National Champions – Worth the Pay to Play?

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Daniel R. Durrett



Who will truly decide the national champions, will Nike, will Reebok, or will Under Armor decide our national champions or will ESPN answer the call to tell us who’s exists as the best of our national sports landscape? The future is unclear now as corporate interests invade the field to garnish student athletes’ social media feed and influence.

“National Champions” seek to place this discussion at the middle of its plot, as the number one seeded Wolves may enter the national championship game with their star quarterback boycotting the game to force the pay-for-play conversation.

What will force the process of the NCAA’s minimizing the monetization of a player’s abilities as all starts with legal rights within the legal debate of the heavily influenced legislative system.

This is the plot and process of the story of national champions, set immense the backdrop of administration’s ability to process pontificate and pronounce one of the greatest paying jobs in America, an NCAA division one football coach.

JK Simmons shows us a view of a coach whose star quarterback, LaMarcus James portrayed by Stephan James (Selma, Race) has decided to take to his social media following and use his platform to force systemic change. Assisted by his teammate and best friend, Emmett Sunday, Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games, Vikings) to fight for further rights of pay and health care for these colligate athletes.

Even though the players go off-grid to further the conversation and thwart any of their coach’s influence. Assistant team coach, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Free Guy) works in the hopes to reach a happy medium.

Does the film seek to have the metaphorical conversation of what is to be of the future of NCAA sports? Will they pay their players for sports play, along with their scholarship that pays for school?

Alumni and boosters rally to pressure the boycotting players to suspend the fight and play in the highly anticipated game. Booster president, Tim Blake Nelson (Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) works to find a happy medium, while Mike Titus portrayed by Jeffery Donavan (Burn Notice, Changeling) works for the same outcome from the athletic conference side of the discussion.

Titus was assisted by the outstanding performance of lawyer, Katherine Poe, Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black, In Treatment). Poe shows the torn emotions of an ex-collegiate athlete who has succeeded with the scholarships she received while in school.

This drama sits firmly with an ongoing debate that extends far beyond its dramatic screening, to allow a conversation that educational institutions are unwilling to discuss. Though this film may suffer at the box office due to the Spider-Man and Marvel onslaught.

National Champions do show the real need for further conversation about student-athletes who play at such a professional level. The stand-out performance of Aduba as a sympathetic lawyer is of high recognition.

 The film is well worth a matinee or on-demand screening for any college football fan.

15th Dallas International Film Festival