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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Threat to Unionize, and Then Benefits Trickle In for Players

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BOULDER, Colo. — College football has gone on a roll that would bring a giggle to the lips of King Midas.

On New Year’s Day, more than 28 million Americans watched the playoffs, and more still probably watched Ohio State’s 42-20 victory over Oregon in the championship matchup on Monday night. And, good God, that glorious cascade of cash: College conferences expect to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars; ESPN executives take daily baths in their riches; professional gamblers are beside themselves.

The coaches, those fellows in sweatpants and headsets, are experiencing a hedge fund moment as their salaries make joyful, geometric leaps upward. Jim Harbaugh experienced a down year in the N.F.L., but no worries: The University of Michigan, a public institution wrestling with budget cuts in a fiscally straitened state, recently agreed to pay him $5 million next year, with millions of dollars of incentives.

Athletic directors are paid like potentates. University presidential suites at stadiums serve lamb roast and Cristal.

What, I asked Kain Colter, to make of this glorious bacchanal?

We sit in his living room on a high plains ridge outside Boulder. A lean, athletic 22-year-old man, he has the Cowboys-Packers game on the television and workout equipment around him. He made the Vikings’ practice squad this season and hopes to join the team next season.

He also organized a players union movement at Northwestern, where he played quarterback for four years.


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