Roy Exum: An Uprising

Monday, September 23, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

College football – now at full throttle –  had a new twist on Saturday when three new letters appeared on players from at least five different teams. The letters, written with Sharpie pens usually used to give autographs, were “APU,” which stands for “All Players United” and it means that college athletes are nearing the end of their rope.

It is no secret that the NCAA, the ruling body of college athletics, is under siege and the cry to pay college athletes is getting louder by the week. Universities rake in millions each year in TV revenue but the players are not allowed a penny of it. Last week former University of Tennessee star Arian Foster admitted he took illegal payments as a senior before he signed with the NFL Houston Texans. Why? He needed food and money for rent.

Dick Vitale, the college basketball guru who is showing his age spots at 74, promptly tagged Foster as a “prostitute,”  (he later apologized) but Foster’s case brought a dramatic point home. College athletes are weary of getting none of the lush revenue and while they get a full scholarship, quite often many don’t have family members back home still sending an allowance.

So along comes the fledgling National College Players Association and organizers are now asking college athletes to signal “APU” on taped wrists, socks or wherever they can reveal to the public that the college football slaves have had enough of the silly rules and overbearing penalties the NCAA has used for years to keep a thumb on the very ones the fans come to see.

Foster spoke out on an upcoming documentary about college football that is titled, “Schooled: The Price of College Sports. He told the cameras during the 90-minute documentary, “There were plenty of times where throughout the month I didn't have enough for food. Our stadium had like 107,000 seats; 107,000 people buying a ticket to come watch us play. It's tough just like knowing that, being aware of that.

“We had just won and I had a good game, 100 yards or whatever,” he said. “You go outside and there's hundreds of kids waiting for you. You're signing autographs, taking pictures, whatever. Then I walk back, and reality sets in. I go to my dorm room, open my fridge, and there's nothing in my fridge. Hold up, man. What just happened? Why don't I have anything to show for what I just did?

Foster said it was dehumanizing. “There was a point where we had no food, no money, so I called my coach and I said, 'Coach, we don't have no food. We don't have no money. We're hungry. Either you give us some food, or I'm gonna go do something stupid.' The coach came down and he brought like 50 tacos for like four or five of us. Which is an NCAA violation. (laughs) But then, the next day I walk up to the facility and I see my coach pull up in a brand new Lexus. Beautiful."

The “APU” markings were seen Saturday on players from Georgia, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, and several other schools. Ramogi Huma, the president of NCPA, said he expected many more to wear the letters as the season progresses. "They're taking the reform effort to television, which has never been done,” he told ESPN. “They've been using their bodies to make money for the people who run NCAA sports. Now, for the first time, they're using their bodies to push for basic protections at the very least."

A joint study by the NCPA and the Drexel University Sports Management Department came up with some alarming findings. The average full athletic scholarship at an FBS school is hardly a free ride; it left “full” players with a scholarship shortfall (out-of-pocket expenses) of $3,285 during the 2011-12 school year. At the University of Texas, for instance, football players will be denied approximately $2.2 million, incur scholarship shortfalls of over $14,000, and live below the federal poverty line by $784 per year between 2011-15.

In 2011 the NCAA had income of $837.7 million and assets of $837.7 million. Gregg Easterbrook, writes in his new book, "The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America"), “At many big-college sports programs the athletic department is structured as an independent organization that leases campus space and school logos, then operates a tax-exempt business over which the school's president and board of trustees have little control."

Easterbrook points out that when Auburn notes that when it won the 2010 national championship, its net football income was $37 million, just a bit less than the $43 million of that season's NFL champion, the Green Bay Packers. The head coach, Gene Chizik, was paid $3.5 million that year because he was such a “wonderful mentor to our students.” But many of the Auburn scholarship players, due to NCAA limitations, were living below poverty level.

The National College Players Association plans to focus on four main areas:

• Demonstrate unity among college athletes and fans in favor of NCAA reform.

• Show support for players who joined concussion lawsuits against the NCAA, which could "force the NCAA to finally take meaningful steps to minimize brain trauma in contact sports and provide resources for current and former players suffering with brain injuries."

• Show support for the players who "stepped up in the O'Bannon vs. NCAA, EA Sports lawsuit regarding the use of players' images/likeliness, which could unlock billions of dollars in resources for current, future, and former players."

• Stand behind individual players being "harmed by NCAA rules."

The NCAA, upon hearing the “APU” statements were being seen in Saturday’s games, issued a quick statement Saturday night: “"As a higher education association, the NCAA supports open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics," NCAA Director of Public and Media Relations Stacey Osburn said in a statement. “Student-athletes across all 23 sports provide an important voice in discussions as NCAA members offer academic and athletic opportunities to help the more than 450,000 student-athletes achieve their full potential."

Finally, the kicker: It has been learned that the National College Players Association is being supported by the U.S. Steelworkers Union.

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