BCS money plentiful but not a dime for players


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:22 p.m.

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer didn't want to talk about whether players should share in the wealth of the National Championship Game.

"I'd rather talk about Chris Leak," he said when asked about the subject at a Sunday press conference.

But when Meyer was pressed on the issue, he said players receive money for expenses before bowl games. He finally offered some criticism of a system that doesn't allow fundraisers to help players' families travel to games.

UF players received a total of $300 for meals and other expenses the week they spent in Arizona. As a reward for participating in the game, organizers give them a portable XM satellite radio and a Tourneau watch, gifts that fetch hundreds of dollars in stores.

Meyer, by contrast, received a bonus of $150,000 for appearing in the game and would receive at least another $75,000 for winning. That's on top of more than $1.5 million in salary this year, which is part of a seven-year, $14 million deal.

His players weren't so reluctant to talk about the issue of compensation last week.

Florida defensive tackle Joe Cohen told The Associated Press that he sees a disparity between the big-money Bowl Championship Series and players who scrape by.

"I believe players should be paid, because I'm broke," he said.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel also dodged a question about the issue at the press conference, saying players "enjoyed a lot of the fruits" provided by game officials. If the treatment officials give the media is any indication, players were wined and dined on someone else's tab.

But a couple great meals hardly compares to the game's payout of $14 million to $17 million per school. The money is divided evenly between the Southeastern Conference and its dozen member schools, which also split $6 million for Louisiana State's appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Compare this with the situation of Reggie Nelson, UF's star safety whose mother died last month. Fans were afraid to send flowers to her funeral or donate money to cancer research, lest they violate NCAA regulations.

In my hometown of Akron, Ohio, a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser was held last month to help the families of four Ohio State players attend the National Championship.

The mother of OSU tailback Chris Wells called the team's offensive coordinator during the meal, who advised her to have all players leave and their families refuse any money.

NCAA bylaws prevent players from receiving compensation. OSU quarterback Troy Smith accepted $500 from a booster so he was suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and first game of the 2005 season.

There's a lot of righteous indignation when players commit such violations. Even suggesting players should be paid brings sanctimonious talk about the value of the education they're getting and the potential fruits of an NFL career.

Such arguments make me think about Ohio State's last National Championship Game. Tailback Maurice Clarett made a key takeaway of an interception and scored the winning touchdown. The future for him looked bright, so he tried to declare early for the NFL draft.

He was denied that shot, then was a bust when he finally went pro.

After, a downward spiral led him to being arrested for robbery and weapons charges. He was given a 3- to 7-year prison sentence.

Clarett has long been a punching bag on sports-talk radio for attempting to leave early and blowing his chance at success. But I've always taken a different lesson from his story.

A college athlete can win a National Championship for his school, then have an injury or mistakes turn his life into nothing.

Letting athletes share in the wealth when it's being created seems to me like something worth talking about.

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