Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes on their 42-20 national championship win over Oregon in the title of game of the first-ever playoff for college football on Monday night. Special congratulations to Cardale Jones, the third-string quarterback who came up big in successive wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, leading the Buckeye offense to a combined 136 points in his first three career starts. But on the day after the college football season is over, I’m feeling like more like a killjoy. It seemed like so much of what is wrong with the sport was on display last night.
We can sum it up simply—Ohio State has the largest athletic budget of any university in the country. Oregon has the richest booster of any program in the country, in Phil Knight. In fact, Oregon broke out special helmets for this game, at a cost of $650 per player. Chump change for Knight, but it begs the question of whether college football can still be said to impart any kind of values off the field.
$650 for a helmet for one game? C’mon. And I don’t want to hear about how the money will be recouped with jersey sales or anything like that. Those profits will just be poured right back into more merchandising. At which point, college athletics is no different than any other big business.
I still believe in the ideal of what college athletics should actually be, which is a venue for providing opportunity for people to go to school, to play a sport and to grow. And since I like watching the games on TV or attending in person, I don’t begrudge the schools making a profit. But does that mean the schools have to exploit every last possible outlet for pulling an extra dollar out of the whole system? Can’t we just play college football—with one set of jerseys and helmets—put the games on TV and any profits that get made just go into the university as a whole?
Yes, it seems hopelessly idealistic, it probably is, and it’s why my discomfort with college football grows with each passing year, the greed-driven conference realignment displays of recent years being the biggest trigger. It’s not that I don’t still love the sport itself—there’s little better than starting a cold, dank Saturday in November with Gameday in the morning and then rolling through three big conference games all day long.
At those times, for a brief while it seems the off-field greed is gone. It felt that way for a little bit last night. Even though I was pulling for Oregon, it was fun watching Jones play and just knowing that I was witnessing a piece of history in this first-ever playoff championship game.
But when the games are over, we’re still left with this—the biggest athletic budget in the country triumphed over the wealthiest booster in the country. It was the Money Talks National Championship Game. It was fitting that it took place in the opulent Palace created by Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones.
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