, but at least, with the playoff system, they still could get a shot at the Crystal Football.

    1. That's a good point. I'd give up the occassional Louisiana-Monroe over Arkansas for more compelling matchups overall though.

      I agree that a playoff is the best case scenario, but that seems at least a few years off. I'd ALSO love to see the first set of rankings released in late-September/early-October but that's wishful thinking. In both cases, early season matchups would matter less.

  4. Everything you are saying is correct but money is the big issue here when it comes to scheduling cupcake games. I feel you should only have 1 per yr. I go to a school that is in the SOCON and we get forced to play these games against teams like Bama for 1 million dollars but the sad part is you sacrifice the football players and they only get 10-15% of the check, because they have to give the money to the other sports at the university (not counting bball they have their own money games). As long as the big teams are dangling money to the smaller schools nothing will change. Schools like Michigan or Oregon dont really care if you don't watch the game Michigan football alone pulls in most colleges athletic budgets.

    1. Always seems to come down to money, lol. Just unfortunate that football players get served up as appetizers for a check. I really find it troubling that the AD is saying, "well, we only had a few mild concussions…" as if those players didn't have their BRAINS DAMAGED. Obviously they take a risk just palying football, but trading them in for a check, when there are other options, is garbage.

  5. I can tell from this post that you didn't attend one of these "small schools". What is being lost here is that for most of these schools these games not only fund the athletic department but it also funds several other non-revenue generating academic departments. These schools don't have the types of endowments that larger universities have (no shit), so there are no other opportunities to generate that type of money. That check for Savannah State will not only pay for helmets and pads, and women's softball uniforms but also the raise the new History professor asked for, paper for the computer lab, subscriptions to online journals for the library. These programs can't survive without these games and to a certain extent neither can the university.

    Your point about the Cleveland Classic has very little to do with revenue. Sure you can represent your school and be proud. But unless all that pride leads to more alumni donations its a waste. Whatever revenue is generated from those games is split between the two teams and by the time you take out travel expenses you've barely covered what you will get from a typical home date. Likely less because is this scenario you don't get the money from concessions. If there is limited sponsorships for the game there is a chance you may even lose money.

    This is really not an issue on exploitation of the athletes because they're exploited either way, on every level of college sports. If you generate profit in an industry where you don't pay the workers its exploitation, regardless of the level of competition. There is no justification for that in general, so in regards to this situation the point is moot.

    1. I'm glad that the "small schools" play these type of games. The Real AD has explained the financial side so let me call your attention to the obvious that wasn't stated recruitment. How many people had never heard of Savannah State University until this year's football season? These type of games serve as a huge recruitment tool for athletes and for non-athletes.

      The "small schools" have fought too long to get the recognition of the big schools. Your article suggest that now with recognition we should not let them play. There are some small schools that can compete against the big ones. It wasn't that long ago the country found out about Appalachian State University (vs Michigan) http://youtu.be/fumxmR416t4

      Keep the games on the schedules.

      1. Savannah was horrible last season, even against their conference (1-10 last year I believe). I don't believe 'all press is good press' when it comes to recruiting. Would you bet that they'll be .500 in 5 years?

        I don't know that the most dissilusioned recruit believes his NFL stock grows by getting shut out twice and then forgotten about by scouts.

        Appalachain State, on the other hand, was a contender for the FCS championship in the years before beating Michigan (still mad about that), and have remained competitive. Beating Michigan was a shock, to be sure, but I see a difference in scheduing AppSt versus a team even FCS competition sees as a doormat.

    2. Going in reverse order, I agree that college football is exploitation by its nature. Savannah State being the biggest underdog in history just highlighted FBC/FCS scheduling on a national scale recently. I'm no fan of the NCAA, this is just the latest take on a well-established business fueled by exploitation.

      Having been in Cleveland for the Classic weekend, I can definitely see the potential for a game like this to generate revenue for a small-FBS/FCS school. When Idaho travels to LSU (for example), there are major expenses. Every school has pockets outside of their hometown where they could play a game, engage alumni, and attract sponsors. HBCU's have a built-in niche in a case like this, but look at Syracuse playing USC in the Meadowlands recently. SU knows their alumni is in NYC, so in the best case, they earned money at the gate, used their alumni chapters to encourage grads to attend and (hopefully) turned that into an opportunity to build a relationship (read: donations). If they don't use the game as a platform for future donations, that's a loss that's on them.

    3. I didn't attend a 'small school,' but I am cynical about the impact checks from these games provide on the non-athletic departments around the universities. However, athletic programs cost a ton, and using the money to fund 'Olympic' sports that don't generate revenue is a worthy cause on its own. Savannah State spent a ton of money to get destroyed and embarrassed, so the impact of the check is lessened already. Overall, I don't question the merits of these games financially, just the means. To me, there are alternatives to raise money that should be explored more than they are.

      (too long winded for a one-post response, lol)

      1. You know of some alternatives? Really then there is a job for you at over 80+ 1-AA ( I will never use FCS) schools that haven't discovered any of these alternatives in the last 70+ years. As far as NFL stock. I would assume most people that expect to go to the NFL out of HS don't attend Savannah State, so I'm not sure where you were going with that one. The publicity, even though you may see it as negative will help Savannah State. They are seen as "doormats" at their own level because they just moved up to that level. Taking these games from an athletic standpoint is a strategic sacrifice the AD is making so that one day they can compete on the 1-AA level. The idea for these schools is not winning the Nat'l title and preparing prospects to get to the NFL. If you think so, then you're more confused than I originally thought.

        1. Well i presented two alternatives. One specifically for an FCS (or similar school), the other is more big time FBS school.

          RE: My answer to the 'this will help recruiting' comment: I take for granted that 'getting pummeled by major programs' isn't a help for recruiting, so I went with 'coming here will raise your profile for the next level' (because you'll be on TV, play against the best competition, etc.). Still don't see how this these results and this type of attention translates to better recruits (thus becoming more competitive in FCS), so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, lol.

          I see the AD's main goal as cashing a large check, not becoming better as a team. Taking these games are collateral damage IMO. There is no world where Savannah State thinks they are on the brink of a title.

      2. It’s not my main goal its the goal of the universities. You seem to be missing the point. These games aren’t luxuries they are necessities. That seems to be lost on you. So you alternatives only speak to how little you understand the situation. The asst coaches on these teams are volunteers. The head coach likely makes less than what your HS Football coach makes. There is NO training staff. The team shares a weight room with the rest of campus. They play home games in an 8,000 seat stadium, where the students get in free. Not gonna get much revenue from that. All the recruits come in one one single trip to cut down costs.

        How does this translate to better recruits? Well perhaps they can build a weight room now or even a practice field. Perhaps cleats,maybe even hire an assistant coach. Or pay to actually go on a recruiting trip instead of trying to make all of your contacts via phone. You clearly don’t understand how dire the situation is for a program this size. An SEC school will spend more money on 1 athlete over the course of an entire year than Savannah State has budgeted for athletics. No I’m not making this up. Eventually yes this will help to make them a better team.

        As far as scheduling a 1-AA team its far cheaper to schedule them than a lower tier 1-A school. $300K for Savannah State, Idaho would have cost them a million.

        1. All the ways you suggest spending the money undercut the idea posed earlier that these games help the university overall. So they farm out the players to cash a check that's spent on the football team and the rest of the athletic dept. That's a trade they stand by.

          Subtract the cost to fly, feed, and house the football team and staff for Ok State game, the money you'd spend improving facilities and hiring staff, the money you commit to recruiting trips (for coaches to recruits and vice versa), and what's left? You're playing another set of games next year…and I'll bet they invest in a new bus to travel teams to future road games before they funnel it to the English department.

          As bad as the situation to be, I wonder why even have a football program? If a large portion of the money generated by the program is spent on improving the program, wouldn't it be easier to just not have it?

  6. 1) financially stable or rich schools will prefer cheap wins over making money

    2) I believe the new college playoff system has rules that penalize Div. I-A schools that play Div. I-AA schools

  7. We've all assumed that the players dont like this situation. Ever consider that this is one of the few times that these players will get to play on national TV in front of a huge crowd? Ever consider that they feel that they can win (some teams do)? Ever consider that they feel that this is their chance to really show out?

    I am 100% willing to bet (as a former college footballer) that the players like this game.

    1. I left the players' perspective out of the post on purpose. I wasn't an athlete, so I don't know how that feels. Plus, I don't think it matters much to drive home the point.

      The players could enjoy playing and (IMO) being used. It's a system that works as long as they'll put up with it. Doesn't mean better opportunities don't exist though.

  8. As someone who spends 14 hours every Saturday watching literally every game I can find, and more than one game at a time for most of the day, I question how much you follow college football outside of what you see scroll across the ticker on ESPN.

    What constitutes these "real" games? Your own opinion? Arkansas State, while certainly not on the level of Oregon, won ten games last year and isn't a pushover. Fresno State has fallen on hard times, but this is a historically strong program that went on the road and took USC to the wire during the Carroll glory days. As far as Tennessee Tech goes, as another poster pointed out, the funding from those games goes towards far more than athletics for many 1-AA schools. Besides, the NCAA already limits the number of wins over 1-AA schools that can count towards bowl eligibility to one — so it's actually a disadvantage to completely fatten up on 1-AA teams like Florida State did this year with Savannah State and Murray State.

  9. I agree that every game between a high-major FBS program and a low-major/FCS program isn't a farce. Pointing out each example doesn't change the point. I assume you knew that, though.

    To cherry pick one example, you implied Oregon/Arkansas State constituted a "real" game based on ASU's success as a program. I'd submit that Oregon playing it's backups at skill positions for the entire second half (and winning by 20+) undermines the legitimacy of that match up. We could go tit for tat or discuss the larger point.

    As I noted above, I am cynical about the benefit these games have on the non-athletic departments at these schools ("Confessions of a Spoilsport" is a good read on this topic if you're interested). I DO think they have a major benefit to non-revenue-generating sports, and that's a legitimate benefit on its own. No need to glorify the benefits.

  10. Events create an excitement in every students mind that makes the students feel like live. Every child wants to participate in some event that makes them known to all. In a year the events mostly happens once and in that one chance students like to prove themselves by participating on different games, actions etc. Mostly students like the sports part very much. Some students also like to take part in it and show their ability to other students. We are saying the players as participants and there should be someone who can guide them is known the coach to whom the students used to respect and also bound to obey their instructions to be a better player. But the most important thing is now in the sports events of colleges they are providing the insurance to the students that help them to keep themselves secure.

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