You really couldn’t have a more appropriate starting quarterback in the first college football championship game than Ohio State’s Cardale Jones. For a “playoff system” that critics say is a lucrative money-grab serving to extend the season, pull players away from even the pretense of going to class and further establish Division I colleges as football factories, Jones is perfect. The third-string quarterback with a tight end’s build and rocket arm, made news in 2012 when he tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” For his trouble, Jones had to deactivate his twitter account and was benched by his $4.5 million-per-year coach Urban Meyer the following week with what the Toledo Blade described as “DNP-tweet.” But his words were just a casual observation that the emperor happened to be naked.
It’s not just about the ways the players are getting cheated out of a check. At this point, if you can’t see that having unpaid student athletes undertake a grueling five-month travel schedule, score top TV ratings and support an infrastructure of multimillionaire coaches and media members is just a tad unjust, then you’re choosing not to see it. But less discussed is also the way running a football factory skews reality across the campus. Administrators—with dreams of massive alumni gifts, sparkling new stadiums and fully stocked luxury boxes on the brain—treat students like going thousands of dollars into debt for an education is a small price to pay to go to a school with a rockin’ football team.
A professor at Ohio State forwarded me an e-mail sent to all faculty from school provost Joseph Steinmetz that read, “As you know, next Monday Ohio State will face the University of Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. This is an exciting moment in the life of our university community—one that happens to coincide with the first day of spring semester. I want to remind you that on January 12, Ohio State will operate as it normally does. Absences by students choosing to attend the game are not excused absences. That said, I hope instructors will use their best judgment and take into account that this historic match-up falls on the same day as the first day of class.”
This happened as vice provost Wayne Carlson sent a public letter to students warning them to not miss classes for the game. The letter was leaked to the press and provoked the following misleading headline from USA Today, “Ohio State warns students skipping school for championship risk getting cut from class.” So the faculty gets one message, while for the purpose of public relations, another message goes public
According to the professor who sent me the e-mail, this is the only time we see messages about leniency for wayward students. He said, “Do administrators send campus letters when Black kids are gunned down, asking profs to be lenient to traumatized students? Or when sexual assault cases are reported? No. This is what they care about and what drives the university. It’s embarrassing and disturbing.”
In addition, The Columbus Dispatch reported this week that “Ohio State University spent about $372,000 to send university leaders, faculty, friends and student leaders” to their Sugar Bowl “semi-final” game last week. In addition to the team, the cheerleaders and the band, the school sent a sixty-nine-member “official party” and another fifty-five people, all who travelled on the school’s dime. While the school is sending its people around the country to cheer the team, the school has seen fee-hikes for out-of-state students, while enacting cuts in the arts and humanities budget. (Oregon is not immune to any of this, having spent just under $250,000 over the last two games sending fifty “UO administrators, recruiters, fundraisers and some spouses and partners” to the championship game.)