Matt Connolly in Washington Monthly:
In 1925, one of college football’s biggest stars did the unthinkable. Harold “Red” Grange, described by the famous sportswriter Damon Runyan as “three or four men rolled into one for football purposes,” decided to leave college early in order to play in the National Football League.
While no fan today would begrudge an All-American athlete for going pro without his diploma, things were different for Grange. The NFL was only a few years old, and his decision to take the money in the pros before finishing his degree at the University of Illinois was a controversial one. It was especially reviled by Robert Zuppke, his coach at Illinois.
As the story goes, Grange broke the news to Zuppke before promising to return to finish his degree. “If I have anything to do with it you won’t come back here,” Zuppke replied, furious that a respectable college man would drop out and try to make a living off playing a game. “But Coach,” Grange said. “You make money off of football. Why can’t I make money off of football?”
It’s a question that has underscored the development of modern college football ever since. Aside from scholarships and (some) health insurance, the players remain unpaid. They are also subject to draconian National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules that banish them to hell for such sins as signing an autograph for cash or selling a jersey. Meanwhile their coaches enjoy ever-swelling salaries, bonuses, paid media appearances, and other perks like free housing. According to Newsday, the average compensation for the 108 football coaches in the NCAA’s highest division is $1.75 million. That’s up 75 percent since 2007. Alabama’s Nick Saban, college football’s highest-paid coach, will earn a guaranteed $55.2 million if he fulfills the eight-year term of his contract.
Read the rest here.