Deny college football’s grip on the hearts and minds of Americans, and you’re blind, deaf, and really dumb.
Look no further than Iowa City today. Over 65,000 people will be in Kinnick Stadium to see Western Michigan play Iowa. Why? Because it’s a Hawkeyes home game.
But always bubbling under the pageantry and passion is pressure. Big pressure on the coaches, athletic department heads, and most of all, the players.
This week brought the release of a fascinating book by investigative reporters Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian called “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football.” It’s a meticulously reported book that covers a wide variety of college football’s components. For a good column on the book, I refer you to this by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel.
Told Iowa is finishing a new $55 million football facility, Keteyan said on my TheGazette.com podcast this week. “Here’s Iowa investing tons of millions of dollars and it is almost standing still.
“Because look what’s happening at Michigan. They’re doing the same thing with their facilities. Ohio State is not standing still. … if Iowa wants to get back into the big games, those are the two lead dogs that they have to compete with. At $55 million, that just basically gets you a seat at the table in the Big Ten with the big boys.”
Keteyian uses the term “runaway train” to describe college football in 2013. “The fact is,” he said, “I’m not sure who’s the conductor of the train.
“(NCAA president) Mark Emmert is quoted very early in the book saying he doesn’t know where all this is headed. If Mark Emmert doesn’t know where it’s headed, I don’t know how anybody else is going to know.
“But I do know this: There is an enormous amount of fuel going into that locomotive right now, and that is money. There’s no question that money is fueling the expansion of the sport, principally through television money, billions of dollars coming into these conference deals.
“I think it will be really interesting what it looks like once that college football playoff starts, because that’s going to take it and add rocket fuel to this locomotive.”
Meanwhile, the players’ compensation remains the same.
“The pyramid, if you look at it inverted, that tip of the pyramid is piercing the backs and shoulders of 18- to 22-year-old kids who are really carrying the weight of the system on their shoulders,” Keteyian said.
The Dallas Morning News reported this week that Texas A&M raised a record $740 million in donations during the past year. The obvious main reason: Aggies star quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“We talk about this being a full-time job (for players) and it’s a sort of a nice throwaway phrase,” said Keteyian. “But it’s absolutely a full-time job for these kids, particularly a program like Iowa or one in the Big Ten or Pac-12 or Big 12 or SEC. If you’re in a major mega-conference, your time is 11 months-plus, and you are heavily involved in preparing for a season, or recovering from a season, or in a season.”
Yet, if Manziel were to, say, get a few thousand bucks for signing autographs? What an outrage.
In the mean time the money keeps pouring in, and the football programs keep reinvesting it to become bigger and better. Or to try, anyway.