The End of Shamateurism: a Good Thing

It seems that a lot of time and money are spent on enforcement of NCAA rules. In addition, many NCAA fans and media members spend a lot of time decrying the exodus of star players to the NBA and the effect of "one-and-done" players on college ball. Teams that win championships with the "wrong" players consequently have to worry for seven years before the NCAA statute of limitations make their championships "official" by exempting them from prosecution and vacation of results.

The NCAA needs to be fixed, and the answer is really simple: allow players to be paid by anyone who wants to pay them.

The NCAA would be much better off without the constant bad publicity generated from the sheer volume of investigations and violations under the current rules. In an ideal world, the majority would follow both the letter and spirit of all the rules. In the real world, though, everyone tries to find every possible loophole to gain a competitive advantage.

Basically, the problem lies in the NCAA rulebook, which is impossible for even those with doctorates in administration to decipher within a hundred percent certainty. The rulebook is a series of knee-jerk reactions to those in search of loopholes, and his become an inscrutable patchwork quilt of quaint artifacts that have no bearing on what athletes, coaches, agents, boosters, and other interests are actually doing in this era.

As I see it, there is one solution: throw out the rulebook and start over. Here are a few things I would like to see:

1. Players get as long as they need to attend classes and graduate.
Give a player four years of eligibility and as long as he needs to use them. Classes would not be mandatory, but a player would be allowed a lifetime pass for as many classes as he needs to graduate with a useful degree. If a player chooses not to go to class while he is playing, so be it. Players are a lot more like employees than they are students, anyway.

This way, a player is ensured that he will eventually graduate if he wants to. Players who don't want to go to class don't have to, and a lot less of a school's resources will be wasted on kids who don't want to go to class. When the player finally realizes that he should have gone to class, he will be able to make up for his mistake, even if it takes until he is forty years old.

If a player plays for a team and never chooses to attend class, I see no problem here. It is much better than the alternative of them getting worthless degrees and "graduating" unable to read or write, as has happened to numerous players over the years. It is already happening; this rule would serve to bring it into the open and honest instead of being a case of rulebreakers getting "swept under the table."

2. Players can be paid by whoever wants to pay them.

Critics would say that this would open "Pandora's Box," but the box has already been open under the table for a long time. Those who think it would give some schools a competitive advangate need to open their eyes: there are already a lot of schools with a competitive advantage. This might redistribute the wealth a little bit, but most of the same schools would end up on top and most of the same schools would end up on the bottom. Most of all, though, the players would get their share of the "pie."

Let's look at a hypothetical situation: the next LeBron James decides he wants to play at Michigan straight out of high school. He is allowed to accept the $40 million in endorsements that is offered to him, thus providing quite nicely for his family. He plays for UM for two or three years, leading them to two Final Fours and one Championship. Most of all, it is all above the table and legal.

The NCAA benefits because they have a great player on TV for two years. Michigan benefits because they win championships. The NBA wins because the next LBJ doesn't have to learn on the job, but comes to their team much more ready to withstand the rigors of an NBA season.

In football, one player doesn't mean as much, but it would be great if they were just allowed to provide money for their families while they were playing. It may keep some in school for an extra year or two if they were getting money above board from boosters and apparel companies. Those with an eye on a TV career could make a little extra appearing in commercials. A cut on those shirts with their numbers on them at the sports shops would be nice, too.

As for boosters, so many of them currently pay players anyway that it might as well be in the open instead of as a "golden handshake." Let the boosters have "bragging rights" to "their" players and let the players make appearances in the workplace to build the morale of their boosters' companies.

3. Teams draft players out of High School and keep their rights for five years.

This would not, of course, be an NCAA rule, but it would benefit everyone. The NCAA is pretty much a de facto minor league for the NBA, NBA, NFL, and MLB at this point, but only MLB and the NHL are doing it close to this way. This rule would make it tougher to draft but ultimately more fair for all parties involved. A player could stay in school as long as he and his drafting team feel fit. It would keep the Korleone Youngs from ruining their lives by jumping too early.

In conclusion:

No system is perfect, and this wouldn't be, either, but the end of Shamateurism is something that is long overdue in college sports. The NCAA either needs to make amateur sports truly amateur, or they need to allow the players to be paid instead of being exploited. The current "in between" system is a joke, and is in severe need of repair.

Throwing out the rulebook would be a great place to start. Imagine how much money there would be for the players if the multi-million dollars spent on enforcement and compliance were freed to pay the people who are producing the actual product.

I'm for throwing out the rulebook now. I'm sure players will start getting paid next January; I know it's going to be a "cold day."

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