So I went to a news conference yesterday and an adidas commercial broke out.
OK, so the Shamrock Series presser at Notre Dame wasn't all a sales pitch. But it was virtually all about commerce and product placement, yet another jarring juxtaposition between what people in college athletics tell us college athletics is all about and what they're really all about.
Not sure Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick meant it the way it came out, but you almost winced at the irony of him introducing Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert as "our highly paid models" when the time came to unveil those butt-ugly unis ND will be wearing against Miami in Chicago. Then the adidas flack got up and talked about them, as if this were an episode of "Mad Men" and he was Don Draper trying to close the deal with London Fog.
Anyway, as to the "highly paid models" line ... that is the rub here, isn't it? These guys don't get paid anything to shill for adidas. Sure, they get a free college education, and once upon a time that might have been enough. But listening to Swarbrick talk openly about using Te'o, Eifert and the rest of the Notre Dame football players to advance the university's brand, regardless of the academic consequences to their alleged student-athletes ....
Well, it was all a bit too much. Hey, it might be great for the brand to fly the football team to Ireland and Boston and Norman, Okla., and Chicago and L.A., but what about the toll all that takes on the players, academically as well as athletically?
Not a word about any of that, except from head coach Brian Kelly, who fretted a bit about the long-term effects of the jet lag the Ireland trip will impose on his players. No one said anything, however, about all the class time they'd miss kiting around the world Advancing The Brand.
Good lord, Swarbrick even talked about booking a trip to China for a football game. China? Really? And how much loot will the athletic department rake in from that little junket while subjecting their alleged student-athletes to more missed class time?
I've never believed paying the players was the way to go, if only because it would be too hard to set a wage scale. But, damn, if you're going to use your student-athletes as billboards to keep the corporate sponsorship money flowing, and then use them as a marketing tool by turning them into some sort of traveling road show ....
Well, hey. A free college education -- which in a lot of cases isn't even all that free -- is hardly compensation enough. If you're gonna use these kids as professional fund-raisers, you need to treat them like professionals.
Otherwise, you're just exploiting cheap labor. And your academic mission is no academic mission at all.