As I begin writing this post, on a Friday night, the University of Colorado is facing off against the University of Washington in the Pac-12 Conference’s Football Championship Game. That’s odd, you may be thinking, why is the conference championship game on a Friday when college football games are traditionally played on Saturdays? Purely and simply, it’s a made-for-TV money grab. And it’s disgusting. The TV deal that the Pac-12 struck in 2011, which is worth $3 billion (with a “B”) over 12 years, dictates that many football games per season will be played on Thursday and Friday nights, including the conference championship game being played on Friday nights every year. Despite the billions of dollars in revenue, the hundreds of millions of donated money spent of football-specific facilities, the tens of millions for salaries on coaches (and buyouts of fired one) at public institutions, there somehow isn’t enough money to pay the players (or let them receive payment from other sources, such as through endorsement deals). The Friday-night championship games don’t benefit the players, which should be the most important consideration, and they don’t benefit the fans, which could be a reasonable secondary consideration.
The NCAA argues that it shouldn’t compensate players above tuition and certain expenses because college athletes are “amateurs” (although I still haven’t heard a convincing argument why amateurism is a good thing). According to the NCAA’s propaganda, “The association’s belief in student-athletes as students first is a foundational principle.” But if the student aspect of “student-athletes” is more important than the “athlete” aspect, why is there a championship game being played on Friday, December 2? In order to fly to the site of the game and conduct walk-throughs, the teams had to miss at least a day and half of classes during a very important time for students: the 10 days before final. Colorado’s finals start on Sunday, December 11. UW’s finals start on Saturday, December 10.
It’s a joke for the NCAA assert that the academics are important (or foundational) when they schedule games based on money rather than things like the academic calendar.
It’s also horrible that the game is on a Friday night because it means the teams last played six short days ago, when both teams happened to have season-deciding games against ranked opponents. Football is a brutal, arguably immoral and unethical game. The season is long and wears down players’ bodies and minds. In the NFL (where players are paid millions for their service), the best teams earn byes and often rest their top players before the playoffs. The winners of the Pac-12 South and North divisions earn the right to play a game in an unfamiliar stadium (Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where no other Pac-12 games are played) in an area that typically gets a fair amount of winter rain.
It’s impossible to know if the shorter rest period will cause injuries. But in the first half, Colorado’s starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau, was injured and knocked out of the game. That doesn’t prove anything, but it’s hard not to think that more rest after a long season rather than less would benefit the players.
The Friday game is also bad for the fans. Just look at the stands. Student sections and crowd involvement differentiate college athletics from professional athletics. But it’s difficult for even rabid fan bases to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game. For ten of the twelve fan bases it’s either a long (to very long) drive or at least one flight. Attending fans also have to brave the Bay Area’s notoriously horrible traffic during rush hour on a Friday to get to the game. For students, it’s both expensive and means traveling right before finals when students should be, you know, studying. Also, the winning team will play in a top bowl, which rabid fans would probably also want to attend, adding even more expenses.
It is now Saturday morning. UW dominated Colorado, earning head coach Chris Petersen a $150,000 bonus for appearing in and winning the game in addition to his $3.6 million salary for this year. If UW is picked to play in the college football playoff, which is likely, Petersen will receive an additional $300,o00 and even more if the Huskies continue to win. What can Petersen do with that money? Almost anything he chooses: redecorate his house, travel around the world, share it with his coaching staff, burn it, donate to the University of Washington. One of the few things he can’t do: share any of it with the players who played in the games that led to that bonus.