Saturday means college football. More specifically, beer, yelling and tailgating, but most importantly, college football. I hear all the time, over and over again, how college football trumps its counterpart, the NFL, due to the passion, intensity and the unpredictability each game provides.
Last week, however, another part of the game — maybe the only part that’s been predicable — reared its ugly head. The University of Georgia announced that star running back Todd Gurley would be suspended indefinitely.
The suspension brought back an old script to a movie we’ve all see too many times: “College Athletes And Getting Paid.”
According to the Bulldogs website, the UGA Athletic Association banned Gurley from competition due to an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules. This resonates for several reasons.
First, Gurley is good. In 2012, as a freshman, he rushed more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to a SEC Championship game and just shy of the National Championship game.
This year, his team is in contention of reaching a bowl game and even further, with a 4-1 overall record. Gurley’s name, for the second year, is in Heisman discussions, thanks to his SEC-leading pace of 154.6 yards per game.
But the second reason the alleged violation is rising eyebrows, one that causes great concern, is that Gurley’s suspension adds to an all-too-familiar narrative. Just last year, we saw the Texas chosen one, Johnny “Football” Manziel, a Heisman winner, navigate the very same predicament.
In 2010, AJ Green was suspended for four games due to allegations that mirror Gurley’s, also at UGA.
Rules are rules, and such violations should be handled justly. But, repeat offenses by the sport’s biggest stars shed light on a problem that goes beyond the letter of the law.
College teams make millions of dollars from brands, to which their student athletes contribute directly. To put it in perspective, the University of Georgia athletic program generated nearly $100 million in revenue last year, according to onlineathens.com, primarily from the football program.
The issue of the NCAA’s use of players’ likeness and the restrictions placed on the athletes’ ability to capitalize is one that transcends just football. The NCAA’s restrictions, which govern every sport, have received harsh criticisms from commentators, analyzers and even historians.
College basketball analyst and attorney Jay Bilas has always been vocal about the NCAA’s handling of collegiate athletes and is especially critical of its president, Mark Emmert. Bilas tweeted,
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) August 6, 2013
With cases like Gurely’s occurring more frequently, the time for change may be closer than we think. Just this July, cougcenter.com reported that EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Corporation reached a $40 million settlement with several college athletes for using their likenesses in video games.
The report states that NCAA players will receive legal monetary compensation for their on-field performances. Cases like these are building momentum and adding credence to the case for players like Gurley.
If players who once played can receive compensation in some sort for their contributions, how much longer until an agreement is reached for the current ones?
When we consider this issue beyond the legal proceedings, what remains is the lives of these young athletes. A question must be asked as to why an athlete, like Gurley, who is obviously knowledgeable of the rules, would choose to jeopardize his collegiate career and Heisman potential for possible monetary gain.
The money Gurley allegedly received was from autographs he signed, which could easily be distributed, providing copies upon copies of evidence. Questions of defiance or maybe even necessity come to mind when you factor the amount of ease to trace such memorabilia, but they are reasons that are not far-fetched.
Shabazz Napier, current NBA guard for the Miami Heat, spoke of going to bed hungry while enrolled at the University of Connecticut. Maybe players like Shabazz, Green and Gurley have a side of the story that goes beyond dos and don’ts.
Maybe Gurley signing an autograph, forfeiting his season and preparing for the NFL draft is the best situation for him and his family at this point in time. We don’t know.
What we do know is that it’s time to change the narrative. With the money gained and the attention placed on athletic performances, the rules that ban athletes from making profits off their likeness becomes nothing short of ridiculous.
Not all rules work, and a change in legislation must be enforced to see that the best athletes, like Manziel and Green, are on the field, ready to play. In case the NCAA forgot, that’s what we pay to see and that’s what we pay these coaches millions to do.
We love our Saturdays. We love our pregame parties, the loud roar of the stadium and hating our rivals’ guts. It’s just kind of hard to do that when your best player is not on the field.
Top Photo Courtesy: Facebook