As colleges' greed grows, so does the hypocrisy

For trying to make a few hundred bucks, star Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended for four games.
For trying to make a few hundred bucks, star Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended for four games. (John Amis)
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By Michael Wilbon
Friday, September 10, 2010; 1:12 AM

If you log on to the official online store of the University of Georgia Bulldogs you'll be bombarded by images of a No. 8 football jersey. A wide receiver named A.J. Green wears that particular jersey now. Mel Kiper rates him as the No. 4 prospect in all of college football, which means he's a big deal in Georgia and so is his jersey.

There's a black replica that goes for $59.95; a red, a black and a white replica youth jersey, each of which goes for $43.95. Scroll down a bit and you'll see a red "twilled" jersey that sells for $74.95 and then there are preschool jerseys (black or white, take your pick) that sell for $41.95 apiece. And don't let me forget the "authentic" No. 8 jerseys, in black or red, that go for $150 each.

In all, counting the pink jerseys presumably for women, there are 17 options for sale.

Green is the biggest star in a state where the college football team matters more than anything except, possibly, one's place of worship. Thousands of those No. 8 jerseys, which Green wears on Saturdays, have been sold. And all proceeds, according to the official Web site, benefit Georgia athletics.

This has become enormously important the last couple of days, of course, because the NCAA has suspended Green for the first four games for selling one of his game-worn jerseys. Probably got $500, $600 for it . . . we're told it was less than $1,000. But while the kid is sitting out the next three games the university can keep right on selling his jersey and reaping the financial rewards.

As a head coach of a major Division I program so accurately said to me recently on the subject of the behavior of big-time athletic leagues and their big-time programs, "They're now fully engaged in robbing the poor to give to the rich."

The person who most needs the money, Green, is prohibited from reaping a dime, even though he's the one who spends more than 40 hours a week working at being a college football player, even though he's the one who risks head injuries that could shorten his life. Not a dime for him, and all of it, 100 percent, for the school's athletic department.

The suspension of Green doesn't just point to the greed that permeates college athletics; it's shameful that the rules are set up to punish a kid this severely because he sees he's the only person not making any money off his labor and wants to sneak a few hundred bucks for himself.

We seem to have reached a point where kids who play revenue-producing college sports - and that means division I men's basketball and football - are more determined than ever to get what's coming to them, whether that means associating with agents or taking some money to live better right now. Damn the consequences.

And they can better justify it because everywhere they look people are making money off of them. I'd argue that university presidents and the people who run the biggest conferences have never been more openly greedy. Since the end of the last college football season, the dominant story in college sports has been to find a better conference deal and get more money. Your school gets $15 million for being on television? Try for $25 million.

Right now, the Pac-10 is trying to figure out how to realign its 12-team conference, and the whole affair is made more complex by television revenue sharing, which is how Colorado and Utah got into the Pac-10 in the first place. They wanted exposure to the Los Angeles area to recruit and take advantage of L.A.'s great capacity for television revenue.

The Big Ten's addition of Nebraska was done solely so that Nebraska and the Big Ten will make more money, largely through the Big Ten Network. But be certain that if a kid playing for Nebraska accepts $100 to fill his jalopy with gas and take his girlfriend to dinner after the game, the NCAA will take him down.

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