Monday, April 07, 2014

Imagine the NCAA didn't exist...

There was no intercollegiate sports.  In general, football and basketball players went straight from college to the pros.

There were general complaints, both from coaches and from fans, that these athletes were not prepared to compete at this level, both in terms of personal maturity and skill level for the game.  To address this, the following system is devised:

  • The preferred path to professional sports would be to play in a competitive league at universities for 1-4 years.
  • During that time, the athletes will receive free tuition for as much coursework as they care to take as well as free room and board.
  • These athletes must maintain a certain grade point average and be making progress toward a degree.  They must be able to meet the admission standards of the university for non-athletes.
  • Revenue generated from these games will be used to fund sports that do not generate revenue, which, with some exceptions, means all men's and women's sports except football and men's basketball.  This will enable athletes in those sports to also receive scholarships, even though their sports would not generate sufficient revenue to cover them.
  • Build up a culture such that the best intercollegiate culture are held in as high if not higher regard as the best professional coaches.  Establish regional rivalries such that alums and locals want their teams to be successful.  Expose the best players so they arrive as professionals as established stars able to demand high contracts and endorsement deals.
Am I crazy to think we could do a lot worse than this?  Is this worse than, say, minor league baseball?  It obviously produces a more entertaining product.

Stripped of all the sanctimony about "student-athletes" and such, what we essentially have is athletes who are about to become millionaires being pushed into some years of service at a university, enabling them to fund other athletic programs and scholarships.

Now, even if you're OK with future star athletes being compelled into 1-4 years of indentured servitude, there are some obvious problems with my whitewashed version of events:

  • It is far from clear that most of the revenue from big-time college football and basketball goes to other athletic programs.
  • Most of the athletes in revenue sports will not go on to professional careers.  Only a few players on the rosters of the Kentucky and Connecticut teams that play for the national championship will go on to the NBA.    So, the model of seeing the time in college as a service requirement before a lucrative career falls flat.
  • Even so, it is possible some talented athlete who would have a professional career could suffer an injury at college that would severely damage his earning potential.
  • Many of the athletes in the revenue sports are black; many of the athletes of non-revenue sports and others who benefit from the revenue sports are white.  This has some obviously disturbing implications.
  • It is not clear that big universities, many of them already government funded, should be the beneficiaries of these athletes' apprenticeships.
It now seems apparent that big changes are afoot for the NCAA.  Which is good, because the current system has its obvious injustices. 

But it has its advantages as well.

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