“Big, Bad USC” Has the Uncertain CFB World On the Run Again

The Star Wide Receiver Who Has All of College Football Panicking

This controversy is being treated as a crisis, but it’s more a sign of what’s to come…

Alex Kirschner (Slate.com)  —  No sport loves an existential crisis like college football. The most durable theme over the sport’s history—more than crunching hits, good tailgating, and marching bands—is that any big, structural change is met with predictions that it will be the thing that brings about the ruination of the sport or at least relegates it to the margins of American society.

In 1902, a former state senator in Utah predicted that “the taint of professionalism will kill college football,” according to the Deseret News. That was the first newspaper clipping I could find of someone warning that something would “kill college football.” There were dozens more over the coming decades, often with that exact verbiage and sometimes with different variations of an idea that a new thing would harm or murder the sport. Other predicted assassins of college football over the years included gambling, creating a professional league, ticket scalping, too much nonconference play, “overemphasis” on athletics, extended training camps, neutral-site games, “secret deals” to pay for players, the draft (into the military, not the NFL), introducing the two-platoon system that allowed substitutions for offense and defense, televising games (in the 1950s), overly expensive helmets, Title IX, and, at many different moments, integration.

The sport must be resilient to still be around, and for one of its conferences to be closing in on a TV deal worth more than a billion dollars a year. But the past week has seen renewed hand-wringing around the country over the intersection of two recently passed reforms: one to allow players to transfer schools one time without having to sit out a season, as used to be custom, and another to let athletes make money from third parties for appearances and sponsorships. The latter has created a de-facto pay-for-play setup at many schools, where boosters organized in “collectives” are dangling money as a recruiting inducement. The latest and brightest flashpoint is the ongoing transfer process of Jordan Addison, a rising junior wideout at the University of Pittsburgh who just won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top pass-catcher.

Addison entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal just before a May 1 deadline, and a swirl of reporting—days before that—indicated that USC was a likely landing spot. Addison’s camp insists that he has not made up his mind on where he will play in 2022.

Pitt people suspect USC of tampering with Addison, meaning trying to recruit him before he’d entered his name into the transfer portal. That is unclear, and the idea itself carries a lot of gray area: Is it even possible to “tamper” with an unpaid college student? (NCAA rules say yes.) And is it “tampering” if the actual recruiter is USC’s quarterback, Caleb Williams, who shares Washington, D.C. area roots with Addison? (NCAA rules say no; he’s not a coach.) At any rate, there’s no confirmation that Addison is ticketed for USC—he’s working out with Alabama’s QB—and nor is any financial arrangement clearly in place. One could easily come about, though, in a world where pay-for-play is formatted as name, image, and likeness payments.

In a way, it is the perfect college football story. Yes, it has message board and Twitter rumors about multimillion-dollar deals on the table and Pitt’s attempts to match them. Yes, it features an easy-to-define villain in big, bad USC, allegedly angling to bleed poor ol’ Pitt dry and steal its best player. But most importantly, the controversy is an easy avatar that allows people on every side of a debate about player agency to retreat to their corners and claim they were right.

Those of us who have advocated for years for players to get paid and play wherever they want? Well, now Addison has his chance, and it’s plain what players in his position were worth all along. The legions of coaches and older-school analysts who warned about anarchy if players could move about freely and get paid? Whatever the outcome, the fracas around Addison proves they were right, as this apocalyptic but not uncommon commentary exemplifies.

But the particulars of Addison’s case are window dressing if one’s primary concern is how college football got here or where it goes next. The long-run outcome is not that 115 teams will become a farm system for the 15 most prestigious programs, and it is not that pay-for-play will forever be an open-air black market where “name, image, and likeness” payments function as pay-for-hire to get players to attend certain schools. Instead, it is that college football will go through a period of chaos that its leaders created all on their own. Then that time will end, and governments will impose a new order that changes the sport’s economics forever.

The Addison story and other recent ones like it seem to have lit a new fire under college sports administrators, who for years have wanted anyone other than themselves to figure out what the future of player pay looks like. After several entreaties to Congress to pass a name, image, and likeness law went unheeded, the NCAA decided last summer to comply with a bunch of state laws and let players take money from third parties, with few of what the administrators would call “guardrails” to ensure that money wasn’t a masquerading version of pay-for-play. Now there is an administrative task force coming, the surest sign that the suits mean business. The commissioners of the Pac-12 and SEC, who are a little bit less hateable than outgoing NCAA president Mark Emmert, are heading to the Capitol to make their own pitch for federal intervention. Their goal is to bring some stability, mainly for universities, to the landscape.

Maybe Congress will pass a law, though it’s not clear why it would suddenly do that in a midterm election year after several years of not doing it. Which legislator wants to be the one seen as rolling back college athlete freedoms? Maybe the school presidents who run the NCAA will get together and make a national rule, though the reasons they haven’t done that already have not changed: Namely, this is not a good time, legally speaking, for college sports leaders to look like they’re collaborating to limit a free market for athletes. Or maybe nothing will happen for several years, and boosters will ramp up efforts to buy talent in a free-ish market. Any of these patterns could come to define the next several years of college football.

Schools and coaches, who make a habit of referring to the current system as the “Wild West,” have their own obvious reasons to want something different. Universities’ primary concern has always been that they not be forced to share revenues with the athletes who produce them. They long feared that third-party payouts would make pay-for-play by schools inevitable. But now that schools have caved on NIL, they have other incentives—to avoid losing their players to booster bidding wars, to stay out of accidental trouble with the NCAA in a hilariously undefined regulatory environment, and to keep their fans engaged with their teams. It is understandable that supporters of these schools, especially ones more like Pitt than USC, do not want a system that leaves their teams at risk of losing any great player they develop.

You could spend years devising a college sports–specific plan for how schools and players might share revenue, what the exact nature of their worker-boss relationship would be, and who would get to make governance decisions. But the likeliest outcome here is also the simplest, and the one that the federal government’s top labor lawyer is already telegraphing.

Last September, Jennifer Abruzzo, the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, released a memorandum that said (with some stipulations) that college football players meet the test to be considered employees of their schools under federal law. Abruzzo urged the five-member federal board that rules on these matters to follow suit. The NLRB only has jurisdiction over private campuses, and someone has to bring a suitable action to generate a ruling to this effect, as Northwestern football players tried to do in the mid-2010s. But someone will get the issue before the board eventually. Tom McMillen, who runs the political advocacy group that represents Division I athletic directors, has said the change “could happen very quickly.” A working idea is that some segment of Power Five football programs would transition to running their athletic departments as for-profit businesses, while the rest could play in something like the old world. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is gesturing in the same direction.

Legal experts have been clear about the potential for a cascading effect in which a small number of private schools recognize athletes as employees, and then their private and public peers follow suit to avoid being left behind in the race for talented players. A world where football players are employees opens a lot of potential doors down the line, most notably for some form of college athlete labor union. But an employer-employee relationship would affect some things immediately. Notably, it would mean some sort of guaranteed pay for players. And, in this future, players could sign contracts with fixed lengths that lessened the likelihood of other schools plucking them with ease, or of interlopers even having the roster space to go on a shopping spree of other rosters. Roster limits and payments to players could act as deterrents against turnover, and schools that are paranoid about losing their players to competitors with more cash to offer would be able to rest easier, if not easily.

There are, of course, about a million variables that would weigh on how this system functioned. But unlike any other solution, schools simply employing their athletes would not require everyone to start from scratch. The United States already has a system for how large organizations interact with their laborers. College sports has existed outside of that edifice for more than a century and a half, but it is naive to think it can keep that up forever. At the highest levels of its most profitable sport, academia will have to better mimic society.

The new world will have its own problems. An explicitly for-profit college football that is made for TV will lack a lot of the charm of the sport you grew up watching. But so does the current one, which revolves all year around the made-for-TV College Football Playoff and prioritizes fans watching games anywhere except in the stadiums where they are played. The next iteration of college football has been on its way for a while. If Jordan Addison did anything by deciding to explore a transfer from Pitt, it was to accelerate a conversation that had already started.

slate.com

________

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TrojanRJJ
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May 15, 2022 11:40 am

Just read an interesting post on Barta, the IA AD. His response to Addison is to reimpose the one year ban on transfers playing. There is zero chance that happens as it would clearly be an anti-trust violation. In fact, his statement shows the policy acted solely to prevent competition for players via transfer, almost a per se violation. That combined with Narduzzi’s comments about SC ‘tampering’ with Addison (which was plain dumb – the kid has a very sophisticated agency representing him) makes me realize that some schools and coaches simply do not “get” the new world of NIL.… Read more »

Chris
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May 14, 2022 10:02 pm

Not sure if anyone cares, but I was impressed with the Kings season. We were ahead of schedule by making the playoffs this year. We should be a much better team in the next few years. We need a first line scorer.

also, Conner McDavid is pretty incredible. He carved us up like we were standing still.

sad to see Brown go out, but he brought us two cups. Will be good to see his Jersey retired. Same with Quick, Daughty, and Kopitar when they hang ‘‘em up.

Steveg
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May 14, 2022 2:46 pm

If LR can land Addison it is going to add tremendous depth to the WR spot. With the add of two new O linemen and the staff we have I have little doubt USC is going to score enough points to win most all of their games. Notre Dame will be a great game for a change, and the Utah game while being a tough one I can now see great hope in winning in Utah for a change. I think my favorite thing about LR is he is seeking speed, and I hope he gets all he needs.

Chris
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May 14, 2022 12:05 pm

Addison, Lole, Miller, Tabaricci and that’s a wrap. Go win pac 12, and see if we can sneak into national conversation.

Trojan96
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May 14, 2022 9:43 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

This is a great pickup. We need someone with a nasty streak on the OLine. Maybe he will rub off on the other players.

Jamaica
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May 13, 2022 3:21 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Well Coach, you have put yourself on notice we will see a OL that dominates the LOS. But would we expect anything less from an offensive minded genius whose wide open offense is to keep any defense from guessing where the next play will go. That was the magic of Norm Chow’s playcalling of PC’s offense. When you have imaginative plays and the athletes to execute them, whoa watchout! Now about the defense……

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May 14, 2022 9:42 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

We really need to focus on the DL and LB positions. It would be great if we can pick up 3-4 more guys on the Defense side of the ball. Overall, I think Lincoln is doing a great job in filling some gaps. The future is bright. ✌️

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May 12, 2022 9:57 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

He got a lot of interest from some good programs. To beat them out sounds like a good pick. Depth at OL is very good.

ATL D.D.S.
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May 13, 2022 8:54 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Cooper mentions he is going to “check with Dorothy” and he is from the state of Kansas. Who is Dorothy and does she have a small dog named Toto?

Jamaica
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May 13, 2022 3:53 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

“The top rated programs seem to have little problem finding linemen. Especially down south where the SEC is loaded with them. I am curious to see if new Oregon HC Dan Lanning develops a pipeline of southern size linemen coming up to the Northwest. If Riley could find another coach like Josh Henson who has some experience coaching down south and develop some pipelines himself if west coast linemen are few to find.

Chris
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May 12, 2022 5:46 pm

lovelace committed today. O line is certainly a position of need. I trust Riley and Hensen, so this has to be good news.

also, USC football tweeted another fight on emoji. We should be getting another commitment today.

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May 12, 2022 6:00 pm
Reply to  Chris

6-5, 320 lbs, G, from RG can pull to the left effectively, at least in practice at Butler JC. LR beat out Florida, Kansas, Iowa St and OK State.

https://247sports.com/Video/Cooper-Lovelace-Butler-County-CC-2020-Fall-Practice-Film-10076486/

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May 12, 2022 4:38 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think we have learned from the past not to look beyond the Stanford game. They have surprised USC to many times. Although we can have expectations again, I would never bet on that particular game.

Steveg
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May 12, 2022 7:10 am

We have been out of country last two weeks and could not log in. Great to be back and see LR is keeping us entertained through this boring period before fall camp starts.

Jamaica
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May 11, 2022 5:22 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

It isn’t about the past anymore and the suffering. We are now on the road to recovery in renewed hope of again being a player in the very top programs of CFB. Making the playoffs, playing for championships and being able to talk the talk & walk the walk. We just have to have patience in waiting for it to happen.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jamaica
TrojanRJJ
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May 11, 2022 7:55 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think we both agree, the LR hire was probably the best sports hire of the last decade. What he has done is remarkable. The D needs a lot of work. But LR has completely turned the O around as well as the team’s future. We all knew the Cat had destroyed SC football. To rise from the ashes in Year 1 is remarkable. We still do not know what the 2022 roster will look like. But it is a huge improvement over 2021. I think LR got it right in saying he need to turn over 35 spots on… Read more »

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May 11, 2022 7:47 pm
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I think the O next year will be good to very good. I am hoping the D will simply be mediocre rather than awful. Realize that off the 2 deep from the 2021 D, maybe 4 guys will see PT in 2022. The Byrd kid will probably take minutes away from Corey Foreman. Goforth is now 2nd team and a transfer away from the scout team. The main issue for me is Donte. Domani Jackson kept him on the staff this year. If the CBs do not improve this year (and none of the CBs from 2021 will see the… Read more »

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May 12, 2022 8:28 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

On the other hand, Grinch doesn’t have to show too much improvement to be better that the stalwart defenses of…well, I can’t even remember the name of our sorry, pitiful DC from last season!

ATL D.D.S.
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May 13, 2022 8:56 am
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That’s the culprit. Named after a city that specializes in clownish entertainment. It fits, doesn’t it?

Chris
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May 10, 2022 9:21 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Doesn’t Lole still have an official visit with us?

ATL D.D.S.
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May 11, 2022 7:01 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Beautiful and Champions!

ATL D.D.S.
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May 10, 2022 4:12 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

My wife, the GT alumnae, class of 1985, is pissed at me.

Chris
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May 10, 2022 1:18 pm

Looks like we got a d line addition from portal. Hope he can play. He started at Wyoming.

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May 10, 2022 2:22 pm
Reply to  Chris

Interesting he just committed to GA Tech and now switched to USC. Wonder what that story is? Will we get the sob story of LR “poaching” players? This looks like one of the Portal Story lines of a guy going to a second tier program, gets developed, moves up to the big time with 2 years left.

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May 10, 2022 12:54 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Interesting Oklahoma is so high in the rankings with their offense missing some important talent. I don’t see them lasting in the top 5 unless their defense shuts down everyone? Granted their schedule looks pretty soft for awhile with Baylor & Texas being their roughest games. I’ll be curious to see how ND does the first part of the season. They have a great chance of losing at OSU, possibly at North Carolina and BYU might give them trouble in LV as well as by the end of the season I see USC improving to where we could be pretty… Read more »

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May 11, 2022 8:54 am
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Read a pretty funny article from a local Oregon paper. They were upset with this ranking but very happy with USA Today because USC was not ranked in that one and UCLA was.

UtahTrojan
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May 11, 2022 10:33 pm
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From what I understand is Utah has the least to replace and Coach Whit always has them ready. Plus everyone else has so many question marks.

Chris
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May 9, 2022 5:26 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Good luck with that. If they are serious about it, they would have to investigate every power five program. Plus the whole Supreme Court thing looms over anything they do.

TrojanRJJ
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May 9, 2022 7:39 pm
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Without Congressional action protecting the NCAA from anti-trust law, the NCAA simply cannot afford to proceed to enforce anything. You asked how the new Pac 12 Commissioner was reacting – he did the really smart thing – he went to the SEC and got them to admit what has going on was not in anyone’s best interests. So, I expect this mess will be fixed sooner rather than later. Look for a class or two of kids to make a fortune until new rules are put into place. I would expect the solution will require funding of female sports as… Read more »

Jamaica
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May 10, 2022 1:07 pm
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Mr. Smith or those like him better have deep pockets as the NCAA will drag any court action through years of litigation.

Jamaica
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May 10, 2022 1:00 pm
Reply to  Chris

And when the NCAA attempts to enforce these new guidelines, I see someone taking it to court claiming collusion?

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May 10, 2022 8:25 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

So coaches and collectives/boosters can’t recruit a player to transfer. So who can? Players from other schools? Can a player or his agent shop him around prior to entering the portal? A full list of who can and cannot contact a player and when would be nice to see.

Jamaica
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May 9, 2022 8:58 am
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You can’t argue what Kendal & Tice we’re saying. We were watching the games last season and it seemed all Kedon & Dart did was call a play, get the ball and look over to Drake wherever he was and throw the ball to him whether he was double covered or not. The fans, the opposing team all knew what was going on. GH sure didn’t limit any of this as it went on until Drake got hurt and then the offense was a shadow of itself. We all said it, USC football was hanging on in mediocrity dying a… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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May 9, 2022 7:31 pm
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GH had us all fooled for about a year. I agree, he was an awful OC, but even as bad as he was, he was better than Tee Martin and his Gumbo. Man, did SC have awful OCs during the tenure of The Cat.

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May 10, 2022 6:56 am
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With Kiffin or Sarkesian, the offense was a struggle.
With the Cat…it was a downhill slide.

TrojanRJJ
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May 9, 2022 7:29 pm
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Allen, Interesting question now arises concerning Addison leaving Pitt. We all know that Kedon is NOT an Alpha Leader. And, now we find out that he was not an accurate QB in a system designed for QBs. I wonder if Kedon had anything to do with Addison leaving? Addison has his pick of QB talent in the nation: Williams at SC, or Young at AL, or McEwen at TX (all are alphas). My guess is he could go to tOSU and have Stroud throw to him. So, why stay at Pitt and trust Kedon? And what about Jaxson Dart at… Read more »

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May 10, 2022 12:27 pm
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The fact Addison has worked out with Bryce tells me Saban wants him. Right now, Alabama is still the place to be. Give Riley a few years to build USC football and Bama won’t be a slam dunk to everyone. With that said, Riley already has brought in enough talent for Caleb to prosper. You can have too many good receivers who want the ball and that won’t help the attitude of being “all in” with team unity in building a program?

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May 10, 2022 1:30 pm
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Allen,…
I think between the first sentence of your comment and the last sentence of the second paragraph, you have answered your concern….aside from Riley’s bubbling personality and his desire to change the image of USC football (for the better).
Someone like Addison has to look beyond the magnetism of Riley’s words…as of yet, this Riley team has no body of work to compare, Alabama, Georgia, tOSU do.

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May 11, 2022 8:36 am
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I understand your position, however, there is more to a team than a fantastic QB, as you well know. Addison’ ultimate choice will tell where His (and his advisors) priorities and concerns are focused going forward (his last season)
On a personal note, the idea of paying out 1-2 or 3 million for one years production is ludicrous, those NIL dollars would be better spent on future 5 star High Shool players or top notch offensive/defensive portal transfers we really need right now.

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May 11, 2022 10:35 pm
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I am so excited for the season to get here. I can accept some loses because I know it will get better. Under Helton I wasn’t really all that excited for the season for the last few years.

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May 12, 2022 5:13 am
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That’s good news, now if we can add a couple of road graders on the O and D lines, we’re ready to make a Rose Bowl run

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May 10, 2022 7:04 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

As it stands Dart is an unproven commodity. There were bright spots in his few performances, the essence of what he is comes after battling week after week during a season, durability, accuracy, and all the other metrics QB’s are measured. For now he is being coached competently. Time tells the tale.

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May 10, 2022 12:31 pm
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I think you are right. Realistically, Dart’s lone shinning moment was the 2nd half at WSU. The receivers were getting open all the time against an obvious poor cougar secondary. He came down to earth in the remaining games and we were back to square one.

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May 8, 2022 2:44 pm

More thoughts on NIL. If a player is getting a 6 figure deal why does he need a scholarship. Let the collective/booster pay the education costs out of the deal. That could open a roster spot. You would see the top 5% and the bottom 5-10% of the team not on scholarship. A collective could become an off campus private Athletic Foundation. Currently collectives are just getting started with an inner circle of big donors. They could expand with opportunities for relatively smaller donors. Offer some perks, inside deals. Coordinating with the university and the possibilities are huge. Seems like… Read more »

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May 8, 2022 12:54 pm

While I did not realize it at the time, the Addison case triggered the rush to a solution. And, the solution must be done in Congress. Right now, most collegiate football teams are looking at being permanently excluded from big time collegiate football. It is now obvious only a few schools will be able to offer the opportunity for players to make significant dollars. And, players who develop at other schools (like Addison) will simply transfer into those few schools once they have developed their talent. I have no idea what the solution is. I like the SC position (as… Read more »

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May 8, 2022 2:20 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Good points RJJ. I don’t want to see Congress involved at this point, give it a year or two to see how it plays out. If the playoffs were expanded that would give more programs an opportunity to grow their brand and buying power. If I were a big donor it would only take getting burned once on a HS kid to temper future offers. Savvy ADs, coaches and mature players will realize some sharing the wealth will benefit everybody on the team.

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May 8, 2022 11:37 am

The notion of athletes as employees ignores the fact that they are also supposed to be college students. Going to college was primarily to get an education for most athletes. Playing on the school team was a means for some to get that education. Treating players as employees assumes they are there to perform and the education is secondary or not even a reason to be there. Tuition, fees, room and board, books etc are then considered fringe benefits. The rules of eligibility to play still hinge on being registered, attending classes, and making passing grades. Hopefully, the federal and… Read more »

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May 8, 2022 12:18 pm
Reply to  Golden Trojan

I agree. What about all the students who are doing work outside the classroom: field work, lab work, working medical, audio-visual, all the students doing grant work where the University gets paid? All could be identified as employees if “University student” athletes get labeled. This could lead to a huge mess.