Most of my college football knowledge during the early 2000's came from the public computers at Mirror Lake Café on campus.
In the absence of a desire to do anything productive in between classes, I would usually grab some kind of toasted submarine sandwich, and then set up shop in front of one of a line of yellowing CRT monitored computers hooked up to a 64kbps speed internet connection. This was usually just enough to load two or three articles before I started getting angry stares from the guy waiting behind me to look at boobs on CollegeHumor.com, so I had to be selective about what I chose to read.
Returning from winter break, I knew that Troy Smith had been suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl for allegedly taking $500 from a booster. Initially I was more incredulous than angry; surely this was a simple mistake, because why would any college athlete (especially an Ohio State quarterback!) risk their eligibility by breaking NCAA rules?
But the more I read, and the more that seemed to confirm that yes, it did happen, the more pissed off I got. How dare he? Didn't Troy Smith know that such an exorbitant amount of money would easily be sniffed out by the enforcement arm of the NCAA, the most dogged set of investigators this side of Eliot Ness? Left to stew in my anger, I blamed Smith, the booster, Jim Tressel... pretty much anyone besides the organization that made the archaic rules about player compensation in the first place.
But what if I retrofitted a small prop plane with a time travel device? What if current me could go back a couple of decades and shake college me out of his stupor? With what I know now about the evolution of player compensation, the NCAA's future insane attempts at policing college athletics, and the reality of the demands of collegiate football on the student-athlete, could I change my mind?
Wow this turkey club is exactly as good as the other 78 turkey clubs I've eaten from here, but I better come back again tomorrow just to make sur- oh my God, it's me, from the future, stepping out of a Cessna 172 SkyHawk for some reason!
Yes, College Johnny, it is I, Mortgage Johnny. And I've used my one allowed trip to the past to save you from years of irritation about amateurism in college sports. This is very important.
I thought by the time I was 50 I'd be able to grow a beard.
I'm 37, you dick. And that's not the point. I see that you're furrowing your brow as you read article after article about Troy Smith taking a wad of cash from a booster. Furrow not! Taking 500 bucks is basically nothing and also, morally, not something to get your underpants in a twist about.
Mortgage Johnny, I yesterday I ate some pizza I found in a dented Styrofoam container in the corner of a lecture hall. 500 dollars is a lot of dollars to me.
Yes, it's true: you're a shambolic college student barely held together by bits of string and stuffed into an AC/DC t-shirt you got 75% off from Kohl's. But your main contribution to society right now is leaving a penny every third or fourth time that you take a penny. Troy Smith is the face of an athletic department making hundreds of millions of dollars per year. By the time you're me, the 500 bucks Smith was accused of getting represents 0.00005% of the yearly salary of the head coach. It's 0.000002% of Ohio State's athletic department revenue for a single year. It's nothing!
Who is the head coach, by the way?
Not Jim Tressel! He's going to get pinched in five years for lying to the NCAA. Guess what about.
Drugs? I'm going to say drugs.
He told the NCAA that he wasn't aware that players were selling their own property to get some tattoos. He did know about it, and it gets him fired. The collective college football world will lose their minds about this for about five seconds before an actual, infinitely worse thing will be discovered to have been going on at Penn State. And then we'll find out that awful things were happening at Michigan State. And also Ohio State, and elsewhere.
Anyway, what's important is that guys lost playing time because they sold some shoes. Crisis averted.
But the NCAA is still the NCAA. It's hard for me to envision a world where it isn't making the big decisions for football.
Honestly, College Johnny, I think that what we now call Tatgate was kind of a watershed moment for the NCAA's enforcement power and how we view player compensation. It's difficult to have a lot of faith in an organization that comes after guys for a few hundred bucks of merchandise but can't prevent physical abuse that had been ongoing for years.
So, eventually, we said the hell with it, and now players can rightly profit off their Name, Image, and Likeness. They're making millions. Well, like ten guys are. But still a decent chunk of change, and it's kind of the Wild West out there.
The NCAA still exists, by the way. They're angry about cheeseburgers.
Millions of dollars sounds insane. The college football I grew up with was the idea that, basically, these guys were like me. I can imagine a connection with Ohio State football in part because I can also imagine players sitting next to me in class, surreptitiously picking boogers and trying not to fall asleep. Once they're paid millionaires, I might as well be watching the NFL.
I can see your point about the absurdity of me crying into my Wheaties about a 500 dollar handshake, but that doesn't sound anything like the college football I know and love.
It doesn't? Dudes are still throwing and catching footballs. There's blocking and tackling and way too many commercials. Script Ohio is still performed, we still don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan. There's a really dumb pantomime at the beginning of game now, so that's new.
Ultimately what I think you're really struggling with is a burgeoning awareness that this thing we call college sports is a lot bigger than you were ready to admit. 500 dollars from a booster was a peek into a world where millions is possible, and now you have to ask yourself if it's justified.
Maybe after learning more about college sports finances and exorbitant coaching salaries, you still come to the conclusion that it isn't. I disagree, but that's okay. Just try not to get too mad about a kid in college trying to get a relatively small slice of a very large pie. I mean damn, you can't even get a PS5 from a scalper for $500.
Wow, PS5? I bet that's pretty cool.
Yeah, well, they're still hard to find due to some supply chain issues that started during COVID. It's getting a little better, but I might get an Xbox instead.
Uh... it's that robot from Rocky V. I have to go now.
See you when you're me!
Bye Mortgage Johnny, thanks for not bringing me a betting form or something.
Sorry, turns out the universe is deterministic and you wouldn't have been able to win anything anyway.
And with that I hopped back into the year 2023, confident that I had at least confused my past self enough to prevent several angry Facebook posts.
College Johnny probably wouldn't have been wrap his head around everything that's happened in college football over just the past few years, and that's why I'm sympathetic to someone still reeling from those changes. One of the mistakes that we ("we" meaning people obsessed with college sports) make sometimes is thinking that everyone has the same perception of the environment surrounding NIL and so on.
So if college sports is going to continue to thrive, and if Ohio State is going to continue to be successful in this new era, it's going to require honest conversations with ourselves and each other about what the future is going to look like.