My prediction is different, and I'm 100% positive that I'm correct: both teams will lose. Don't get me wrong: the teams will play each other, and one of the teams will score more points, so the game itself will have a winner. But in this money-washed extravaganza, with coaches, schools, and television networks hauling in tens of millions of dollars, none of the players will be paid a single dollar.
Imagine this: the 100 players on each team's roster have spent their year entertaining millions of fans. They have played their hearts out on the field, risking injury (including the possibility of a life-altering concussion) in every game, all while pretending to be full-time college students pursuing an education. The pretense that they are "student athletes" is what allows the NCAA and the universities to maintain the fiction that players should not be compensated for their efforts on the field.
Don't get me wrong: there will be plenty of winners in Monday's game. The coaches, conferences, and colleges have already won. Alabama's head coach Nick Saban will be paid $7,087,481 this year. Clemson's coach Dabo Sweeney makes $3,305,200. Alabama and Clemson's assistant coaches make $1,500,000 and $1,404,807 respectively. USA Today calculated the total payroll of the football coaching staff for the four teams in the final two playoff games: $35,981,491, not including bonuses.
It's not just the football coaches who have won big. Athletic directors and their staffs have cashed in handsomely too. As the Washington Post reported a few weeks ago,
"In a decade, the non-coaching payrolls at the schools [in the five wealthiest athletic conferences], combined, rose from $454 million to $767 million."The Post also compiled numbers showing that 34 football teams had staff payrolls above $1 million for non-coaching staff. Clemson has created an "associate athletic director of football administration" who alone makes $252,000.
But wait, there's more. The athletic conferences in which Alabama, Clemson, and the other major football powers play have been rewarding themselves handsomely, paying their commissioners from $2.0 to 3.5 million. As the Washington Post put it:
"As a reward for making an industry fueled by unpaid athletes more lucrative than ever, the men who run these conferences have enjoyed staggering pay hikes doled out by the leaders of many of America’s largest universities."Much of this money comes from television contracts; the Wall St. Journal explains that the ACC (Clemson's conference) has a $3.6 billion contract with ESPN that lasts until 2027. ESPN is paying another $7.3 billion to televise the playoff and bowl games. None of that money goes to the players upon whom the entire enterprise depends.
When you watch the game on Monday (or any college football game), think about all that money going to the coaches, administrators, conference commissioners, and staff, while the players get nothing. The universities participating in this lucrative enterprise should be ashamed: they are making millions off the backs of unpaid athletes, while hiding behind the pretense that they are providing the athletes a fair return in the form of a college education. As I've written before, this is nonsense. Universities have been corrupted by the lure of cash, and they seem to have forgotten that they are in the business of educating students, not providing sports entertainment.
So yes, you will see some winners on Monday. They're the guys on both sidelines wearing headsets, making multi-million dollar salaries. After the game, they'll drive their expensive cars to their multi-million dollar homes. The players will return to their dorm rooms.
As for me, I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy watching college football. Every time a player gets shaken up by a hard tackle, I'm reminded that their playing careers are woefully short, and this might be the last time they have the chance to play in front of such a large audience. I think about how they'll feel 10 or 20 years from now, when they're limping around on bad knees while their former schools have long forgotten about them.
Colleges need to pay the players. And while they're at it, they can take steps to make sure that these students get a real education, such as offering free tuition, room, and board to the players for at least four years after they stop playing football. Until they do, all the players lose.