By: Chris Hall
There’s one fundamental thought about college football (and the recruiting process) you should know early on. If you’re clear, especially at the outset, it can be a tremendous help to you the rest of the way.
It’s fine for fans or anyone else to disagree with me. But for you, the player, a wrong concept about the nature of college football could ruin your career before it begins.
You’re the one investing four to five years of your life (half of a decade) and the very best years of your strength. You’ll also never get them back once they’re over. Someone who hasn’t done that, been on the verge of that, or intimately involved in the process, may not understand being “inside the belly of the beast.” It’s crucial you realize the nature of what you’re committing to with a stroke of the pen on Signing Day.
This is the “what” of college football.
You need to know what college football is, exactly.
In Mack Brown’s tenure at the University of Texas, the Longhorns went from $18.7 million dollars of revenue to $139 million dollars of revenue — yearly. That means Texas Football, alone, grossed over a billion dollars in the past 15 years. There are five universities with head football coaches as charter members of the “Five Million Dollar Club.” This exclusive fraternity makes over $5 million dollars, in salary, every year.
That’s a lot of money to win a few football games. But Saban, Harbaugh, Stoops, Strong, and Sumlin are paid for much more than Xs and Os. In fact, they’re CEOs.
Athletic departments are trying to “keep up with the Jones’” like the rest of America would like to. They have bigger budgets and bottom lines to play with, but the principle is the very same. When RGIII won the Heisman Trophy, Baylor celebrated by building McLane Stadium (to the tune of $266 million). When Johnny Football won the Heisman Trophy, A&M spent $450 million on “redeveloping” Kyle Field.
That’s impressive but not out of the ordinary. Winning football games is handsomely rewarded, it begets even more spending in turn, and lines the pockets of (most) everyone involved. That’s why Clemson (the #1 team in the country) is building a $55 million dollar athletic facility with sand volleyball courts, laser tag, bowling lanes, a barber shop, and a movie theater. Why not?
Really big teams win really big rings and get really nice things. Or something like that. The moment you sign a National Letter of Intent, football forever changes. It stops being the “game” you knew growing up.
College football is not a game. College football is a business (whether you like it or not).
It pains me to hear college athletes say “you know, the game’s just not fun anymore. And that’s not right.” I’ve heard it so many times over the years.
I feel their pain. I was there too. The next four years will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your life, thus far. That’s why so many of my friends quit and came home, never even making it through their freshman season.
If you have the concept that college football should feel like it did in high school or little league, you’ll be immensely disappointed. You’ll probably find a good reason to give it up and go home. Of course “it’s not fun anymore.” At least, not in the same way. You’ll have lots of fun if you win — I sure did — but football will never be “just a game” ever again.
College football is business; it’s business for everyone involved.
In 2007, Texas had what was then a “disappointing” 10-win season. We had about a decade worth of those (and oh how things have changed) but that’s neither here nor there. Football is cyclical; these things happen.
My point is: every starting position was open, coaches were noticeably unsure if they’d be out of a job, and the tension in the air was even more thick than usual for major college football. Coach Brown was up front speaking in our team meeting, and he said something that made sense of everything I was sensing at the time:
“You have your coaches’ paychecks in your mouth. This is how they put food on the table.”
I realized our play on Saturdays was rightly serious, it determined whether our coaches could reliably provide their families the next year. Some assistants get paid well, others should get payed more. Regardless, it’s a demanding job that regularly requires 80-100 hours a week in the fall.
This was how our coaches made their living. It wasn’t “just a game.” It couldn’t be. We didn’t sit Indian style and eat orange slices at halftime. How we performed was serious as a heart attack. It’s like, all together we were playing high stakes poker with (literally) hundreds of millions of dollars.
Depending on the outcome, our coaches might have to uproot their families and leave.
Don’t be sabotaged by the thought that your coach should coddle you. Or that he hates you. He very well may, but it won’t help you to pity yourself. You’re going to have awful bosses in the workplace someday and it’s better to learn to deal with them now.
Coaches are recruiting you with a purpose. For better or worse, your development and play will determine their standard of living. That’s a big deal. Hopefully your coaches genuinely care about you. Thankfully, I had a number that did. Regardless, the foundation of our relationship wasn’t love. It was business. You play football and get to go to school; if your team wins, everyone is happy and gets payed. Oversimplified, yes. But that’s the arrangement.
If you physically can’t help the team win, you’ll simply be set aside until you get better or graduate — without remorse. It’s not high school and it’s not personal (at least it shouldn’t be).
This is not a post about paying college football players. I do think there’s some merit to that, but a lot of ground there has already been made. First year walk-ons at Texas eat better than I did, while on scholarship, just seven years ago.
But a few extra thousand dollars on your stipend checks is not the business I’m talking about. That’s small time, but nice for now.
There’s major profit to be made if you take advantage of the opportunity. College football isn’t “business” for coaches and administrators alone. There’s one thing you can practically do in the next four years, to multiply your lifelong money-earning potential.
It ain’t going to the NFL, but definitely do that. It’s graduating.
Getting a degree is the first step of preparing for the rest of your life after football. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but the day will come even sooner than you think. Your bachelor’s (and masters, if you can get it) will give you a way to provide for your family beyond sports.
Do you know what the NFL stands for? Not For Long: in fact, about 3.3 years.
The average NFL career is less than three and half years. Let that sink in. What are you going to do with yourself beyond the age of 26? You think you’ll make enough to retire in your mid-20s? I doubt it — but even if you did, you don’t want to watch Netflix the next five decades of your life.
Every figure you’ve ever heard about in NFL contracts is wrong. Players actually make about half (50%) of whatever they sign for. It’s true.
Benjamin Franklin said:
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Like it or not, Uncle Sam (the United States Govt.) is going to get its fair share of what you make. That’s not a political statement; it’s a fact.
Then there’s agent fees, family handouts, property taxes on the house you bought your mom. You don’t have to think long before you realize why most NFL players’ money is gone within five years of retiring. (You should probably go watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Broke” after reading this).
Getting your education for “free,” in exchange for the price you pay on/off the field, is the best deal you can make in the business of college football.
The R.O.I. — Return On Investment — is high. If you don’t get a degree, you’re getting used.
As you’re going through the recruiting process, remember what college football is. It’s a business transaction; you have to do what’s best for you. The universities will certainly do what’s best for them. Don’t feel bad if you need to de-commit. It’s not fun (unfortunately, I did it twice), but it’s understandable if you need time to rethink the biggest decision you’ve ever made.
It’s not about disappointed fans, other coaches, (or sorry to say) even some family members. You’ll be the one shedding blood, sweat, and tears. Nobody else can do it but you, even if they vicariously live through you.
Listen to good counsel; pray, if that’s something you do. Objectively rank what’s important to you and what schools can best help you reach those goals. Think beyond football: who, where, and what you want to be after it’s over. Your Letter of Intent is not a marriage contract (although I do hope you love your school, team, and coaches). Your Letter of Intent is a business contract.
Do what’s best for you, then go reap the maximum profit from every opportunity you can. Every rep, set, practice, class, game, relationship, and situation. It’s up to you to make the most of the next four years.
Plan as if the NFL will never be an option; train as if the NFL will be your only option.
Don’t let a few highlights and Twitter followers be your only takeaways when it’s all said and done. Be a man. Take responsibility, and leave a legacy with the opportunity you have before you.