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Virginia Tech’s fine system exposed college football’s bare ass again

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Get the technicalities out of the way first.

This is a list of fines Virginia Tech enforced on exactly five players to the tune of $330 total. It is not clear whether that money was ever collected, or if it even represented real money and not just exchangeable units of misery ("$200 in BeamerBucks gets you a week running gassers in the sand pit. ENJOY!"). It should also be mentioned that Virginia Tech's athletic director Whit Babcock killed this system within hours of defensive coordinator Bud Foster publicly mentioning fines for players.

With that out of the way: this is a thing some coaches believe they can do to non-salaried, non-employee college football players on scholarship. Players who, by agreement, can do little else but play football for their food, shelter, and tuition.

Virginia Tech laid waste to the system in a matter of hours for a good reason. Fining athletes is something professional leagues do because they are professionals -- paid, well-compensated employees of a corporation, the kind of companies that have definite labor laws, obligations to their employees, and rules for behavior. (In the NFL, the person in charge of some of those rules is Roger Goodell, so maybe "rules" and "consistent standards" are misnomers, but let's get back on topic.)

If you are a student-athlete -- a designation Virginia Tech and every other college football program would love to keep around -- then you are not an employee. You play for the love of the game alone, plus a scholarship and cost of attendance and maybe a few under-the-table fringe benefits on the side. Those side benefits are vastly overrated in value. Mostly a few hundred here, maybe a few thousand there if you're lucky.

We've had this discussion before, and we'll have it again right now. Things are not free, unless they're classified as amateur sports. The company store has been theoretically outlawed in the United State for years, unless we call it amateur sports. We are completely opposed to paying people with things they often don't want or need, unless it's amateur sports. You can't underpay people for decades on end, unless we're talking about amateur sports.

You don't defend a system that deliberately shorts people their worth unless: amateur sports.

That money athletes get under cost of attendance isn't even subject to anything like a salary's requirements. That is part of a scholarship, something awarded partly on the basis of scouting by teams and hordes of underpaid graduate assistants. Money that is subject to fines comes in the form of something like the $900,000 salary of Bud Foster, the defensive coordinator who brought this all up in the first place.

I don't mention his salary to make him seem like an asshole. In fact, his ex-players will attest that he is not.

Look at it this way: when a system has had so much money poured into it by cable television, and when the pressures and hours and attention have boiled to a point indistinguishable from those of a professional league, how can you even blame Bud Foster for confusing the two at this point? He's paid like an NFL coordinator, maybe even better than most. His coaching peers are all paid like they work for a successful conglomerate, mostly because many of them do.

But as long as players aren't paid some share of what is clearly a business-type income, that confusion will make circumstantial assholes out of a lot of people in the sport, including people like me and the attorneys filing suits striking at the sclerotic heart of amateurism.

It's annoying as hell, but appealing to logic and fairness is a .500 team's strategy. Lawsuits and making someone irritable and legally culpable? Damn near undefeated, and a No. 1 spot in every poll around.