NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks about policy changes being considered by the NCAA during the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday. (AP)

NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks about policy changes being considered by the NCAA during the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Washington on Monday. (AP)

Should we call it Gridiron Spring?

Perhaps so.

The determination to achieve freedom from self-serving, self-aggrandizing autocrats seems to be spreading to the athletes engaged in revenue sports in universities across the land.

Apparently several hundred major college football and men’s basketball players have signed a petition expressing the opinion that the NCAA should set aside some portion of the organization’s recently acquired $775 million in TV rights for the athletes who create the product the NCAA sells.

The idea seems to be that some of the money thus set aside could be used by young men whose expenses exceed whatever their athletic scholarships provide, while the rest would be paid to football and basketball players after they lose up their eligibility, since at that point they also lose their athletic scholarships, but not, it turns out, the need to eat, clothe themselves, and attend the occasional movie.

Like autocrats and dictators elsewhere, the NCAA is attempting to portray itself as the benevolent protector of subjects incapable of determining their own self-interest. Lots of college football and basketball players are single-minded, and inclined to overestimate their importance vis á vis the cosmos. That’s partly because they’re young, and partly because, as a culture, we’ve taught them that if they can perform brilliantly enough to earn athletic scholarships, it doesn’t much matter whether they can do anything else. But what if it turns out that even young men who’ve devoted a disproportionate amount of their time to football or basketball can grasp simple logic and math? What if, in great numbers, they come to understand that when workers generate billions of dollars, said workers should get some of the loot?

Much has been made, and legitimately so, of this month’s story by Taylor Branch in the Atlantic Monthly about the hypocrisy of big college sports. Much has been made of the most recent scandals in various college football programs. But as regards change in a rotten system, these will be as nothing to this petition business if it leads to real, concerted, thoughtful, and united action by the athletes themselves.