Making Things Right

How to get college athletes what they deserve

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Over the past couple of weeks I've been in a couple of twitter battles with advocates of paying college football players. It's a noble pursuit. "The man" is lining his pockets with billions of dollars off the sweat of "slave" labor.

In a perfect world the players who fill the stadiums would get paid. They're the ones who people come to see, not coaches or athletic directors. Yet they're the ones who are cashing big checks while the players get paid in tuition, room, board, books and stipends. Doesn't seem equitable.

And somehow it's become racial. But this is 2019. Everything is racial.

Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko tweeted this out last week:

"If the most adversely affected class was wealthy white kids and not poor black kids, athletes in NCAA revenue sports would have been compensated fairly for a long time."

Hmmm.

How did we get here? Players have been filling stadiums for about a century now.

In 1937 two Chicago high school teams (St. Leo and Austin) played a game in front of 120,000 people in Soldier Field.

In the 50's 70,000 would regularly fill Rice Stadium.

The Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl were all filled to the brim long before integration.

The point being, football players have been making "the man" money for a while now. Granted, the money is better than ever. TV deals are through the roof. It's a billion dollar business now but all that ticket money over all those years before integration went somewhere and it wasn't in the players' pockets. It's been this way since the beginning. This is not a racial thing. It's an economics thing.

Don't get me wrong. There's money out there. The stories about bowl directors who make hundreds of thousands, even millions off one game every year are sickening.

Coaches are making upwards of $10 million per year now. Athletic directors are raking it in as well.

Meanwhile the worker bees continue to toil for what is a minute percentage of the pie. A stipend for living expenses was added to the mix a few years ago and it's helped some but the inequity that is big time college athletics remains. Stipends and tuition, room and board and books don't come close to an equitable compensation at the highest level. The big time programs bring in millions.

The problem is that the big time programs are the exception not the rule. Not everyone is Texas or Alabama. Very few programs actually make money when all is said and done. Ask most athletic directors about paying players and the first response will most likely be "Where is that money coming from?"

I asked UH Athletic Director Chris Pezman what would happen if he needed to pay players. "We couldn't do it. We have two revenue generating sports but you can't just pay them. Title IX won't allow it. You'd have to pay everyone. We have 458 athletes in 17 sports. We'd be bankrupt."

But there is a way to get players what they deserve. Let the market dictate it. Let athletes who are in demand make money from their likeness, their autograph, their commercial appeal. Sure it would be dominated by football and basketball players but in Connecticut the women's basketball team would be the most sought after. In Iowa it might be a wrestler, at UCLA a gymnast, at Cal a sprinter.

There would have to be checks and balances. Overzealous boosters would pay the moon and the sun to get recruits to come to their school but it's not like that's not happening now. If you have to put a limit on what each sponsor can pay and a compliance department in each university run by the NCAA and not the school itself you might be able to keep the cheating at a minimum as opposed to what's going on now.

Players look up into the stands of 100,000 seat stadiums with thousands of fans wearing their jerseys and feel like there's an incredible inequity and rightfully so. It doesn't have to be that way. Let the marketplace decide who deserves to be paid. I'm not sure that the NCAA has heard but we live in a free market society. They need to start acting like it.


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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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