John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Time is now for minor league football

Forget the demanding NCAA, time is perfect for minor league football

August 10, 2013

Calling all billionaires.

I would love to round up a few billionaires and convince them to drop a hundred million or two on an idea I’ve had for a while and might have mentioned in this space.

The time is ripe for minor league football.

The Johnny Manziel story is just one more example of the ridiculous difference between being a football player and being a baseball or hockey player. The same case could be made for basketball players, but let’s stick to football for now.

Sidney Crosby turned 26 a few days ago. He’s been getting paid to play hockey since he was 18, if you don’t count Canadian Junior hockey.

Johnny Manziel is a sophomore quarterback at Texas A&M, who won the Heisman Trophy last year. That might have been his first mistake based on how poorly he has handled the attention that has come with it, but he’s been all over the news because he may or may not have taken money for his autograph.

He’s probably not ready for the NFL yet. Even if he were, it wouldn’t matter because the NFL wouldn’t be ready for him, because he has not been out of high school for at least three years.

If Manziel were a baseball player of equal ability, he would already be a millionaire, and he’d be collecting paychecks for playing minor league baseball. No worries about studying or violating the NCAA’s hypocritical, outdated attempts at amateur purity.

Manziel’s autograph controversy has created the predictable conversations about whether college athletes should be paid. The same small ideas are kicked around, but you almost never hear anybody put the blame where it belongs.

On the NFL. NBA, too, but that’s another story.

It colludes with the NCAA to give football players no choice but to go to college if they want to be professional football players.

That’s where my minor league idea comes in.

What if there were six or eight franchises out there recruiting the top high school football players and offering to build their parents a house? What if those same teams were preying on college freshmen and sophomores, who had already made marketable names for themselves but were prevented from playing professionally by the NFL’s monopoly and stupid NCAA rules?

Reggie Bush had to give up the Heisman Trophy he won at USC because an agent had purchased a house for his parents.

What if the Los Angeles franchise in minor league football had offered Bush a house and $100,000 a year coming out of high school or after his freshman or sophomore season? That’s a pretty good living for a 20-year-old kid.

Kind of like the living that Pirates prospect Jamison Taillon is making pitching in the minor leagues. He’s a millionaire, who never had to worry about his grades or the NCAA’s stupid rules.

Or being redshirted and not allowed to play at all.

How many 19- to 21-year-old kids, who come from poor backgrounds and whose lives could be turned around by drawing a paycheck for playing football, are now prevented from doing it by the NFL’s monopoly and evil relationship with the NCAA?

If the NCAA really cared about the welfare of student-athletes, it wouldn’t hold on to rules that made sense when college football teams, such as the Pitt team that went 9-1 50 years ago, were full of future doctors, dentists and lawyers.

It wouldn’t rule a kid ineligible for the simple act of hiring an agent and declaring himself eligible for the NFL draft.

Why shouldn’t a kid have the option of finding out where he stands with the NFL and making a decision whether to return to school based on where he is drafted?

That might make it a little inconvenient for the NFL when a kid decides to go back to school, but why should the NCAA enable the NFL’s monopoly?

Stupid question, I know.

Beau Bennett was drafted in the first round by the Penguins then went to play for the University of Denver for two years.

A football player can’t do that.

Why? Because the NCAA values its football players more than its hockey players. Not as human beings, of course, but as prized possessions.

Football players produce profits.

Think about how much fun it would be on NCAA Letter of Intent Day waiting to see if the top high school players in the area were going to college or take the money and play minor league football. It happens in baseball every year.

Hundreds of current and future college football players know they’re being exploited and would love to make money now and not have their football earning power tied to academics.

Only about half of them graduate, anyway.

There are lots of TV networks out there looking for programming, which would take the pressure off the franchises to fill their stadiums.

The time is ripe.

Johnny Manziel could call up his coach tomorrow and say, “I’ve had enough of this NCAA harassment. I just signed a two-year contract with the San Antonio Alamos.”

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter



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