College sports have a rich tradition of amateur competition. For generations, student-athletes kept the “student” part in front of the “athlete” part. They were students first and athletes second. Times have changed.

College sports have a rich tradition of amateur competition. For generations, student-athletes kept the “student” part in front of the “athlete” part. They were students first and athletes second.


Times have changed.


The major universities around the country now take in millions of dollars from sports, with the biggest cash cow being football. Gridiron games at many schools make enough money to foot the bill for other sports that lose money.


As summer winds down and football teams gear up for the new season, the controversy over some athletes and their relationships with their schools has heated up.


Reggie Bush has been at the forefront of the debate. Now a member of the New Orleans Saints, Bush previously starred at the University of Southern California, where he won the Heisman Trophy.


USC brass has decided to send back the prestigious award after it was deemed that Bush enjoyed improper benefits during his Trojan days. They now want to cut ties with Bush after he brought so much publicity and money to the school. I?wonder if they will return all of the cash he generated as well.


Some argue rules are rules, and Bush broke them. Others contend that the schools and the NCAA aren’t completely innocent in the whole deal. Then there are those who point to agents as the root of the problem.


There has been a vigorous debate firing up columnists, bloggers, radio hosts and arm-chair quarterbacks everywhere.


There hasn’t been a shortage of harsh words on the topic. A blogger on SaveGasBurnFat.com, who writes about his own experiences as a college football player, called the system “legalized slavery.” The tell-all blog pulls out all of the stops, referring to it as a “big pyramid scheme” to exploit athletes hungry to reach the top.


It gets better. Michigan State-turned-LSU-turned-Miami Dolphins-turned-Alabama coach Nick Saban also has been dragged into the conversation in light of his comparing agents to pimps. A Fox Sports columnist asked, “Who’s Nick Saban to call anybody a pimp?”


Major college coaches are getting their pay-days, often to the tune of millions of dollars. Saban, who has won national titles with LSU?and Alabama, doesn’t need to stand on a street corner for anything. He’s making a pretty penny on sidelines on Saturdays in the fall.


Saban has hopscotched his way to the top, all while collecting larger checks. See the hypocrisy? It’s fine for coaches to chase dollars, but not for young athletes. The coaches are professionals, the athletes are amateurs. There’s a fundamental problem there.


Like it or not, college football serves as a minor league for the NFL. Sure the athletes get their tuition covered, but that isn’t always a good trade-off for an exceptional athlete like Bush. He generated more money for USC than the cost of his tuition. Athletes like him deserve a piece of the pie. Until they get it, don’t be surprised if they get it on their own.


There are relatively few surprises every year in the first round of the NFL draft. That’s because the top college players are fairly obvious to identify, especially after showcasing their skills for years in college. For some, it was evident that they were destined for big things while still in high school. Their college career served as a monetary purgatory. It’s not like tomorrow’s professionals are difficult to find.


Basketball star LeBron James earns an estimated $45 million with salary and endorsements. His high school games were nationally televised, so it’s not like he was an unknown.


Maybe my inner libertarian is coming out here, but why even bother with this presumed sanctity of amateurs? Sure, a lot of them are just “kids” as everyones likes to look at them, but if they dropped out of school, they would certainly look for the highest-paying job they could get. And nobody would fault them for going for more money in that case.


It’s simple economics. We all ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” We follow incentives. And we all inherently know this to be true deep down.


If Tiger Woods, the richest athlete today with $90 million in salary and endorsements, decided to give up golf to take my job (I’m a few tax brackets down from Tiger, by the way), everyone would assume he was loony. Nobody making $90 million would take such a pay cut.


It’s easy to make a rash judgment and point fingers. It’s a little tougher to think about how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes.


The college system may have worked fine back in the days before professional football was a lucrative business. Times have changed. It’s time for colleges to adapt to those changes.


Arbitrary rules designed to keep money and other benefits away from athletes won’t clean up the system. Why not give up the amateur status of the athletes? The coaches, broadcasters and many others certainly are in it for the money. Give the “kids” their fair share.


Michael Tortorich writes for the Weekly Citizen of Gonzales, La.