The latest break in a story that figures to turn college basketball on its ear, at least temporarily, has naturally brought out all of the NCAA’s critics and inspired many suggestions for fixing big-time college athletics.
Here are three things that would change the landscape without leaving the games unrecognizable to fans who provide all that revenue that makes the system so big it might collapse on itself one day.
1. Let players profit off their likenesses and names while still in school.
While much media coverage and criticism focuses on the problems with the NCAA, I believe the system as is works out pretty well for a large number of people — including the majority of athletes.
Note that “athletes” here refers to all, not just the football and basketball players who generate nearly all of the revenue that pays for everyone else to be able to coach and play.
Spreading the wealth means many educational opportunities are provided for players who are not stars or even starters on the football and basketball teams as well as the young people who fill the rosters of every other sport. This is a good thing.
However, paying everyone the same also incentivizes cheating. “Extra benefits” inevitably enter the picture when everyone is allowed to offer essentially the same compensation — especially when there is a financial need for the player or a feeling he or she isn’t getting what they are worth.
Endorsement money could eliminate that need or that feeling as well as the need to go outside of the rules. It would also allow stars to be better compensated without reducing the number of players overall who benefit from the current largesse.
2. Let players hire agents.
The process of going pro also presents a lot of problems as far as eligibility goes.
It can lead to players getting extra benefits and also leave them in limbo if they leave school early then find the demand for their services elsewhere wasn’t what they expected.
Currently players are allowed to have contact with agents, but there are restrictions. Let’s lift those.
(Dan Wolken of USA Today suggests letting agents give players loans. This makes sense, too.)
Agents are literally experts on making a living in sports. This is advice players who intend to go pro in sports really need, and letting them get it doesn’t actually make them professionals.
Along those lines….
3. Forget about declaring for the draft.
My first two suggestions are moves the schools that make up the NCAA should vote to make.
A third important change would have to come from the professional leagues: Make everyone coming out of high school draft eligible.
I’ve already made the case the NBA should go the route of the NHL by having teams secure the rights of players coming out of high school but letting the players then go where they want to develop for as long as they need to.
While the MLB is already part of the way there, I’ll admit it might not work out so well for the NFL.
The appeal of the NFL draft is no doubt largely a result of two things: Fans have had three or four years to learn who the players are, and they have a greater chance to make an immediate impact.
Plus I suspect projecting 18-year-olds in football is harder than any other sport.
The good news for football players: The first two changes above would benefit them most because their sport produces the most attention and money. They also get paid more up front once they make it to the NFL.