In some ways, senior quarterback Matt Barkley gets a raw deal.
It’s not just the astronomical expectations he shoulders with aplomb -— expectations so high that many question why his completion percentage wasn’t higher in last week’s game against Hawai’i in which he threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns — or the reality that, after all he’s contributed to USC, one vicious hit might jeopardize his NFL prospects.
It’s mostly the fact that Barkley should already be a multi-millionaire.
The USC Athletic Department recently launched a multi-sport marketing initiative. “WE PLAY” billboards and banners decorate campus, with cardinal-colored W, E, P and Y and gold-colored L and A letters printed on stylized black-and-white photos.
The wordplayfeels slightly less forced than the “SCampus” manuals we have all undoubtedly read. Any university in Los Angeles could have adopted this slogan.
But, my biggest, and most serious, grievance with the campaign is that it’s another feat of student-athlete exploitation encouraged by the amateur rules the NCAA has set in place.
In advance of its game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., USC brought its “WE PLAY” campaign to the East Coast.
On a Times Square video board, USC coach Lane Kiffin and senior quarterback Matt Barkley are captured scrutinizing a play chart, under a bold proclamation of “WE P-LA-Y FOR A NEW ERA.”
In Los Angeles, No. 7 jerseys can be spotted at on-campus tailgates or swooning in the stands when Barkley appears on the jumbotron. Unfortunately, this doesn’t equate to any money for the prohibitive Heisman favorite to pocket.
The NCAA will counter the idea of players making money, saying that its amateur model ensures the “student” half of student-athlete does not become an absolute sham.
NCAA athletes not named Cam Newton can’t earn a salary in addition to their scholarships. They can’t appear in a Wrangler jeans commercial playing muddy Mississippi football in backyards with Brett Favre.
But it’s only through a comically broken NCAA system that USC can make millions selling the likeness of its most marketable commodity: Barkley — an articulate, humble, lifelong USC fan who is resurrecting the program from dark depths.
Some of the T-shirts from which USC has profited read, “Stay in SC-hool” and “Unfinished Business” — the latter of which is a rallying cry Barkley invoked at the press conference announcing his return for his senior season on Dec. 22, 2011.
And the exploitation won’t even stop in April 2013, when Matt Barkley will shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand and don his new NFL team’s cap.
If Barkley wins the Heisman and a BCS bowl game, think of all the memorabilia USC will sell now and in the future. The possibilities are endless.
The worst part about this exploitation, though, is that there’s no obvious solution.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of governance besides all the rest.
It’s entirely possible that the NCAA’s rules related to amateurism exist in a similar sense. If there were easy fixes that could still maintain the integrity of the academic degree, they would have already been made.
The delineation between college and professional sports must be unmistakable, but as time goes on, our college football-crazed country is making it increasingly difficult for the NCAA to pretend there’s an actual difference.
College stars are commodities. If universities plan to exploit that fact shamelessly, student-athletes should be able to pursue their own endorsements.
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