Tillman Still on the Run

But not from the truth about NCAA football hypocrisy

Sports

by Tony Basilo Silly doesn't begin to describe the season between March Madness and the kickoff of college football. That's usually the period when the NCAA hands down the punishments, handles the investigations and does what it does best, obfuscating capitalism while it engages in Gestapo cronyism. The NCAA is that joke that was amusing the first 50 times you heard it. Major college football is a hypocrisy-riddled mess.

The NCAA's latest offering in its quest to â“protectâ” collegiate athletics is punishing Oklahoma and expunging its '05 season. Rhett Bomar is the latest whipping boy of the NCAA, but he won't be the last. As you read this, some Division 1 player is enjoying a free lunch or a free ride or, God forbid, receiving an â“illegalâ” payment.

Michelle Wie can pocket $30 million a year from her talents, but heaven help us if the starting cornerback at Auburn gets a free pair of tires or a $100 handshake. Third-year engineering students can make several thousand dollars from companies trying to recruit them through cushy summer jobs. They can take the money. It's called a perk. Football players better not take a dime from an agent vying for their services.

Spencer Tillman is the studio host/voice of college football for CBS. A former star at Oklahoma, Tillman has the distinction of being the first OU running back to crack 1,000 yards as a freshman back in the early '80s. With a burgeoning workload, Tillman is still on the run these days, just not from the truth regarding the NCAA. So I caught up with Tillman who was in town recently for the In The Zone event and quizzed him as to how he would handle it if he were a needy football player, and a booster wanted to pay him. Would he take the money? Is it wrong to take the money?

â“The institution of sports would say you're wrong. But the moral side of it from my perspective says you're right. I was that young man who came to college with no money. My dad used to say that we were as broke as the Ten Commandments. My dad was a hardhat and lunch-pail guy, and we didn't have much. I worked as a child from way back. Had a paper route when I was 11, 12, 13, 14. At the age of 15, I worked in a soft drink bottling factory, lifting pallets weighing hundreds of pounds.

â“I used to think to myself, â‘If I had a better life, how would it be?' A couple of years later, I'm on a college campus and am the first freshman rushing for over 1,000 yards in school history, and you may have fans coming up to you with more than just glad tidings. They may say, â‘Hey man, here's 50 bucks,' because they know your background. They knew I didn't have anything. It's hard to turn that down. And it didn't happen all the time. But I'm here to tell you that they became friends who weren't just giving us a hand-out, but were giving us a hand-up,â” Tillman said.

Tillman is quick to point out that not everybody benefits from a hand-up.

â“Look, I don't think it's always a good idea to just give athletes money, but when you have someone who has been raised properly, someone who can handle it and you want to give them a little bit of money, 50 or 100 bucks, I have no problem with that,â” Tillman said.

When it comes to the state of college football's skewed economic system, Tillman isn't shy.

â“I've said this and will continue to say it. If we continue to operate in college football the way that we do and stick our heads in the sand, and don't acknowledge the conditions that many of these players come from, to me college football becomes nothing but a sophisticated form of slavery with some niceties and complexities. We don't allow them to work in the off-season. There's a lot involved in this, and we keep them in a punitive state. It shouldn't be that way. There is no other work environment where people who generate over a billion and a half dollars per annum do not participate in the bounty. We're supposed to slap them on the back.â”

Tillman's other beef with major college football is the manner in which academic achievement is muted.

â“It's education in the whole equation that gets compromised, because players are eaten up with 40 hours of football while trying to keep up a 3.0 grade point average. It would be impossible to do that. So under the current system, education is marginalized to some degree. And it's not realized until you get out in the real world. You have two guys with a piece of paper (a degree). One took care of his business and hit the books and got a 4.0 while the other played football and had a 2.9. The 4.0 gets hired. I don't care what anybody says. It takes that rare individual to see the value in that player and know what the teamwork and leadership from sports is all about.

â“And by the way, I know these comments are controversial, but commensurate to what a football player gets when he is â‘hired' with tuition, books and all thatâ"he gives so much more.â”

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.   Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.

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