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August 28, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

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Earlier this week, the Virginia Tech athletic department raised the collective ire of the college sports world by exposing its plans to set up a system of fines against players for disciplinary reasons. It once again shined a bright light on the ridiculous economic inequities in revenue-generating college sports, especially football.

Now, you might ask how players, who aren't compensated outside of a scholarship and cost of attendance stipends, could be fined. The answer: they planned to go after that COA stipend money. Keep in mind that the players, labeled with the "student-athlete" tag, aren't allowed collective bargaining power or even representation by an agent.

With screens that looked like something you would see at a fast food restaurant, Virginia Tech had the fine system detailed down to an almost comical level.

What made this even more disgusting was the fact that Hokies DC Bud Foster was boasting about it without a shred of irony, this coming from a man in the first year of a five-year, $4.5 million deal. And he's not even the top guy there.

It didn't take long for the school to reverse course and scrap those plans, but the fact that it planned it to such a degree is further evidence that the NCAA and its system of compensation is desperately in need of a massive overhaul.

In a semi-related note, I'm still looking for an explanation on why it's okay for college football teams to have multiple helmets throughout the season (usually as part of a uniform gimmick) but it's not safe for NFL players. This isn't rhetorical. If anyone has the answer, please drop me a line.

Former star NFL WR Cris Carter caught some heat recently when video from the 2014 NFL Rookie Symposium surfaced. It revealed his advice to players to have a fall guy, in other words someone to take the heat if things take a turn for the worse.

Of course, the fact that Carter stressed to the rookies that they should not be out misbehaving in the first place was glossed over. Also, many looked past the underlying reality behind the message: modern-day NFL athletes need to use caution and plan carefully when dealing with the general public in potentially high-risk situations.

It might sound cynical to have such a mindset, but the harsh reality is that NFL players are easy targets for leeches (friends/family with dollar signs in their eyes), extortionists, and people looking to cause problems. In my estimation, rookies can't be cautioned enough about the potential pitfalls looming for a suddenly-wealthy celebrity athlete in his early 20s.

Obviously, Carter shouldn't have used the term fall guy, since one could surmise that he was advocating criminal conspiracy. Particularly after what happened with Aaron Hernandez, that line of talk at an official NFL event is out of order. But at least Carter urged the rookies to do some planning and thinking, which is better advice than I imagine others may have given them.

The NFL preseason is a long, arduous process. Training camp is extremely physically demanding, not to mention mentally stressful for the guys on the bubble of making a team. The threat of being cut is very real for the majority of the participants, and even if you make the "final" cut, you can still be squeezed out if your team likes another player better and drops you to claim him.

But what looms, often unspoken, is the threat of serious injury. It can happen in exhibition game play, which is in part why some support reducing the preseason. But non-contact injuries can be just as severe, as a few teams have been reminded of this month.

Perhaps the most devastating injury happened in Carolina, where standout WR Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in a non-contact play in practice. Then, this past Sunday, Packers WR Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during Green Bay's exhibition game with Pittsburgh. Much like Benjamin, Nelson's injury happened without contact.

There is no easy answer to stemming the problem, though thankfully sports medicine has evolved to the point where someone playing with a surgically-repaired ACL is seen as almost routine. What is more difficult is coming back from an Achilles injury, like what Redskins OLB Junior Galette suffered in his left leg in practice on Wednesday.

To be sure, injuries accumulate through a given season, and nearly every guy in the NFL "plays hurt" to one degree or another. Football is at times a brutal sport. And, as bad as losing multiple high-profile players for the year can be, the reality is that fluke injuries are going to be an ever-present threat, no matter what a team opts to do.

We're less than two weeks away from the start of the NFL regular season. The college slate will begin sooner than that, and high school action has already begun in many parts of the country. That's the case for my alma mater, Father Ryan High School in Nashville, and it was great fun last Friday night to return to the school's broadcast team now that I'm back in middle Tennessee.

In short: there is plenty to look forward to this fall.

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