A Solution to the NCAA Student-Athlete Problem

It’s an issue getting a lot of attention today, yesterday, tomorrow, last week, last month, next week, next month … schools getting in trouble because boosters are giving student athletes illegal money & wares while they’re playing football or basketball for that school.  Big story today:  University of Miami; big story from last year:  University of Southern California.  Big story from a couple decades ago:  University of Washington.

Happens. All. The Time.  Is my point there that I’m trying to make.

It happens all the time, it’s going to continue to happen, because in order for schools to make money, they need successful football programs (and, to a lesser extent, basketball programs).  Once these schools start to taste success, they crave more and more.  Only, to stay successful, you need to recruit only the best athletes.  After a while, as you compete with other truly great schools for these same athletes, you need to find a way to stand out.  Facilities, coaching staffs, and proximity to the beach is only going to get you so far.  At some point, boosters decide it’s time to involve themselves; and when that happens, it’s only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.

Ostensibly, these boosters are rich, but are looking for ways to get richer.  Taking advantage of the best athletes – by providing for them when they’re broke, only to recoup that money and then some when they get rich – appears to be the way to do it.  I would like to think a booster is only in it for the betterment of his school (in which, I would like to add that UW could sure use a national championship again in my lifetime, hint hint), but I don’t know if that’s necessarily something that’s better.  I’m something of a sports history buff.  I wouldn’t want to see wins voided or national championships taken away because some kids got some lavish gifts.  Those gifts still don’t change how those athletes performed on the field.

Not that I believe student athletes should be paid in the first place.  My thoughts on this issue HERE.  I end that particular post bringing up the issue of whether the professional leagues should revisit the number of years out of high school athletes need to be before they can go pro.  Well, here’s my response to that:

Create a semi-pro league on par with the NCAA where athletes can go straight from high school and perform against other athletes straight from high school.  You play in this league for 2-4 years, you get a wage probably on par with what you’d make if you just skipped college and went to play in another country, and we can leave the NCAA for athletes who actually want to be students.

It’s wrong to pay college athletes when they’re getting a free ride, but it’s also wrong to force kids to go to college when they don’t want to be there (and have no intention of taking it seriously one little bit).

Would the NCAA talent pool be diluted?  Absolutely.  If you’re a hot-shot stud from the projects who’s making zero dollars, you’re going to go to the semi-pro league and start making money right away for your craft.  But, look at it another way:  there are a TON of colleges out there with football and basketball teams.  This semi-pro league is probably only going to start out with, what, 16 teams?  Plus, for some kids, there will always be a matter of prestige and pride that comes with going to a University and graduating.  So, really, colleges are still going to get their share of quality athletes.  Just a much smaller percentage of those athletes who are likely to accept gifts that are against NCAA rules.

I don’t know how this semi-pro league would work, but ideally the NFL and the NBA would not be involved.  I really just don’t want this to be a farm system for the pros like baseball has; I’d like it to be its own separate entity akin to the NCAA.  I’d like these kids to enter their respective drafts just the same as the student athletes.  But, I don’t see how the pros COULDN’T be involved.  They already have the money, and they would have a vested interest.  You could run these semi-pro teams like you would regular-pro teams (pro-style offenses & defenses in both football and basketball would help these kids be more ready for the actual pro game).

I may not be the first guy in the world to propose this, but I can’t believe I didn’t think about this sooner.  Why don’t they just do this and we can all quit fussing over schools and boosters and sanctions and voided victories?  I’m tired of ungrateful student athletes bringing down these schools.  Because the schools have obviously shown that they’re either too incompetent or too corrupt to stop all these shenanigans.  So, it’s time to do something about it that takes the schools out of the equation entirely.

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