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College football continues to deal with the chaos it deserves

Bryce Young declined to weigh in at Pro Day after weighing 204 pounds at the Scouting Combine, which leads Mike Florio and Peter King to examine how that could be just as much of an issue as his height.

The reckoning took longer than expected. Now that it has arrived, college football officially is in a tizzy.

For decades, the NCAA had one real mission -- to give universities throughout the country the ability to acquire a football labor force at minimal cost. The rules and red tape, aimed ostensibly at preserving “amateurism,” were more accurately intended to allow the schools to keep all the money, while giving as little as possible of it to the players.

It was an impressive grift. A magic trick that worked even though the secret was hiding in plain sight. The concept of a “free education” became a powerful shield for those who were keeping the billions flowing directly from the skills, abilities, and sacrifices from players who were getting, relatively speaking, nothing.

To protect the ruse, the line wasn’t drawn simply at preventing college football programs from paying players. The players also were prevented from making money from the fame necessarily flowing from their athletic accomplishments.

The floodgates opened two years ago, after the courts finally caught up with an inherently corrupt system and finally removed its ability to keep players from making money through their own names, images, and/or likenesses.

The NCAA cried “uncle” because it had no other choice. But it continues to hope that Uncle Sam will arrive on a white horse, rewriting the laws to give them a way to bring a currently unrestrained NIL landscape under control.

And here’s why they don’t like it. So-called “collectives” aimed at using the NIL loophole as a way to pay players to pick a given school are robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s why Alabama coach Nick Saban periodically pisses and moans about NIL. The Alabama boosters only have so much money to give; the more they give to the players through the NIL collective, the less they have to give to the program that pays for, among other things, Saban’s exorbitant salary.

The latest effort to close Pandora’s box comes from Notre Dame University. In a New York Times op-ed co-written by Father John I. Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick, the president and A.D., the Fighting Irish wage battle against the practical consequences of American capitalism intersecting with what is, in essence, an effort to socialize the revenue that football players generate.

They freely admit it.

“At Notre Dame, revenue from football and men’s basketball goes to support 24 other varsity sports, including, most important, women’s sports — most of which did not exist on college campuses before 1972,” Jenkins and Swarbrick write.

So, basically, the skills, abilities, and sacrifices of the young men who play football and basketball are subsidizing sports that can’t generate enough money to justify their existence. How is that even remotely fair to the football and basketball players?

That’s why they want to restrict NIL payments. By pointing that cash from the players and back to the players, it helps preserve a football/basketball windfall that can be redirected to other aspects of the school’s budget.

Along the way, Jenkins and Swarbrick have a specific request for the NFL.

“To ensure that players arrive at college only after making an informed choice — and a real commitment to learning — we urge the [NFL] to establish a minor league alternative for young players,” they write.

Wait, what? The NFL and NFL Players Association currently prevent players from entering pro football for three years after high-school graduation TO PROTECT college football. Why would college football now want the NFL to set up a minor-league system that would compete with college football by luring them to get paid to play?

Jenkins and Swarbrick know (or should know) that the NFL would never set up a minor league that competes with college football. And if Jenkins and Swarbrick were truly serious about creating a real alternative to playing college football for free (while also prioritizing “learning”), they’d ask the NFL and NFLPA to dump the three-year rule and welcome players like Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. into the draft now.

The best of the best high-school football players play college football because that’s the path to playing pro football. Even though only a small percentage of them will ever make it that far, a grossly high percentage of talented high-school football players believe they’ll be the ones to make it. So why not tear down the barriers and let them try to do it right away?

The NFL actually needs college football, because it helps develop and identify the players who will indeed thrive at the next level. That’s why the NFL is content to artificially force the periodic great player to wait to enter the draft. For every Marvin Harrison, Jr. who is a finished product prematurely, there are hundreds if not thousands who need more time and seasoning in the college ranks.

While Jenkins and Swarbrick surely know the NFL won’t set up a minor league, their request may be the first step toward asking the NFL for assistance in solving the current problem of NIL collectives undermining the revenue that football programs previously have enjoyed. Given that the entire college sports landscape consists of universities perpetually begging for cash from those who benefit from the present enjoyment of watching the games, maybe college football is toying with the idea of begging for cash from those who benefit from the future efforts of the players who play the games.

Regardless, what we’re witnessing is the aftermath of a significant disruption to a settled and successful way of doing business. Given that the prior system unfairly exploited the athletes, the college football programs are experiencing the chaos that they deserve.