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Good Luck; The Cost of Winning...and Selecting

One of the best players in the National Football League hung up his cleats on Saturday, when Stanford great and Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement.

The should’ve-been-Heisman Trophy-winner has suffered from a multitude of injuries over the past four years, including a lacerated kidney, several foot and leg injuries, and shoulder problems that forced him to miss the entire 2017 season.

Luck led the Colts to the playoffs in four of his six seasons, threw for 171 touchdowns and nearly 24,000 yards, made the Pro Bowl four times, and was the 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

His career in some ways mirrored that of another Stanford great, Jim Plunkett, who was also the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and also went to a team lacking talent in many areas.

Both Plunkett and Luck played behind awful offensive lines and frequently found themselves running for their lives. Both were beaten, battered, and bruised. Both suffered numerous debilitating injuries.

Plunkett was benched, traded and released before resurrecting his career with the Raiders and winning two Super Bowls. During and after his playing days, Jim had 19 major operations on his knees, shoulders, and various other body parts.

Luck chose not to stick around and absorb more punishment. His wife is pregnant, he’s spent far too much time in rehab, and he has plenty of options outside of football. A co-valedictorian of his high school class, he was a brilliant architecture student at Stanford.

“Honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life,” he said. “But it is the right decision for me. For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle—injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab—and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it. I haven't been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken my joy of this game away...The only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. ”

I applaud Luck’s decision. It took courage, perspective, introspection, humility, concern for his health and his family, and a willingness to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table.

I had the good fortune to spend some time with Andrew on two occasions—at the Bay Area College Football Media Day (hosted by our bowl game)—in 2011 and at a chance encounter in a Palo Alto restaurant in ‘17. I found him to be a kind, warm, engaging, and humble man.

A true class act.

The Cost of Winning: We talk a lot about the obscene amounts of money being paid to college football coaches and administrators, while the guys who do the heavy lifting—the athletes—get a scholarship.

But those salaries aren’t the only high-ticket item. There are state-of-the-art facilities and training centers, lavish “athlete lounges,” and 24-hour-a-day meals.

There’s also recruiting. And as any coach will tell you, you can’t win without talent.

USA Today and the Louisville Courier-Journal, in partnership with Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, last week published some very interesting numbers regarding recruiting budgets for Power Five Conference programs. (Only public universities were included; information wasn’t available for private schools).

As you might expect, the SEC blew everyone else away in recruiting expenditures, just as they often do on the football field.

During the three-year period studied (2016-18), Georgia spent a tidy $7 million on recruiting. That was $1.5 million more than any other Power Five school. Alabama was second at $5.56, and Tennessee third at $5M.

The same three SEC schools ranked at the top of last year’s list: Georgia $2.6M, Alabama $2.3 and Tennessee $2M. The next five were Texas, Texas A&M and Clemson, all at $1.7M, Florida State at $1.6 and Michigan at $1.4. The highest in the Pac-12 was Utah, a hair over $1M. Oregon came in just under, at $997K, with UCLA at $765K and Washington at $715K. Closer to home, Cal spent $647, about $100,000 more than the Arizona schools.

From a conference standpoint, the SEC led with way with an average of $1.3M per school, with (you guessed it) the Pac-12 last with an average of $708K.

Is it any wonder that in recent years, with its huge advantage in TV exposure, revenues, and resources, the SEC’s recruiting reach has extended all the way to the West Coast, where its schools have poached several of the top prospects in California and Oregon?

Puttin’ on the Ritz: Add committee meetings to the high cost of college football. While star players scramble for laundry money and holiday airfares, the suits who run conferences and university athletic departments are enjoying luxury accommodations at the Ritz Carlton and chowing down $158 steaks.

The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins reported last week that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee held its recent meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, a beachfront resort where the rooms start around $700.

As they say, the “optics” weren’t good.

“This offends the senses—and it shows a telling carelessness if not a callousness toward athletes,” Jenkins wrote. “The colossal billion-dollar revenues of the College Football Playoff are driven by the players—not administrators—and yet the system feeds everyone to excess except for them.

“Anybody with a conscience understands that scholarships are hardly decent recompense for their brutal workweeks. They face a yawning gap between what they create and what is withheld from them by the NCAA’s antiquated rules, and change is needed.”

Ironically, some of the Athletic Directors attending the CFP meeting have been the loudest voices against paying athletes, arguing that there isn’t enough money available.

Maybe a few less $158 steaks and $700 rooms would help solve that problem.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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