Friday, March 24, 2017
Created: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 4:58 p.m. CDT

Severson: MAC schedule shows top priority is money, not athletes

Sam Buckner for Shaw Media. Joel Bouagnon fights off a Bowling Green defensive player on Tuesday November 1, 2016.

Remember, college football players are students first and athletes second.

Scratch that.

They're a way for colleges, conferences and TV networks to make money first, then they're athletes and then students.

On Wednesday, the Mid-American Conference announced the schedules for all of its football teams and four of them – including Northern Illinois – will have two games in five days during one point in the season.

The Huskies will travel to Bowling Green on Oct. 21 in the final Saturday game of the regular season. The following Thursday, they will host Eastern Michigan.

Since NIU started playing midweek games in 2004, the Huskies traditionally have been given a nice buffer between the last Saturday game and the first weeknight contest. In 2009, they played Akron (27-10 win) on a Saturday and Eastern Michigan (50-6 win) on the following Thursday, but both games were in the friendly confines of Huskie Stadium.

This coming season, the Huskies will travel to Bowling Green on that last Saturday before packing up and traveling home on either a bus or a plane, and then turn around with minimum rest for an important contest against suddenly competent Eastern Michigan – the first MAC West game of the year for NIU

Before thinking NIU has it bad, Ball State has to run the brutal two-games-in-five-days gauntlet twice this season – Oct. 21 against Central Michigan and Oct. 26 against Toledo, along with Nov. 16 against Buffalo and Nov. 21 against Miami (Ohio). The only saving grace for those poor Cardinals players is that all four games are at home.

Other conferences have done that Saturday-to-Thursday turnaround – the Mountain West, for example – and you see it in the NFL with its truly hard-to-watch Thursday Night Football games, but at least those guys are getting a payday for their backbreaking work.

All of it, at the end of the day, is about money.

The networks want live football to put on the air during weeknights. The conferences are more than happy to get in bed with the networks because it brings them giant bags with dollar signs printed on them and brand it with words such as "exposure" and hashtags such as "#MACtion."

Sure, there is something to be said about the exposure that being on ESPN's networks brings. However, we've seen what it's done to stadium attendance. All that is worrisome, but it's much less sinister than putting in harm's way the athletes that earn those TV contracts.

There is more and more information coming out about the dangers of concussions, so that we can no longer simply stick our head in the sand. Playing two games in five days is dangerous.

A lot of the attention is on concussions and the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the NFL – and rightfully so – but let the story of Penn offensive lineman Owen Thomas be a warning on why this is such a horrible idea at the collegiate level, too.

A popular lineman whose friends said had no history of depression, Thomas ended up hanging himself in 2010, and it was discovered that he had CTE.

When most people watch college football, they see the big injuries that take players out of the game but mostly are entranced by the touchdowns, the highlight-reel catches and perfectly delivered passes. They don't see the players limping to the bus from the locker room after the game.

Playing two football games in five days is a bad idea no matter what level, but especially in the violent world of Division I football. However, people will tune in and the networks will keep cutting checks to the conferences, which will spread the money around to the schools.

As far as the athletes, they'll get to take an ice bath before they have to limp their way to class.

Unless they have a game that weekday.

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