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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Player eligibility surely will be a topic of conversation among SEC football coaches when the conference's spring meetings begin Tuesday. But that's nothing new.
The subject has been popping up for several years now. It gained momentum earlier this year when the American Football Coaches Association announced a proposal that would allow players to play in as many as four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility. Under current rules, a player has five years to play four seasons and could lose a year's eligibility by playing in a single game, unless he was injured.
The AFCA proposal is a step in the right direction. But it's not enough.
More and more coaches are speaking out in favor of five years of eligibility. And don't dismiss that as coaching rhetoric. It makes sense.
Making sense doesn't mean it will come to fruition, though. Change is rarely swift in anything as bureaucratic as the NCAA. Nonetheless, there's now a heightened sensitivity to the plight of football players.
Two years ago, the NCAA approved cost of attendance stipends for college players. A few thousand dollars extra a year might not seem like much compared to what SMU was doling out under the table in the 1980s. But every little bit helps.
I never have been in favor of putting college football players on salary. However, I'm very much in favor of helping athletes who play a sport that's so demanding to the practitioners and so lucrative to the programs they serve.
In February, the SEC announced it made $584.2 million in revenue for the 2015-16 fiscal year. That amounted to more than $40 million in revenue for each of its 14 member schools.
Football generated a large percentage of that revenue, mostly through its television contracts. Bowl games, the SEC championship game and the College Football Playoff also added to the conference's riches, as did the SEC Network, which is football-driven.
With so much money coming in, why not give something back? That something doesn't have to be cash.
Students often take five years to graduate anyway. So, given an extra year of eligibility, more student-athletes would leave school with a degree.
Allowing players five years to play five seasons also would improve the game.
Coaches wouldn't have to fret about whether they should risk burning a freshman player's redshirt. Five years of eligibility would translate into greater depth and possibly lower the injury rate as well.
Providing benefits to one sport and not others is always an issue. However, it's important to understand that football isn't like any other sport. You can check the medical and financial data for details.
The sheer danger inherent in the sport separates it from everything else from a risk standpoint. The players take the risks, and the schools get the rewards, which, in the SEC's case, amounted to nearly $600 million this past fiscal year.
That's at least worth another year of eligibility.
Reach John Adams at 865-342-6284 or [email protected] and on Twitter @johnadamskns.
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