FENNO: Championship game provides an opportunity to listen to those who play

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Four hours before the Bowl Coalition Series championship game between Auburn and Florida State kicks off Monday in Pasadena, Calif., an airplane will tow a banner over the Rose Bowl.

“All Players United for Concussion Reform,” the message will read. “Wake up NCAA!”

Will anyone notice?

The All Players United movement, spurred by the reform-minded National Collegiate Players Association, started in September when several college football players scrawled “APU” on their uniforms. They wanted to draw attention to issues ranging from player safety to compensation. They wanted a voice.

Even college football’s climax isn’t immune from the turmoil buffeting the NCAA.

The embattled organization has spent the better part of the last year dodging and deeking the inconvenient truth the banner will inject into the final edition of the BCS.

Concussions aren’t a pleasant conversation to have when the country’s top two teams collide in one of the showcases of our national religion. We’d rather discuss point spreads and break down matchups and parse press conference double-speak than pull back the curtain around the helmeted gladiators who help the NCAA generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

But the least we can do is listen to some of the college athletes who hurl themselves against each other for our entertainment while most, as the old NCAA commercial goes, go pro in something other than sports.

The game carries a price, far beyond the $69.95 jerseys that just happen to feature the No. 5 of Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.

But that cost fades into the background, papered over by the pageantry and high-minded statements that amount to little more than window-dressing on an issue the NCAA is loathe to confront.

In a court filing last month obtained by The Washington Times in connection with the death of Frostburg State football player Derek Sheely, the NCAA declared it has no legal duty to protect college athletes. Not once, but three times in black and white. No duty to protect the product that, among other accomplishments, resulted in tickets going for $260 and up on the secondary market for Monday’s game.

Remember that when the NCAA’s next gauzy commercial touting all the organization’s good floats across your television screen.

Those guys running around the field after the commercial break, the same ones the NCAA will hunt down if they’re compensated for signing their own name? It don’t believe any duty exists to protect them.

Maybe that makes the NCAA’s toothless legislation concerning concussions, adopted in 2010, understandable. No organization serious about protecting the long-term mental and physical well-being of athletes would stop at requiring schools to have a concussion management plan on file. Those plans aren’t audited or enforced. They exist on paper. That’s it.

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