College football’s recent National Letter of Intent Day has become a major media event.
The high school athletes hold press conferences for one of the most memorable days of their lives as they announce where they’re signing and the media grades the recruiting classes of the colleges.
But before the high school seniors head off to college, they and their parents should read a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mike McIntire entitled, “Champions Way: Football, Florida and the Lost Soul of College Sports.’’
The book chronicles how many of the athletes are exploited, funneled into no-show classes and often leaving school without a degree or a future in pro football.
And the football program – supported by free-spending boosters — often seems bigger than the university.
The book focuses on Florida State in the Jameis Winston era (McIntire covered the school’s problems for The New York Times) and has gotten pushback from John Thrasher, the university president.
In a statement, he said the book, “cynically mischaracterized our football program’’ with “sweeping innuendo.’’
Yet the book is thoroughly researched and also details the off-field problems many players are involved in. McIntire’s writing for the Times on college football was a Pulitzer finalist.
Melissa Ashton, who worked nine years in the victim advocate’s office at Florida State, said she estimated that members of the football team were implicated in at least 20 complaints of sexual assault and 40 cases of interpersonal or intimate partner violence.
“I think it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re a university, and it’s academics. I think a lot of people think it’s football,’’ she said.
And the problem keeps getting worse. The colleges are now involved in what amounts to a financial arms race, with the schools pouring more money into athletic facilities and coaching salaries.
The Crimson Tide Foundation spent $3 million to buy Alabama football coach Nick Saban an 8,759-square foot home.
Not that Florida State is some kind of Lone Ranger. When Ereck Plancher collapsed and died after practice drills at Central Florida, the family found out suing the school for negligence would be difficult.
UCF basically claimed it didn’t run its own athletic department. Managerial control had been shifted to the privately funded UCF Athletics Association, which, according to state law, shared little information with the public.
And Congress and even the IRS share a role in shielding the football programs from taxes.
Boosters get tax deductions for donations tied to the purchase of stadium seats and luxury boxes. And neither Congress nor the IRS count corporate sponsorships as advertising, which is taxable.
Of course, the NCAA also gets away with not paying the players.
And the NFL gets away with using the colleges as a free farm system so they don’t have to set up a minor league.
The unfortunate thing is that this book hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. And the abuses it examines are not exactly a secret, but don’t expect big changes any time soon.
College football simply makes too much money and is protected by politicians and wealthy boosters. And the fans love the game.
But, as I said at the beginning, every recruit and their parents should read this book to understand what they are getting into. Too many think they’re going to make big money in the NFL, which only a few do.
This book is a warning tale for them.