By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The College Football Playoff national championship Monday in which Clemson defeated Alabama in the final seconds was a reminder that the game isn’t only more often fun than not but also sometimes gives you epic contests at the most important times. You couldn’t have scripted better entertainment for that sport’s biggest night.
But while we were reminded how much couch-jumping can go on during a game like that, it was all the more easy to forget that the players who entertained us made jack squat off their work while coaches and sponsors and the NCAA exchanged various stews of cash. Between whistles, exploitation isn’t top of my mind, except when maybe when a thoroughly enjoyable player to watch like Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough breaks a leg and visions of Alvin Mack in The Program haunt my humanist mind. But when I’m done being entertained, I don’t want to feel dirty.
NCAA players are getting monetarily compensated in a fair manner no time soon with the once chic unionizing player movement dimming quickly. There isn’t anything new that can be said about that right now regardless of whether you’re of the ilk that feels payment in an education they aren’t there for is fair enough or you’re a decent person. That doesn’t stop the latter from feeling the prick of conscience whenever we’re spoiled with such a great game like Monday, but some other news this week eased that sting a bit.
A group called Pacific Pro Football with NFL ties plans to launch a new summer professional football league that will provide a salary and aims to give instruction to set set players up for a move to the NFL, the Washington Post reported. It aims to be an alternative to college football, limiting its talent pool on players out of high school for four or fewer years, the Post reported.
My jaded reflex conditioned by ghosts of pro football leagues past was to think this is stupid — and it may turn out to be — but what at least has me listening is this league directly mentioning an alternative to college football, long the pipeline to the NFL that cost the shield no money and made the NCAA insane cash with little labor costs.
“As I’ve thought about this and studied it for years,” Pacific Pro Football CEO Don Yee told the Post. “I felt that it would be terrific if these emerging football players had a choice in determining how they wanted to get better at their craft.”
Even the decidedly libertarian-bent football fans who want the game free of nanny state influence then have to agree that potential NFLers not allowed to enter the draft until three years out of high school should have options on where to ply their trade for fair compensation. Even if free market ideals are soul-less, the NCAA ain’t even that.
Pacific Pro Football offers such an alternative to the NCAA and its draconian grip on players. It also claims it will work to hone NFL-level skill sets that the college game has been criticized as lacking in coaching and training. What’s more, it will pay the players on average $50,000.
Three pretty important anti-NCAA aspects: freedom, training and cash.
“It’s never been done before, and I’m not sure why not,” league co-founder and former NFL wideout Ed McCaffrey told the Post.
But Pacific Pro Football at least looks like it has real football people operating it. Former NFLcoach Mike Shanahan, former NFL referee and current Fox referee analyst Mike Pereira, ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and Jim Steeg (whose Wikipedia page credits as “the one individual who is responsible for growing the Super Bowl into the most popular one-day sporting event”) are among the league’s board members.
Impressive administrative names don’t nearly guarantee that the league won’t quickly fade into another football footnote to the NCAA-to-NFL rinse/repeat religion. Neither does playing in the summer, as the plan goes, mean that our seemingly insatiable lust for anything football (stop watching the combine and go to a museum, people, please) will lap up a league whose team names aren’t yet brands with mostly players average consumers don’t know. (Though a lot of college football viewers can’t name more than a player or two on a given team they don’t root for.)
But at least it’s a proposed something that isn’t the NCAA. For as much as I enjoy my autumn Saturdays, I’d rather not continue to find new ways to reconcile enjoying a product that is gross on multiple levels but mostly in unpaid labor risking their bodies for a lotto chance under massive coach salaries and organizational coffers.
Odds are the Pacific Pro Football league dies an awkward death like its predecessors, and the football it puts out in the meantime, if it gets off the ground, will initially be bad. But with some luck and a bit of wokeness, maybe a few future Cardale Joneses who “ain’t come to play school” sidestep the NCAA for something trying to function as an actual minor league for the big show.
Because at least from its inception, this new compensatory football league is putting it out there that players who want to better themselves financially and skills-wise shouldn’t be trapped by the only one-way street out there, a current system that uses titillating games like Monday’s to trick us into forgetting that it’s a massive pimp.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.