By Ken Reed

Let’s just accept the fact that big-time, FBS-level, college football is professionalized and commercialized to the max. Big Ten athletic departments will soon be splitting $1 billion a year from the conference’s new TV deal. Meanwhile, football coaches salaries continue to go through the roof. And yet some observers of college football have the audacity to contend that the players — the very people who create this highly popular entertainment product — shouldn’t be getting NIL (name, image, likeness) money, but rather should be happy with tuition and room and board.

Here are some recent contracts for FBS head coaches:

Kirby Smart, Georgia, $110 million; Lincoln Riley, USC, $100 million; Brian Kelly, LSU, $95 million; Mario Cristobal, Miami $80 million; Mel Tucker, Michigan State, $95 million; James Franklin, Penn State, $70 million plus incentives; Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M, $75 million+.

NIck Saban, Alabama’s coach, has been a vocal critic of NIL money for players because he claims it devalues college football. Easy for him to say, he’ll be making $10.7 million during the 2022 season.

No matter how much money schools make off the backs of their athletes, no matter how big the contracts of school athletic directors and coaches become, no matter how much sports media executives make off college sports, some people continue to want the compensation for players to remain capped at a chair in campus classrooms and three meals at campus cafeterias.

Here’s another reality: when college athletic conferences sell out to the highest TV and/or streaming service bidder, the athletes lose. For example, athletes at USC and UCLA will soon have to miss a lot more class time when they join the Big Ten and have to travel all the way to the East Coast to play a volleyball game, or whatever sport it might be. USC and UCLA recently left a century of traditions and geographic rivalries in the Pac-12 conference to chase more media money in the Big Ten.

But hey, critics of NIL money for college athletes don’t worry, college sports will be fine. It’s similar to what happened with the Olympics. Critics of allowing Olympic athletes to receive sponsorship money claimed the demise of amateurism would kill the Olympics. Well, the Olympics are more popular and financially lucrative than ever.

When in doubt, do the right thing. That’s a simple and great rule of life. And in this case, allowing college athletes to financially benefit from their names, images and likenesses is the right thing to do.

The road to economic justice for college athletes has been a long one but we’re finally on the right path.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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