New Notre Dame coach free to move but players remain enslaved

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Brian KellyCollege head coaches are free to come and go, but the NCAA denies college football players the same freedom. We were reminded of this travesty this week when Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Brian Kelly jumped ship for the greener pastures of Notre Dame.

Football coach Kelly, who led the Cincinnati Bearcats to an undefeated season and the chance to play Florida in the upcoming Sugar Bowl, had signed a five-year deal with Cincinnati in 2007, which was adjusted just this year to add time and money to the more than $1 million a year he was being paid. His new five-year contract with Notre Dame is rumored to bring him $3 million per year, not that it will have any impact on how long he decides to stay or the school decides to keep him if he doesn't produce a winner.


Now imagine this: you've just taken a job at Greatbig corporation so you can work for Miss Famous, who is generally recognized as the best in her field. Before the first year is over, however, she leaves to take a job at Nextbiggest Corp. You know that Greatbig can't compete without Miss Famous, so you find a new gig at one of the company's competitors that offers more opportunity. But when you go to turn in your papers, the inhuman resources flak informs you that you are not allowed to work anywhere else in your field for a year if you leave Greatbig.

This is a long way around to explain the plight of the players that Kelly leaves behind at Cincinnati. Although they are working for a relatively minuscule return (free tuition, room and board) in comparison to the income they bring the university, NCAA rules forbid them to leave Cincinnati to follow Kelly, or transfer to another top football program, until they sit out (not play) for a season.

Since the best of these players may have the chance to play in the NFL, and because the success of the football program they play in can directly affect the amount they sign for when drafted, forcing them to remain in a program that has been stripped of its leader could cost these players a huge amount of money. Is this fair?

According to Smith & Street's SportsBusiness Journal, the top money-maker among college football programs is Texas with an annual take of $72.95 million. Notre Dame raked in $59.77 million last year.

If Notre Dame carries roughly 120 players on its football roster, then each one brings in, on average, over $490,000. The cost of a year at Notre Dame was $46,730 in 2007, so we can roughly estimate that each player earns ten times his scholarship for the school each year.

Earning ten times his pay. Now you know why the NCAA refuses to allow its players the same freedom enjoyed by its coaches, or any other American toiling to establish himself in a career.

Perhaps Kelly could buy his former players their freedom as a going away present. Oh wait; there's no manumission for NCAA athletes.
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