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

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."