Thursday, September 1, 2011

The End of The Dirt Road, Part Two: How the NFL Can End Corruption In College Football

***Click here for Part 1***

The NFL needs a minor league system where they can cultivate their talent minus the obvious corruption and outside influence the college game brings. An NFL minor league would also weed out the kids who simply are not cut out for handling both an athletic and scholastic schedule simultaneously.

However, a minor league must be handled responsibly in both respect to profit and players' personal development, both as a football player and a person. College football should be doing that but have failed egregiously for all of the outlined reasons. Furthermore, Roger Goddell and the NFL has enough clout at this point to advise the NCAA of the following:
"The president is looking at you. Congress is looking at you. State attorney generals are looking at you. You can follow this path and face investigations. Or you can work with us. It's your choice. But know this. The President is not looking at us."
Therefore the NFL could propose the following rough outline to the NCAA as a joint pact in the development of a true football minor league system.

  • Every NFL team has one minor league affiliate.
  • The drafting of high school players begins the weekend between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl. The traditional NFL draft would remain on the same dates in April.
  • The minor league is for players straight out of high school or players that have been demoted from the NFL due to developmental reasons
  • The NFL minor league schedule begins two weeks after the Super Bowl and ends with the Minor League Super Bowl on the 4th of July.
  • A player may be called up during the season for any reason the club deems necessary, including injury or just because the club feels that the individual is ready to play in the NFL.
These would seem like fairly agreeable terms thus far. However, if the NFL wants this to be a truly remarkable venture, it won't be enough to simply draw up a minor league and call it a success. The reality is that the NFL would be employing 18-year-old men who still need guidance. Guidance that some of them may never had gotten at home, and many more still are not getting in the ranks of college football. Therefore a social contract between the NFL and NCAA must be of paramount importance in the league's and players' development.

  • If a high schooler elects to forgo college to play in the NFL minor league, he cannot be convicted of a felony while employed by the League. If a player is convicted of a felony, the penalty is automatic termination of his contract and a permanent ban from playing in the NFL or any having any employment in the League itself.
  • However, through a joint effort with the NFL and NCAA, any player that is convicted of a felony can still attend college and play college football once a player has served his sentence to completion. Although a player is no longer eligible for employment with the NFL, an opportunity is still provided to the young man to gain his college degree after time served.
  • Any player that must "retire" in the minor leagues due to a career-ending injury may still attend an NCAA university at no cost, but cannot play football for that school under any circumstance.
  • No school may be permitted more than two NFL expulsions due to felonies or injury.
  • Any felony conviction while playing college football will result in a permanent ban from the NCAA as well. Any re-enrollment after time served would be for academics exclusively and at the university's discretion.
The above mentioned proposal is admittedly controversial, and openly advocates socially engineering due a certain extent. No doubt this will generate a fair number of questions such as the following:

Q: Wait a second, how is it fair that someone convicted of a felony can still attend college football and PLAY college football while they're at it?

A: Sports Karma never advocated that it was fair. In many ways, it's not fair at all especially to the students that bust their tails, get good grades, work jobs and participate in extracurricular activities. To those people who state that the most controversial piece of this proposal isn't fair, they are 100 percent correct. It's not fair.

However, I would urge others to consider the cases of both former Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett and former Texas RB Ramonce Taylor.

Clarett was just a freshman when Ohio State upset Miami to win the 2002 National Championship, but was kicked off the team in 2003 after filing false police reports. After losing a landmark case against the NFL where Clarett challenged the NFL's age requirements, he was released on waivers on August 28, 2005 by the Denver Broncos.

Not even six months later, on February 10, 2006, Clarett was indicted on two counts of aggravated robbery with gun specifications. Less than a year after he was cut by the Broncos, Clarett was arrested again this time charged with driving with an open container of Grey Goose vodka while carrying loaded handguns and AK-47s. Clarett could not be tased in the incident because he was wearing body armor.

In April 2010, Clarett was granted early release. He is now playing for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.

Taylor's story, although nowhere near as dramatic, is much the same as Clarett's. Taylor was the starting RB on the Longhorns 2005 National Championship team. Coach Mack Brown kicked Taylor off the team in May 2006 after he was accused of felony drug charges. Taylor was sentenced to 60 days in jail in September 2006, and was sentenced to jail again in 2008 for a probation violation.

Taylor was cut from the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in June 2010. He's now playing the Rio Grande Valley Dorados of the Arena Football League.

Both men won national championships. Both men were convicted of felonies. Neither man played in the NFL nor is it likely that they will ever play in the NFL. Both men were involved in criminal activity while at their respective universities, but both got into further trouble once football was removed completely from their lives. Both men have returned to football, but are playing at a level that would be considered minor league at best.

What both men do once football is officially over remains anyone's guess.

Is it fair that we give convicted felons a second opportunity at playing football and getting a free college education? Perhaps not, but consider the alternative presented when football as structure is removed completely from a young man's life. Forget about Clarett and Taylor as football players for a moment, and what these felony convictions cost them. Instead, how much did it cost society to have to prosecute and house Clarett and Taylor? How much will it continue to cost society when their football careers are done and they really don't have much to show for it?

Furthermore, Clarett and Taylor were both star players. Both were starting in their respective national championship games. The reality, however, is that many players regardless of skill level aren't graduating, and it's not because all of them are making the leap to the NFL. Texas, for example, graduated only 49 percent of its players according to a November 2009 report by the NCAA.

The question isn't about what happens to guys like Clarett and Taylor. The bigger question has to be how many of these guys don't we hear about in the news? How many of these players never graduate from institutions like Texas and have nothing to show for it?

The plain truth is that for too long, our schools both on a public and university level, have valued exceptional athletes for their endeavors on the field and cut them excessive slack in the classroom. This benefits no one--not the schools, the athletes or society as a whole--when athletics have been taken away entirely, and the athletes have little to fall back as a result.

This proposal takes this into account and allows the athlete turned felon to have other options in life besides football.

Q. Wait a sec, it's still not fair though! Why shouldn't other felons be offered the same opportunities? Why should football players be singled out for special treatment?

A. Sports Karma never advocated full social rehabilitation for every criminal. Some criminals, frankly, don't deserve social rehabilitation. The proposal is meant as a way to restructure both the NFL and the NCAA. If other states or the federal government would like to try new methods of rehabilitation for other criminals regardless of athletic achievement, that's ultimately at their discretion.

Furthermore, college is not the answer for everyone. Sports Karma fully recognizes that not all people, regardless of criminal history, will necessarily be cut out for the rigors of collegiate studies. However, under the guise of football, college is the most appropriate place for this social contract to occur.

Q. A permanent employment ban in the NFL? Doesn't that seem harsh?

A. Not really. As Clarett and Taylor demonstrated, 18-year-olds have a tendency to get in trouble especially if there's not a great deal of structure provided to them. A draconian policy would be needed as a mechanism to curtail and discourage such activities.

Q. OK, you've really managed to piss me off with this social contract of yours, but so be it. Moving on to other things, how are you really going to sell a kid on joining an NFL minor league? Doesn't the idea of college girls and football sound way more appealing to an 18-year-old than living in a traditional minor league city like Albuquerque?

A. Simple. Being in the NFL minor leagues makes the individual a better football player. Period. Consider that a player in the minor leagues sole devotion would be to football. They would have no outside classes to attend to or anything of that nature. Consequently, a player devoted to the game of football will ultimately be better than the player who goes to college and has to devote time to additional studies. It just boils down to a matter of more practice.

Therefore a high schooler who is drafted by the NFL minor leagues will have a greater earning potential than his collegiate counterpart and achieve that earning potential in a quicker time frame. The college player will have to compete against someone who has spent every day engrossed in nothing but football, and has received tutelage and coaching by NFL employees who know exactly what the League wants to see in a player. The NFL minor leaguer would actually be at a competitive advantage for NFL jobs and NFL millions, not the college player.

Q. What about players that commit a felony in college? Will they still be allowed in the NFL draft? And what about players that commit felonies while in the NFL, but didn't go through the minor leagues?

A. The NFL minor league is a special system set up for those that truly want to focus on football, and be the absolute best. There are different rules that apply for the minor leagues because the players are on a fast track to the NFL. What players did while they were in college will be examined on a case-by-case basis as it currently is now. Furthermore, players that commit felonies while in the NFL regardless of whether they participated in the minor league system, will be reviewed by the Commissioner and handled on a case-by-case basis.

Q. Wouldn't a minor league of this magnitude severely damage college football's drawing power?

A. Doubtful. In much of the United States, especially in Texas and in SEC country, college football is such an ingrained part of life that it would be unfathomable to imagine all of the tailgating and pageantry to suddenly shut down just because the prized five-star recruits decided to play in minor leagues instead. Besides, as mentioned previously, college football turned a $1 billion profit in 2010. It would be unthinkable that college football would fall apart just because the talent level might drop off to a certain extent. It might not turn a $1 billion profit if there's an NFL minor league in place, but the stadiums will still fill up on Saturday afternoons in the fall up to capacity, no doubt. Furthermore, the NFL minor league schedule wouldn't interfere with either the college or the pro game so conflict could occur.

Q. The NFL is a for-profit business. How does the NFL make money off this minor league?

A. Ticket sales obviously, but that's just the beginning. If the NFL branches out to other cities and stadiums, this opens up a whole new avenue of licensing and merchandise. Minor league jersey sales won't do as well as they would in the NFL due to the temporal nature of the players, but everything else that sells on could be sold as merchandise.

This would also be a fantastic marketing opportunity for the NFL. Currently, after the Super Bowl, the NFL isn't heard from again until the April Draft, and then it's not heard from until the start of training camp in July. With a minor league schedule staring in mid-February and ending on Independence Day, the NFL can literally be in the news year-round. This keeps brand awareness alive at all times and allows various cross-selling opportunities between the NFL franchises and their minor league affiliates.

Moreover, finding stadiums to play in shouldn't be an issue. As a part of the joint agreement between the NFL and NCAA, the minor league teams can play games in college stadiums, if available, and the schools can receive a 15% cut of all revenue at the game. Fifteen percent may not seem like a great deal, but it's considerably more than what they were making with the stadium empty for a vast portion of the year.

If the NCAA finds this agreement objectionable, there's nothing to suggest that the teams can't already use the stadiums in place that NFL teams play in or find other municipal stadiums that don't have contractual agreements to a local university. Examples could include places like the Alamodome or even baseball stadiums reconfigured for football.

You don't know who this person is yet.

That man is Mark Emmert and he is the president of the NCAA. I don't envy him one bit. Emmert will have some very difficult decisions to make in the next few years, especially in President Obama wins a re-election. You may not recognize him now, but if President Obama wins in 2012, rest assured he may become the face of a Congressional investigation as to how an alleged non-profit can rack up a $1 billion profit. How his industry repeatedly aligns itself with felons. How some of his alleged student-athletes become felons.

And perhaps most importantly, he might become the face of a government investigation that calls for closing of corporate tax loopholes. He's going to have an awful lot of questions to answer. But so will university presidents. So will "boosters" like Nevin Shapiro. So will former players. So will coaches. So will current NFL players.

Mark Emmert may not want to answer these questions. He may not have a choice. What he has is a choice now to either clean up college football's mess or have someone do it for him. The question is: Who cleans it up? The feds or Roger Goddell?

Regardless of who cleans up college football, change must happen. The NFL can benefit from this more than anyone, but what will it come down to is President Emmert and the path he chooses for the NCAA.

It might be change we can believe in. But if Mark Emmert doesn't act, it will be change the NCAA will believe in.

So help them God.

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