May 29, 2024

The young quarterback isn’t ready.

What was the offensive tackle doing, committing a false start coming out of a timeout?

How does an entire defense fail to cover a tight end?

Social media and message boards were not fun places to be over the weekend if you were a UCLA football player, family member or friend. The Bruins lost to Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday, and it was as if some fans lost their minds.

It’s the same sort of criticism that pops up whenever a team falters and fans turn testy. Might those fans feel more justified in their vitriol in 2023 given that some of these college players now earn more income than they do through name, image and likeness deals?

A handful of college athletes make well into seven figures. USC basketball freshman Bronny James has secured NIL deals with an estimated value of $7.2 million annually, according to On3.com. The same college sports website reported that USC quarterback Caleb Williams has deals valued at $3.2 million per year.

Most athletes pocket far less in NIL income and many make none. Yet the trend is heading toward what some consider the professionalization of college sports given that the NIL market is worth an estimated $1 billion annually and growing, according to Opendorse, an online platform that connects companies with athletes seeking NIL deals.

It might not be long before college players are paid directly by their schools as part of a revenue-sharing agreement, further fattening their bank accounts.

Fans have traditionally taken it relatively easy on college athletes compared to professional counterparts, citing their amateur status, youth and willingness to represent their favorite college teams for nothing more than a scholarship and living expenses.

Does that calculus change when the quarterback is making CEO money? Are these players now professionals?

“I don’t look at it that way,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Monday. “And I also don’t think because a pro athlete makes money that people should be allowed to criticize them, you know what I mean? You know, do people go into the workforce of some banker and just start heckling him? Saying, ‘Hey, you make $750,000 and the mortgage rates are this, inflation is at an unbelievable pace so what the heck are you guys doing? You’re absolutely out of your mind, let’s get rid of you, let’s fire this guy and cut this guy and do all that?’”

Kelly said coaches and athletes understand that second-guessing is part of the fabric of sports, but he doesn’t believe that criticism should be tied to whether they are paid.

“Everybody is allowed to have their opinion and everybody thinks they’re the manager of the New York Yankees — everybody has a better way to do things, that’s what makes this country great, you are entitled to your own opinion — but just because someone makes money, I don’t think … we should do that, so are we going after every CEO on Wall Street? I mean, are we going after every politician now because the inflation’s through the roof?

“I leave that up to other people; we’re trying to get some first downs here.”

Senior wide receiver Kam Brown, one of the Bruins’ NIL stars who recently agreed to a deal selling sushi at grocery stores through Vyblee, said he did not consider himself a pro based on making money alone.

“There’s college athletes and then when you get to the NFL,” Brown said, “it’s a whole different level just with everything that comes with it.”

Kelly said the same mantra should apply when it comes to one’s conduct toward all athletes — pro or college, paid or unpaid.

Said Kelly: “I think we should all treat people nice.”

Picking it apart

Kelly said true freshman quarterback Dante Moore’s three interceptions against Oregon State were the result of breakdowns not only in throwing but also in protection and route-running by the receivers.

Most critically, Moore had an interception returned for a touchdown for a third consecutive game.

“You can’t do that, you can’t give up points,” Kelly said. “The defense doesn’t even have a shot to get on the field in those situations to stop them.”

Moore’s confidence is not a concern, Kelly said, even though he has logged six interceptions to go with three touchdown passes in his first three Pac-12 games.

“He’s a really, really resilient person,” Kelly said, “and I think he has the ability to live in the present, he doesn’t live in the past, he doesn’t live in the future, he lives in the present and that’s a really special quality for people to have.”

Etc.

Quarterback Collin Schlee, who suffered an apparent sternum injury against Oregon State, did not practice Monday and was “unavailable,” according to Kelly. The coach said Ethan Garbers, who has not appeared in a game at quarterback in more than a month, was available to play if needed and that multiple quarterbacks were capable of running the same read-option packages that Schlee did against the Beavers. … Safety Kenny Churchwell III returned to practice after sitting out the game against the Beavers because of an unspecified injury. … UCLA’s game against Colorado on Oct. 28 at the Rose Bowl will be televised by ABC beginning at 4:30 p.m. PDT.

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