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The Hypocritical College Football Planatation

By Bill Frezza

Quick, can you name a business in which young men, disproportionately black, take weekly beatings working for no pay while their masters make millions off their backs?

A business whose cartel members enforce this no-pay rule by blackballing any company who breaks it, nary a peep coming from organized labor?

A business not only exempt from corporate income taxes but magically immune to unionization, OSHA, affirmative action, and the anti-trust laws that plague the rest of our economy?

A business whose celebrity executives command multi-million dollar contracts, living as virtual emperors empowered to fire employees without recourse for so much as talking back to them?

A business where workers injured on the job get no workmen's compensation and are summarily dismissed if company doctors can't patch them up well enough to resume their beatings, leaving some crippled for life?

Despite a profile that ought to draw Andy Stern and Al Sharpton with pitchforks, can you name a business that a House subcommittee just passed legislation to regulate not to address employee abuses but to increase the "fairness" by which the businesses that virtually own these young men can justly claim the annual title of King of the Cartel?

If you guessed NCAA football, you win the Hypocrisy Heisman. If Congress demands national college football playoffs as an alternative to the current BCS series, it would perhaps be fitting to call the championship game the Plantation Bowl.

One of the House bill's sponsors is agitated by the unfairness. "We have to ask whether or not the big, dominant conferences are engaged in uncompetitive behavior and negotiating contracts at the expense of smaller conferences and their schools. In other words, are the big guys getting together and shutting out the little guys?"

Yes, Congress has so much free time on its hands that it needs to pass laws to make sure small plantation owners get a fair shot at competing with big plantation owners. Call it the Leave No Overseer Behind Bill. When you're done laughing at the bipartisan foolishness, can you find a clause somewhere in Article 1 of the constitution that empowers Congress to dictate the rules of college football?

Institutes of higher learning are certainly free to run profitable side businesses. But do attempts to rationalize the exploitation of talented young athletes for the amusement of middle-aged couch potatoes and the subsidization of middle class college kids convince you?

Many of these athletes forego a level of earnings they will never approach for the rest of their lives. In return for what? A shot at pro football? A fortunate few may go on to the NFL but the vast majority will spend the rest of their lives hobbling around on damaged knees. What did they get for it? A brief moment of glory and what often amounts to little more than an honorary degree.

Sure, no one is forced to play football. Illegal immigrants aren't forced to pick lettuce either, but tell that to minimum wage advocates. Some argue that paying student athletes would destroy college football, that budgets stretched thin by Title IX mandates just couldn't handle it. What about the alumni boosters often caught stuffing cash into the pockets of their alma mater's football stars? How about bringing these powerful market forces out into the open? Clever college development officers could easily turn alumni sports enthusiasm into another fund raising opportunity by promising that half of every donation made during the annual pigskin payola drive would be put toward attracting the top football talent money can buy. The other half could fund Title IX programs.

Do you think our President, a vocal supporter of Federal action to force a college football championship, could use his famed rhetorical skills to advance this kind of change? Southern agriculture went through turmoil when slavery was abolished, but southern farmers eventually learned to thrive in a free market. The Olympics managed a transition to professionalism with hardly a ripple. Why should college football be any different? How about giving the battered kids who enliven our Saturday afternoons more than just applause?

Bill Frezza is a partner at Adams Capital Management, an early-stage venture capital firm. He can be reached at bill@vereverus.com. If you would like to subscribe to his weekly column, drop a note to publisher@vereverus.com.
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