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Dave Hyde: Are you understanding or uncomfortable at what Miami, other college players are worth?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There’s no surprise it’s come to this.

Retired Alabama coach Nick Saban testified before a Congressional panel this past week about the evils of name-image-and-likeness money in college athletics. Dartmouth athletes talked this past week about forming a college players’ union.

March Madness starts this week with whispers of a future where schools won’t get paid their millions into general athletic funds but into an NIL fund.

This is the new world being created with money, and the Sabanites say this money is ruining college athletics. But the level of money hasn’t changed in college athletics. What’s changed is the millions of dollars that went entirely to schools are now being funneled to where it never openly was:

The athletes.

Florida Atlantic University’s quarterback, is making roughly $125,000 in name-image-and-likeness money, a source said.

The University of Miami is paying its new quarterback, “a little more than 10 times that,” another source said.

Does it make you uncomfortable to read those salaries? To see the chaotic rush to the transfer portal every year? Or would you transfer across the country, too, if you could make $400,000 a year like Miami point guard Nigel Pack or the seven-figures of new Hurricanes quarterback Cam Ward?

That’s not just what they earn in this new world. It’s what their talent is worth, if you believe in the competition of capitalism.

Some people are angry because their fun is intruded on as players leave their favorite team through the transfer portal for money elsewhere. Other people prefer to believe the fantasy that amateur student-athlete still existed in college. They pretended money has never mattered in the games. Santa Claus was real, too.

The new reality, as one college coach told me is, “All that money that was paid under the table? It’s on top of the table now.”

It was spent publicly before on coaches, weight rooms and endowing scholarships. Now players get some and every school is scrambling to compete on the business side. A Miami athletic department official felt anguish at the financial plight of fallen sugar-daddy John Ruiz, whose business problems stopped a model of $5 million a year given to the school’s athletes.

“We need to get someone else like him,” the official said.

The NCAA said last December it was on board with athletes being paid like they still matter in this. The courts opened this new world. The train was whisking past the NCAA at 110 mph when it offered an irrelevant stamp of approval.

“It’s whoever wants to pay, the most money raised, the most money to buy the most players is going to have the best opportunity to win,” Saban said in lamenting the new world.

Hasn’t it been that way for years? Isn’t that why the conference landscape shifted? Why Florida State is suing to leave the ACC? Why Saban, in part, won all those national titles at Alabama?

What this really about is who controls the money — and who gets it.

“You’re going to create a caste system where the rich will get richer and the poor get poorer,” Saban said, “and eventually the fans will look at it like, ‘I really don’t want to watch the game.’ ”

Yes, change is coming. No, it’s not all ideal. Nor is the old world where a coach making double-digit millions controls everything. Where a kid’s scholarship is on a year-to-year contract. Where a player gets no money for his jersey being sold but is made an example of for getting a free meal from a booster.

Shouldn’t a player be free to decide how important money is in attending a school? Just like you are with your job?

Caitlin Clark is the perhaps the most historic example of why players deserve something. Her Iowa basketball team sets attendance records in every venue she plays. Iowa losing to LSU in the NCAA championship game last year drew 10 million viewers compared to the average 1 million in the WNBA finals series.

The old world wouldn’t pay Clark. The new world allows her deals with Nike, Gatorade, State Farm, Bose, H&R Block, Panini and Goldman Sachs.

If some innocence is lost in of this, as Saban points out, also lost is the unruly shadow economy of college athletics. Early-season college basketball tournaments offered schools the choice to put $1 million in the general athletic fund or an NIL fund. There’s another issue: Departments at the same school are competing with each other over dollars.

Dartmouth’s players took the next step in this new world by talking of an athletes’ union. That would help players with money, with agents, with just how to navigate this new world. Isn’t that what college should be about? Education?

Any college union would realize what every pro union did: The best way to increase salaries is to publicize them. All those debates among pro teams about spending money smartly would infiltrate college teams as that curtain is peeled back.

The bottom line is it’s not money that’s at issue here. The money always has been there. It’s the reality that college players are making money. And lots of it.