The Clemson University football team and its coach, Dabo Swinney, rule the sports world today. And for good reason. In last night’s national championship game, the Tigers fought back from a two-touchdown first-half deficit and a 10-point fourth quarter hole to knock off Alabama, college football’s reigning dynasty, 35-31. The instant classic went down to the final second, when star quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to give Clemson its first national title since 1981.
Swinney and Watson shared an emotional moment together after the draining title game. “Maybe now everybody will understand when I tell them, Deshaun Watson is the best player in the country,” Swinney said in a post-game interview.
Hard to argue with that one, no matter what the Heisman voters said. But another of Swinney’s stances is far less worthy of celebration. Amid all the plaudits following the big win, a remark Swinney made in 2014 about compensating players made the rounds on social media:
Yes, Swinney indeed said that. And his remark is a stark reminder that college football is drowning in hypocrisy. Swinney earned $1.4 million in bonuses during Clemson’s run to the championship: $150,000 for winning the ACC title, $150,000 for winning 11 games, $400,000 for making the four-team College Football Playoff, another $400,000 for reaching the championship, $100,000 for winning the championship, and $200,000 for finishing ranked in the top 5. He earns $4.55 million in base pay. Last year, he even trademarked a slogan: BYOG. Bring Your Own Guts.
Clemson’s football team, according to the most recent federal records, generates $44 million in annual revenues, and a $19.8 million profit for the school. (It’s also worth noting that under Swinney, football players actually graduate and Clemson came in in second, behind only Stanford, in one academic ranking of the top 25 programs.)
Yet the only cash the players receive is a small stipend designed to help cover living expenses that even full scholarships don’t always cover. The New York Times reported that Clemson players receive $388 monthly during the academic year. One player spent his haul on car repairs, another sends the check to his mom.
Swinney makes a common but confounding argument when taking a hard line against players receiving a bigger cut of the college football revenue pie. He equates economic fairness with entitlement, as if players should be grateful for the opportunity rather than a fair share of the revenue they are directly responsible for generating. Nor is the assumption that an adult will become entitled when compensated for their labor particularly well-founded. Swinney, for one, doesn’t appear to have had his work-ethic compromised by his contract.
Here’s hoping that Swinney, in the wake of his greatest coaching moment, changes his tune on player compensation. Doing so would only bolster an already impressive legacy.