Klatt: If NCAA wants to exploit us, protect us better

Updated: December 19, 2005, 8:58 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- Chances are, Joel Klatt will never take another snap for Colorado.

The senior's college career was most likely cut one game short after he took a vicious hit to the head from a Texas linebacker in the Big 12 title game after the contest had long been out of hand.

But before Klatt moves on, he has a message, not so much for Drew Kelson, the linebacker who delivered the brutal blow, but for the NCAA -- "a terribly run organization" in his mind -- and the other powers that be in college football.

"If they want to exploit us as athletes and sell our jerseys and put us on video games," Klatt said, "then perhaps they should protect us on the field better, so that we can, in the future, get that compensation and possibly go to the NFL."

Whether Klatt, who gave up baseball to walk on with the Buffs four years ago, will wind up in the NFL is up for debate. But he is the most prolific passer to ever play at Colorado. He rewrote the record book, mainly on the strength of his ability to stand in the pocket, read defenses and make throws.

In return, he took quite a beating.

He is not mobile and has often been an easy target for opposing defenses. That was the case on Dec. 3 against Texas. But with the Buffs trailing by 67 points in the third quarter, the last thing Klatt must have expected was for Kelson to come blitzing in from his left, launching himself toward Klatt's head and hitting him in the chin with his helmet.

Klatt was knocked out. For a scary minute or so, he lay there, face down, not moving, in the end zone of Reliant Field in Houston. Eventually, he clambered to his feet and staggered off the field. While the rest of his team flew home after the 70-3 humiliation, Klatt stayed overnight in a local hospital for observation.

More than two weeks later, he says he still has "a little bit of dizziness, a pretty sustained headache and things of that nature." With eight days to go before the Champs Sports Bowl, all he has been cleared to do is ride the stationary bicycle.

He stood by silently the last two weeks as Gary Barnett, a man Klatt vigorously defended through all his problems and still refers to as "a father," lost his job. Simply, Klatt said he was afraid to speak his mind for fear his wooziness and lack of a clear head might make the words come out wrong.

He has not heard anything from Kelson or anyone at Texas. He claims not to be mad at those folks.

He is, however, mad at the NCAA and all the other powers who may have been able to better protect players, but have refused over the years. Klatt said he has taken hits that would have drawn fines and suspensions in the NFL "more times than I can count" through a career during which he has thrown 1,095 passes for 7,375 yards, two of the 44 CU records he now owns.

And while referees in college football will penalize for unnecessary roughness -- Kelson drew a 15-yarder for his hit on Klatt -- the conferences rarely suspend players or sanction schools for hits like that.

Bob Burda, a spokesman for the Big 12, said Kelson would not be further penalized for the hit. He said one reason college football has not established rules to give special protection to quarterbacks is because they often run more than in the NFL.

"I know player safety has been an area of emphasis," Burda said of discussions among NCAA rules committee members.

Dennie Poppe, the NCAA's managing director of football and baseball, did not immediately return messages left at his office by The Associated Press seeking comment.

"It seems like they're more concerned with what guys do after the play and after they score, which is completely irrelevant to safety, or anything like that," Klatt said in reference to penalties for showboating or excessive celebration. "But is a player who goes into the end zone and gets a little too excited, is that as important as someone who gets a head injury? I just think their priorities are a little out of whack."

Klatt insists he will not play Dec. 27 against Clemson if he's not completely ready. He concedes he desperately wants to play -- and desperately does not want the huge hit to stand as his final memory on a college field. But he insists he and his wife won't make any decision to play without clearance from the doctors.

Likely, his status will be determined later this week. Interim coach Mike Hankwitz said the Buffs are preparing as though backup James Cox will start.

Whether he's on the field or not, Klatt refuses to go quietly.

"The NCAA is a terribly run organization and the way that they exploit college athletes, football and basketball, across the board, I think, is sad," he said. "It's something I'll hold a bit of a grudge about for a long time."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press