There was little question after the NCAA allowed 12 games for Division I-A football teams in 2002 and 2003 that, eventually, a 12-game schedule would become the norm. It seemed like a great idea, one that would create interesting intersectional matchups.
Instead, it turns out to be just another way to make a few million bucks off the sweat and blood of college football players.
The 12-game schedules worked well in 2002 and 2003 because there was an extra Saturday in the calendar. The season started on Aug. 30 in 2003, and there were a lot of attractive games. Auburn, of course, took on Southern California twice.
Some naïve souls assumed that, if the NCAA approved a permanent 12-game schedule, it would add another playing date.
The 12th game was approved last month. NCAA president Myles Brand and friends snorted at the idea of extending the season by a week. What that means is that a lot of teams could play 12 games without a break. It also means that the interesting matchups we saw in 2002 and 2003 aren't what we'll see in 2006.
Why? It's all about four days.
If the NCAA would have agreed to start the season on Aug. 26 instead of Sept. 2, four days earlier than in 2003, everybody would have instantly had the same open date. There would have been all sorts of opportunities for attractive games. A school like Auburn might well be interested in playing USC or Oklahoma in August, but it's not going to be interested in inserting a game like that into the meat of the Southeastern Conference schedule. But the learned men who run things in Indianapolis gravely shook their heads and said starting on Aug. 26 would make the season too long.
Aug. 30 wasn't considered too early. Aug. 26 is considered too early. You figure that one out. I can't.
With No. 1 hypocrite Myles Brand and his $850,000 annual salary leading the way, the NCAA continues to give lip service to being concerned about the welfare of student-athletes while their actions say they are most concerned about money.
I wonder if Brand and other university presidents really have a clue what college football players go through. Taking away one open date might not seem like much, but it seems like a heck of a lot if you are a player trying to balance school and football and keep body and mind intact.
Brand and his troops are at their hypocritical best when it comes to academic reform. They gather at posh resorts for their meetings and happily pass rules that require more of athletes than is required of any other students. Then they go to their cocktail parties and congratulate themselves.
If something doesn't change, the athletes might just fight back. They might just realize it is actually they who have all the power.
College athletes aren't activists by nature. They are conditioned to do what their coaches tell them to do. But the day could come when they rise up as one and say "Enough!"
I've never been in favor of paying college athletes. I think a scholarship is a very valuable thing. At the same time, the endless talk by Brand and his pals that athletics should be just another part of the educational process is comical. What other part of the educational process can be sold to CBS for a billion dollars like the NCAA basketball tournament?
We'll bump along now with Brand and other college presidents keeping straight faces as they try to show their credentials as "reformers." In the fall of 2006, college football players will sacrifice their bodies to get through 12 games in 13 weeks. The fans who pay the bills will get another Saturday to tailgate and will be treated to plenty of games against directional schools or I-AA schools.
Those who run the NCAA can only hope that no charismatic leader emerges to get college athletes pulling in the same direction. What damage would it do if football players nationwide decided they were going to sit out one Saturday? Or if basketball players nationwide did the same during the NCAA Tournament?
That's not close to happening and might never happen, but somebody wearing a suit better start listening to the men and women doing the sweating and competing. They really are what this enterprise is supposed to be all about.
Brand and his friends will look you in the eye and tell you they are all about education and doing what is best for those student-athletes.
But their actions speak more loudly than their words. What really interests them is power and money.