- - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

What’s in it for you?

What do you get from the fun and games that too many folks treat like life and death?

Monday’s college football championship had a little bit of everything for participants and spectators. There was drama and suspense, exhilaration and celebration. There were multiple moments of tension, relief and depression, depending on your rooting interest.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney got all of that and a lot more.

His bonuses for winning 11 games ($150,000) and the ACC title ($150,000), reaching the playoff ($400,000) and championship game ($400,000), plus winning the title ($100,000) and finishing with a Top 5 ranking (200,000) earned him an extra $1.4 million in his paycheck. That’s on top of his $4.5 million in base salary.

The players? Not so much. They got memories on top of their scholarships. (The unrighteousness of that unbalanced equation is another subject for a different day).

But everyone gets something.

Fans make an emotional investment into their team and the vast majority yield a negative return. Their payout, limited as it might be, is transmitted via the ups and downs of individual games each season. A good play here and a great play there are the precious few moments to savor if your team is a perennial doormat.

But you pay for your ticket or cable subscription, put off household chores and a list of errands, and then hope for a reward. That’s life for sports’ 99 percent.

The one percent? Their motivation is fun as well as funds. And you can’t blame them!

From 2000-2009, I played pickup basketball three times per week at 6 a.m. My fellow hardwood junkies ranged in age from their mid-20s to a fellow who was well past 60 and a regular basketball medalist at the Senior Olympics. Some of us showed up so consistently, you’d think we were being paid. On the contrary, a few probably owed refunds to their employers for letting hoops creep into the workday.

We balled for the love of the game, the joy of competition and the warmth of great fellowship. Bu if someone wanted to cut a check, we would’ve gladly accepted. Being paid for a sport is the stuff of childhood dreams, still alive in old-timers who do it for free.

I bring this up because new pay-to-play opportunities are in the news and each one seeks a starkly different workforce.

Pacific Pro Football is a college-aged league designed for players who finished high school but aren’t far enough removed for a shot at the NFL. Salaries are projected to average $50,000 per year.

The BIG3 is a three-on-three basketball league for former pros over the age of 30. They’re slated to receive $100,000 in advance with bonus money determined by the final standings.

Neither entity will put a dent in the NFL or NBA, though PPF might attract players who’d be college stars otherwise. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t care less whether rookies were pseudo professionals or actual paid hands before entering the league, but NCAA president Mark Emmert will cry foul if colleges’ lose their virtual monopoly on post-prep, pre-NFL football.

“We’re hoping to do a good job developing players for pro football as well as helping them find a path for life outside of football,” sports agent Don Yee told VICE Sports. Yee, who represents New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, thought up the idea with former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey.

“We feel there’s room in the football industry to innovate,” Yee said. “I’m not so sure I look at this as (challenging college football). It’s a supplemental proposition. We are expanding the football industry, and creating jobs for players, coaches, officials, executives. And providing players a choice.”

It’s a choice enjoyed by baseball players, hockey players, tennis players, soccer players and high school grads of every shape, size and color. It’s the ability to enter the workforce and accept paychecks from willing employers. But if those teenagers want to get paid for football (or basketball), they’re generally forced to wait three years (or one year), until they’re unshackled from “amateur” status.

Pro Pac is about giving youngsters a different starting point; the BIG3 is about giving past-their-prime ballers another shot at glory. But both enterprises require the ultimate folks who are in sports for the money, larger amounts than players ever see.

Yee and McCaffrey aren’t starting PPF for charity. Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz didn’t come up with BIG3 as a community service. The angel investors, potential partners and corporate sponsors all have a bigger interest than touchdowns and three-pointers. They’re trying to get paid.

Rec-league athletes and weekend warriors play for free. Nothing wrong with that.

The only problem would be if other folks came around and began to sell tickets, merchandise, broadcast rights and marketing deals, without cutting in the players for more than, say, expenses. Should be against the law.

It doesn’t look like that will be an issue for Pac Pro and BIG3. The only question might be this one:

What’s in it for fans?

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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