ATHENS, Ga. – Carson Beck got a Lamborghini. Well, maybe he just rented it. Or maybe it’s a free use of one from the seller in exchange for consent. Either way, Beck was photographed this week holding the keys to a Lamborghini Urus Performante, which we’re told sells for around $270,000.
In the old days, it would have prompted an immediate NCAA investigation. That is if we even knew it, which we wouldn’t because everyone would be smart enough to ignore it. Because the only way a college athlete could afford a fancy new car would be to, you know, bad. So very bad.
In the new day, Beck’s car still gave baying, including one hot photo that shows “We broke college football.”
We have officially crossed the line now. I wanted college players to get paid. This is dirt.
We broke college football. https://t.co/AolK7qVZRK
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) February 7, 2024
Oh, no, no one thinks about children?!
No, we didn’t break college football. College football changed, which is why it is in this ever-changing state of chaos. That’s why there are all the court cases, all the changes in the status quo, this vision of college football that many grew up thinking was right and good.
At the legal level, it was always suspect. At the fair level, it was always about money.
There was a time when there wasn’t much money involved. Bear Bryant’s salary as Alabama coach in 1958 was $143,000. Bo Schembechler’s salary at Michigan in 1969 was $135,127. When Bobby Bowden took the Florida State job in 1976 he was making just $35,000.
Yes, that was still a lot of money back then, adjusted for inflation, and no the players weren’t getting cut. But it was still easy at the time to say players were getting the value of scholarships and professional exposure when the coaches’ salaries weren’t meager.
Conferences and schools did not participate. In 1980, the SEC’s total payout to its 10 schools was just $4.1 million. Ten years later, it was up to $16.3 million. The main thing happened in between: The schools, led by Georgia and Oklahoma, sued the NCAA to have meetings to sell their television rights and won in the Supreme Court. From there, the dollars flowed in.
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SEC payouts rose to $73.2 million in 2000. They more than doubled in a decade. And on Thursday, the conference announced its total revenue of $741 million.
And, of course, by now the coaches were earning millions. Like Florida’s Billy Napier, he paid $7.1 million but knowing full well it doesn’t make sense to say the players shouldn’t get anything.
“It’s stupid to say the players don’t deserve a piece of the bread,” Napier said in the summer of 2022.
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That brings us back to Beck and his Lamborghini. For those still looking for a change in the system, it’s a bad example: Beck didn’t use the transfer site to make more money. He is the returning cornerback for what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team. He will be 22 in November and in his fifth year of college. His coach will be making $11 million. His offensive coordinator will be making $1.1 million.
It makes perfect sense for Beck to drive for $270,000, plus whatever he can get on the open market. And the same goes for every player. Everyone else in the game is participating in the free market. The players should also be – and be open, not under the table with the shadow actors of the world of registering original names, photos and models.
But it is wise for coaches and schools to want their players to not use the gate every year. Among other laws, and it seems the only way to get that pass into law would be contracts, collective bargaining and some kind of employee status. This is one of the important points in the debate about the future of college athletics. But we’re having this debate for a simple reason: money.
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This pure world of college football, where the players are superstars and the coaches and managers are just young innovators, doesn’t exist. Maybe it did, but it doesn’t anymore. Coaches are well paid. Administrators — those whose schools change conferences to find TV dollars — are well paid. Others involved in the game, from sportscasters to television executives to other journalists are well paid. They all get paid well because they get their share out of the open market, and so do the players, too.
That is why the current discussion is here. If we could touch our fingers and agree that everyone involved – coaches, managers, television personalities, members of the media – worked for small, fixed salaries, then maybe the players could only play for the value of the sponsorship.
But that doesn’t happen. That’s why Beck deserves any car he can get. That’s why, until the people who run college sports develop a system that isn’t antitrust violations, recruits or transfers will be able to raise their status for more money.
It has always been about money. Too many lose track of that: We are not where we are today because of lawyers, judges, politicians and journalists who incite violence. We are in it for the money. Once it started pouring into college sports, it had to come down to the people playing the game.
Now it’s more than just a trick. That’s not bad. It takes some getting used to. But the old idea of college football players is gone because the old idea of college football is gone again. The old system was not worth keeping because it was not fair or legal. The new system will hopefully preserve what is right and good about college sports while being fair and legal.
Meanwhile, let the players enjoy their cars. And let’s be happy that it’s open. Beck being able to accept Lamborghini and being able to advertise it is not a broken world. It’s progress.
(Photo: Nick Tre. Smith / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)