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Why Donald Yee Is Wrong. Really, Really Wrong

Part of me is hesitant to go line-by-line through agent Donald Yee's "argument" for privatizing college football programs, because I'm not sure it's not a parody. But going on the assumption that it's not -- that it's instead a pompous, narcissistic and blatantly uneducated attempt to argue for something that is in the interest of Yee and the NFL and no one else -- here we go:

Two championship coaches recently launched attacks on sports agents for allegedly defiling this house of worship by giving college players what the National Collegiate Athletic Association calls "impermissible benefits" -- benefits that make those players pros and not amateurs. "The agents that do this, and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?" Alabama's Nick Saban so memorably put it last month. "I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None." And Florida's Urban Meyer said that the problem is "epidemic right now" and that agents and their associates need to be "severely punished."

And here we have our first indication that Mr. Yee struggles with reading comprehension. Saban went out of his way to make it clear that he was talking solely about those agents that provide impermissible benefits to players, and Meyer's comments were much in the same vein. So did Yee misunderstand, or is he telling something about how he gets his graduating or early-departure clients?

Some athletes take money from agents, marketers or others simply because they are hungry (the scholarship is not always enough to buy food).

BS. I'm not aware of any incident where this is true, and if Yee is going to break out this argument -- FEED THE CHILDREN!!! (by creating multimillion-dollar corporations) -- he needs to prove it. Cite one example of where this happens, or follow the logical extension of your obvious ignorance and shut up.

With the addition of the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, the Pac-10's revenues will grow. Its coaches will make more money, and its players will get bigger and shinier facilities, fancier menus, cushier dorms, more stylish travel arrangements and other perks.

The average Pac-10 student will see none of this.

First of all, the last sentence is not always true -- I could come up with a list of athletics departments that have donated money back to the university if I had the time or inclination to research a response to this "column." Second of all, Yee's argument for how a private arrangement would get the money to "the average Pac-10 student" isn't stated in the column, so we'll get to and debunk the implied and nonsensical way that would work.

All of the major football-playing universities should lease the rights to operate a commercial football program on behalf of the university to an independent, outside company.

For example, the University of Southern California would contract with USC Football Inc. Such leases would be open to bidding -- schools such as Notre Dame, USC and Texas could generate massive revenue. USC football could look exactly as it does now, except USC Football Inc. would have paid for the right to operate it. The university and the company would share net profits from all revenue streams at a negotiated level.

I can just hear the cheers cutting through the autumn air right now: "Hooray USC Football Inc.! Go Fighting Trojans LLC! All rights reserved!"

First of all -- why would the corporations do this? I mean, if there's enough money to set up these teams in the first place, why would they then split the proceeds with the college? Simply allowing these arrangements -- which arguably could exist anyway -- is not enough to create the teams; where is the money to do so coming from, and why would anyone with the money to set up a team bother going through this arrangement?

The only reasonable explanation is that there would be some allegiance to the team by a university's students and alumni. That's absurd. My allegiance to a team in college football is because it's part of the college -- not because it's an entity that shares a facility with the college.

Furthermore, Yee is actually promoting exacerbating the two trends that have served as the catalyst for most of the concerns about college football over the last 20-30 years: That the athletics departments are gaining more money and power than the universities themselves, and that the teams are becoming separate entities. This codifies and even mandates those concerns.

But I guess some people just think academics and sports and agents should be separate -- right, Professor Yee?

Some universities would find that the marketplace doesn't have any interest in their programs. This means that business people think football is a money-loser for those schools. So those schools should drop football and allocate the money to their core objective: educating students.

So to the student who simply wants to play college football, even at a midmajor, or wants to use his college football acumen for a decent education and the fans of programs that wouldn't have a market for their program: Sorry, you're out of luck. We've decided to create a multimillion-dollar cartel so that the NFL and agents no longer have to deal with these "rules" that colleges dare to try to impose on them, so you can't play because you're just not good enough.

Each university's football corporation could create leagues, whether long- or short-term, with other corporations.

There wouldn't have to be any allegiance to geography, fan loyalties or tradition. For example, some of these leagues could be premised on budget size. To a large degree, this is already being done; it's called the BCS. A group of conferences formed the BCS, or Bowl Championship Series, and decided to exclude other conferences.

Um, no, and the fact that you even said that shows your ignorance of college football. First of all, no conference is excluded from the BCS. People don't want to hear this, but facts are stubborn things. Every FBS football conference in the United States has signed onto the BCS. Maybe not willingly, and maybe not enthusiastically, but they have. And non-AQ schools are not "excluded" from the BCS; they simply have to cross a higher bar to get in. We can argue about how fair that is -- but this "solution" would not make it more fair; assuming there's any semblance of fan loyalty left, the Texas and Notre Dames of th world will have more than enough money to keep going, while the Utah States and Troys of the world probably won't have a football program left.

Secondly, this proposal guts the entire reason people watch college football -- geography, tradition and fan loyalties. You're going to have an interesting time trying to make money on a sport that ignores the fans, not to mention that college football's greatest rivalries are generally (with a few exceptions) between teams that are close, and the proximity is an important part of that rivalry. If you are an Auburn fan, a loss to Alabama is not just bad because it's another defeat, but also because you're going to have to hear about it all year long.

Oh, but wait. Everyone's favorite solution for college football that will only cause more problems -- and the only reason anyone gave Yee's column the time of day -- is on the way: Salaries!

Just as in the pros, they would be paid based on their perceived value to their program. If an outstanding high school player is coveted, he should be allowed to experience the fruits of American capitalism. Prominent high school players entering college are no different than prominent college players entering the NFL -- they can bring excitement and new revenue to a program. ... The players would pay income taxes; the football corporations would pay Social Security taxes; 401(k) plans could be established.

"The fruits of American capitalism!" This makes it sound like a patriotic duty, rather than a proposal to turn college football into a glorified slush fund. The biggest of many, many problems with this idea is that it kills part of what's at the heart of college football: A degree of parity among players and (to an extent) among schools. If you want to increase the stratification of college football's haves and have-nots, this is the way to do it: Make it to where only the wealthiest programs have the ability to get the best players. Which works out fine for Southern Cal, but not so much Kentucky. Then again, maybe folks in the Bluegrass State don't deserve college football, if the ever-perfect "market" doesn't decide that it's worth it.

Secondly, we already have a football league that does this: It's called the NFL. Why would we need both?

But this is maybe my favorite part of the article:

If a player feels misled in the recruiting process, he could sue for fraud.

Now how exactly are you going to enforce that? And what does "misled" mean? If a team promises a player they'll run a 4-3 and they instead decide to run a 3-4, does that mean they can sue? Really -- Albert Haynesworth would like to know.

Either way, average students would no longer lose a chance at admission because the university made an exception for an academically less qualified athlete.

First of all, this is a pretty small problem at most universities -- maybe a few percent of the actual enrollment is involved in any kind of sport, period, and some of them would actually be enrolled if they wanted to go to college in the first place. Secondly, it relies on one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of college admissions. There is no guarantee that having a higher test score than another student means you get into college, and there is no one who is really calling for that to be the case. While racial preferences get the most attention, there are a variety of factors that a university takes into account when deciding who gets admitted. Most of these -- aside from those that deal with the nation's most politically and culturally polarizing topic -- are not controversial.

Education is about more than just the smartest people getting into a classroom and listening to the teacher -- which is why universities take more than test scores into account when deciding whom to admit. Many look for regional, socioeconomic and other kinds of diversity out of the idea that being around people who are not like us enhances our view of the world.

The chief executive of, say, USC Football Inc. would make decisions, and her mandate would be to ensure that the operation was self-sufficient -- no student fees (or taxpayer dollars, in the case of a public university) would be used to subsidize the football program or facilities. Any profits flowing back to the university could go directly to support the general student body and faculty. As it stands now, large public universities across the country employ sizable staffs in their athletic departments; these public employees (including the coaches) are entitled to public benefits and pensions, which are a drain on public resources.

Actually, a good number of football programs are self-sustaining right now. (Other sports programs, not so much.) And to an extent, but many coaches and other support staff are actually paid by that self-sustaining athletics department. But to call the idea that athletic administrations could be wiped out under this proposal ridiculous is to unfairly besmirch the word "ridiculous." Mostly because football teams are not the only ones that rely on the athletics departments. In fact, many of the programs that feature the students "going pro in something else" draw on the support of these programs.

Finally, Vanderbilt didn't do away with its athletics administration so much as realign it, and it didn't take privatizing the football team to do so.

Congress and state legislatures wouldn't have to waste time investigating or discussing the regulation of college football.

Yes, because they never spend time investigation or discussing things like steroids in professional baseball. Oh wait a minute.

In the end, there are really only two reasons to make this proposal. The first is the most self-serving for Yee: Mostly, he just doesn't want to have to keep up with and follow the rules. To free himself of these awful constraints -- I can't lend a Lexus to a college kid and then draw down $700,000 when he signs? -- he draws on the fine and often wrong American tradition of calling for officials to respond by wrongdoing not by cracking down on the wrongdoers, but by getting rid of the rules. (I'm sure Yee's opinion has nothing to do with the fact that he teaches law at a university where it would be nice to be able to ignore those rules to recruit some of the athletes that play blocks from his office.) This proposal doesn't free student-athletes from being treated like cattle; to the contrary, it encourages agents, teams and USC Football Inc. to treat student-athletes like cattle.

The second reason you might support this if you don't really care about college athletics is this: College football is getting in the NFL's way. We've all heard the complaints about the spread making it harder to evaluate talent, the fact that coaches aren't teaching some of their quarterbacks to take snaps under center, etc. The easiest solution to this is to create a true developmental league -- and wouldn't it be nice if you could do that without shouldering any of the start-up costs or losing a couple of years to players learning your system?! (Because if it weren't for the time factor, there's actually no reason the NFL couldn't start a developmental league right now.)

The easiest way to do that is to somehow turn college football into a true developmental league without any of the inefficiencies in the current system -- i.e., spread offenses and the like -- and the easiest way to do that would be to privatize college football, making it advantageous to prepare players for the NFL. (Because if you take out the interest in the sport by students and alumni, the best way to generate viewership is to promote the fact that "You're watching the next generation of NFL players.")

So I propose an alternative solution, one that would also get rid of the problem of football players being paid by agents, and one that would also do away with the need for NCAA rules dealing with agents.

Abolish the NFL.

What do you think about that, Mr. Yee?

The other alternative: Leave my sport alone.