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Open NBA to prep stars, but don't pay the players!

by J.W. Miller on 03/05/18

Even Dick Vitale, the No. 1 ambassador for college basketball, is fed up with the sport after the recent scandal named players who accepted under-the-table money and coaches who lost their jobs. Vitale told the Tampa Bay Times Sunday that the sport is “broken” and needs a fix. “I don’t like what’s out there,” he said. “I don’t like the sleaziness, the corruption. I don’t like the fraud that college basketball has become.” 

Can’t disagree with that, but I have a problem with Dickie V’s solutions. Vitale would do away with the one-and-done rule, because “it’s a joke.” I don’t disagree and have said so in this space. If a high school player is good enough to play in the NBA, then he should be allowed to pursue that dream. But then the 78-year-old former coach joins the chorus who sing loudly to pay the players, and we fall out of bed. Vitale reasons that since college sports makes billions of dollars and  coaches make millions of dollars, some of the profit should go to the players. “The only ones who don’t (make money) are the ones we need the most for this sport. The players are really the only vital ones in this whole thing.” 

I believe that pairing the one-and-done rule with paying the players who are left raises too many insurmountable and conflicting issues. If a system is adopted to “pay the players,” and the exceptional prospects are in the NBA, why is a fair pay system required for the remainder of college athletes? And how would it work? Would only men’s basketball and football players get paid since their games generate the money to support the other 15-20 sports in a college program? Title IX advocates might have an issue with that. 

So where do you draw the line? I believe you draw it when you end the one-and-done rule and allow the best prospects - the ones susceptible to scandal and the cheaters - to go pro after they finish high school. That leaves the great majority of student\athletes who are in college to get a free education. 

I still believe in a free market society in which high school graduates can choose to enroll at any college that admits them. They work, study and practice their craft to obtain the skills that prepares them to go out into the marketplace – whether in professional sports or society. A small percentage of student-athletes who spent at least three years in college will go on to professional careers, while the great majority will join their classmates and use the education and skills they have learned as a platform to becoming productive citizens. The difference is that in the athlete’s case, most if not all of their tuition, room and board and fees are paid. If you don’t believe that a free education counts, just ask the 44 million college graduates who are carrying an average of nearly $40,000 in debt, according to today’s Wall Street Journal. 

What makes anybody think that paying the athletes will change anything? Payment might even perpetuate the greater problems, calming the critics and freeing the system from the constraints that have lately tarnished the excitement and wholesome nature of competition. I agree with Dickie V. that something needs to be done, and ending the one-and-done rule is the first step. But paying the players en masse would do little but increase the financial burden on low-revenue schools like UNO that see their state aid cut every year.

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