Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2012 7:43 PM

Column: Pay for play should be in football playoff

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AP Sports Columnist

Hard to believe it took scholars from some of the nation's biggest universities this long to dump the hated BCS and figure out a new format for a college football playoff.

Give a couple fifth graders some newly sharpened pencils and a few pieces of lined paper and they could have knocked it out before lunchtime, with a break in between for tag at recess.

Adding two more teams and two new bowls to the national title mix wasn't so difficult that it needed more than a decade to figure out. Neither was wrapping the two semifinal games around New Year's, a move that gives them some traditional roots and should be a ratings boost to the legacy bowls.

Proof that the people running college football are smarter than fifth graders, though, is the pot of gold they will reap beginning with the 2014 season. Already awash in cash, they will rake in hundreds of millions more in TV rights fees to distribute any way they wish.

The windfall is a result of added games, but mostly stems from the insatiable appetite for televised sports and the increased competition for those rights. It's already made the big schools a lot richer with conference TV deals, even while wreaking havoc with traditional conference alignments.

What it hasn't done is compensate the players, who make it all possible. And neither, to the shame of everyone involved in college athletics, will the new football playoff deal.

While their schools cash in, the players will get room and board. While their coaches make additional millions, players get tuition and a pat on the back. While their jerseys are sold for profit, players get nothing.

They really are little more than chattel, used for a few years and then spit out into the real world where people no longer cheer their every move. A select few make it in the NFL, but most rely on boosters to find jobs out of college because a degree in general studies often isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Meanwhile, schools continue to argue about a proposal to pay athletes annual stipends of $2,000 to cover incidentals not included in college scholarships. So many schools objected - even though the NCAA approved the idea last October - that it has been shelved for the time being.

Remember that when the conferences who are in de facto charge of major college football negotiate the new TV contract later this year for the playoffs. Remember, too, that the new format will be in place at least 12 years. Currently, ESPN and ABC pay $155 million a year for the rights to the four major bowl games and the BCS title game. But that package is undervalued in today's world, as evidenced by the huge broadcast deals done by the major conferences - contracts that already pay some schools $25 million a year before playoff money comes rolling in.

What the new pacts will pay is anyone's guess, but estimates start at $300 million a year and quickly go north. Some think the new playoff series - which will include two new bowls not in the current package - could reap $400 million to $500 million a year.

That's huge money, and with it comes huge opportunity. There's enough on the table to make a difference in the lives of a lot of college athletes, and still have millions left over.

Let's assume that the new TV contracts come in at $400 million, a relatively conservative estimate. That's $245 million more a year than schools are getting under the current BCS system, which pays its members based on what bowls they play in and what conferences they belong to.

Take half of that money and increase payouts to schools, which will still nearly double what they take in. The rest is still basically free money anyway, so why not give it to the players? Do it across the board, with every player getting the same amount no matter what school they go to or what position they play.

Based on 125 schools that play major college football, it would come out to about $1 million a school. Divide that by, say, 100 players and it works out to $10,000 a year per player.

It's not a huge amount, but keep in mind that players are already getting full tuition and room and board that might otherwise cost $50,000 a year. And it should be enough to stop them from taking cash under the table from boosters or selling their used jerseys at tattoo parlors so they can take a date to a pizza joint.

Some may argue against college athletes being paid anything, but those arguments are about as outdated as letter sweaters and drives in the hot rod to the campus malt shop. We're in a different era, where even teenagers can make life- changing money on tennis courts, golf courses or in the Olympics. It's unconscionable to make football players risk permanent injury for nothing more than a few books and some meals while their coaches are paid millions and the schools who employ them rake in even more.

Overhauling the BCS and establishing playoffs that culminate with a national champion was long overdue.

It's also time to overhaul a huge money-making enterprise that benefits almost everyone but the players themselves.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

 
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