Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Should The NCAA Pay Student Athletes?!?

[Editor's Note: This post is wordy and it is sports-related. I didn't plan on writing this much, but hey, I'm clearly talking about a topic I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about: Basketball. You may wanna print this one and save it for after lunch if you know what I mean. Enjoy Responsibly.]

The whole "should players be able to skip college to go to the NBA?" debate is old news now. A few years back, NBA Commissioner David Stern somehow managed to trick negotiate the NBA Players Association into enforcing a "one year" rule. Essentially, you can't enter the NBA Draft until one year after your high school class graduates.

I agreed with this rule, but not for the reason many might think. I have absolutely nothing against young brothers gettin' their paper. Reality is, you can always go back to college, but you can't be projected as a 1st round pick forever. As much as critics love picking on dudes like Korleone Young and Johnathan Bender for striking out by skipping college, there's just as many dudes who stayed in school too long and ended up ruining their pro prospects by coming out after their stock peaked.

Uhhh, Roy Hibbert anyone?

Besides, the fact that so many people "care" about the plight of young black men is laughable. To all the "advocates" so worried about how these poor men would fare if they didn't get a couple of semesters at State U., your hypocrisy is startling. How many of these same "advocates" give a crap about the other 11 guys on that dude's high school team who not only aren't skipping college to the NBA, but aren't even going to college, period? It's obvious these "advocates" only care about the money and acclaim these player can bring to their alma maters.

And on the flipside, why all the worry about basketball players only? Who's worrying about the social adjustment of tennis players, who usually drop outta middle school to be trained fulltime? Nobody cares about tween stars like Miley Cyrus and the High School Musical kids. These kids seldom bother getting any formal education beyond basic tutoring once they pursue their craft.

So, again, I have no issue with players skipping school, or leaving after one season. My problem is that these guys are usually not ready skillwise to play at the NBA level. They usually end up wasting roster spots that would be best used on more developed players or seasoned vets.

The ultimate example of this would be the picture above. So painful is that photo for me to look at that I won't even bother captioning it or telling you who the two men pictured are. If one of you wants to explain this photo to the non-sporting members of AverageNation™, do so below.

I am beginning to tear up a bit. Painful memories, folks. Seriously.

Anyways, now that the "one-and-done" rule is in effect, the predicted outcome is happening. Guys are coming to school, putting up crazy numbers, and dropping outta class by the time the Final Four rolls around. This past year's NBA draft lottery alone featured a record 7 freshmen chosen in the Top 14 picks. The usual zealots (Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas) are now beginning to bellyache for a "two-and-done" rule, since this easy exodus of star power will leave the NCAA noticeably depleted of overall talent next season.

I figured that sooner or later, some player would get tired of the whole charade and simply find a way to kill time somewhere other than a college campus to burn that one year away before he could be drafted. The options have been seldom utilized, but they include playing one season at prep school, going to to NBA D-League for a year, or and risky choice not yet exercised until now.

Former Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings is expected to sign with a European-based agent as early as Monday, get an American-based marketing director for sneaker company deals and secure a contract with a European or Israeli team within the next two weeks, Jennings' advisers told Friday.

Jennings signed to play at Arizona out of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy but is from Los Angeles. Jennings isn't eligible for the NBA draft until a year after he graduates from high school. Jennings didn't receive a qualifying standardized test score. His third and final test result was due Friday but Valle said it's a moot point. Jennings is choosing Europe over Arizona.

Valle said Jennings could be open to a multi-year contract overseas, although his primary goal is to play in the NBA, beginning in 2009-10. The NBA confirmed once Jennings signs a pro contract overseas and is 19, he will become eligible for the 2009 draft. But Vaccaro said a longer-term deal with a buyout is a possibility for Jennings since it would give the overseas club leverage with an NBA franchise and give Jennings some security.
Here's Mr. Jennings in action. He seems pretty bright and well grounded, which is why his lack of academic success is so puzzling.

A pure point guard in the mold of Chris Paul, Jennings is a 5-Star recruit who would certainly be an early lottery pick next year if he panned out as a freshman at Arizona. And it should be noted that Jennings' main reason for going overseas is not some noble protest, but rather the fact that he's unlikely to qualify academically and would likely have to redshirt, completely tanking his stock. So, off to Belarus this talented, but naive kid is going.

Scouts say that if Jennings plays well overseas, the net effect would be the same as playing one season of college ball. He'll make a few hundred thousand for one season of play. Then he'll be a lottery pick and will make millions before he turns 19.

But there are huge risks. International basketball is quite different from the NBA. The style of play varies widely. The opposing players, even those Jennings' age, in many cases have been pros for several seasons already. He will be playing grown assed men who don't know or care that he's some hotshot NBA prospect. He will have to learn the culture of a new country, and figure out how to juggle the language barrier. He will likely not have an extensive support group. And since Euroleague teams often have limits on the number of Americans per roster, as well as the number of minutes they can play, it's entirely possible that he might find himself riding the bench merely for political reasons beyond his control. This could seriously backfire and adversely effect his draft status.

Whether or not others follow suit and start skipping the charade of college ball altogether remains to be seen, but several high profile recruits from next year's high school senior classes are said to be considering the same route. Should this become a trend, the longterm effects could be devastating to college basketball. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end of March Madness, or just some dumb kid who got some very bad advice and ruined his life.

I'll be keeping an eye on this, but I guess it raises a real question: Why not just start paying these guys to play college basketball?

NCAA basketball and football teams bring millions to the coffers of universities nationwide. These sports usually provide the financial support for non-revenue generating sports like lacrosse, softball, and track and field. Schools like south university choose to focus budget towards academics and other initiatives that benefit the entire student body. In many states, the highest paid public employee is some D-1 football or basketball coach. No, really.

What would be so wrong about doing some sorta profit sharing like any other corporation? Seriously, if a school can pay its' coach $3M per season, why shouldn't the very players that make said coach, the AD, and the Chancellor all richer get anything in return?

Why not give the players some set percentage of the program's earnings for a given season and put them in a mutual fund that becomes fully "vested" once the player's eligibility runs out? Guys who leave early simply forfeit this money, transfers and non-medical redshirts are exempt. All players, regardless of stats or position, get the same set amount contributed. Those graduating on-time get a financial bonus. The guys who stay, and God-willing, actually graduate, will leave school with a few thousand dollars and a headstart on life after hoops. Non-revenue generating sports get nothing but funding. The amount paid to each player is a uniform percentage, applied to each University, so just like the University of North Carolina's program makes more than Gonzaga's, it's players should get more. No, this wouldn't solve the problem of boosters and assorted hangers-on (what would?), but it would perhaps give these players something to look forward to after basketball other than a job at PepBoys and achy knees for life.

It's fair, and it wouldn't be very hard to do.

Somebody get the NCAA on the phone, pronto.

And before someone jumps in and says "isn't the four year scholarship these guys get payment enough?", fall back. Reality is, there are no four year athletic scholarships. Period. Scholarships are given for one year at a time, renewable at the end of each academic year at the coach's discretion. Point being: if you suck or get injured, you will be sent home, since you can't really do us good anymore. And this happens all the time.

For those who do actually graduate, you have to consider the rigors of literally playing sports as a full-time gig for 4 years. Modern athletics is a year-round cycle of pre-dawn training, chartered flights, and mandatory offseason workouts. There is little time for a "real" major, not with the extensive travel and practice schedules of most schools. Many of these guys come out after four years with some useless degree like criminal justice, sociology, or physical education. They might have been better off just forgoing college altogether and getting a job at Sizzler. The net-result is arguably the same.

So, for stickin' it to The System and doing for self, at least in theory, I congratulate young Brandon Jennings, and hope to see him in the green room at MSG next Summer. And for continuing the facade of "student athletics", when they know they're just exploiting these young bamas, I extend a mystery finger to the NCAA. Until they figure out better ways of treating the very athletes they hump and dump each year, I hope Mr. Jennings has lots of copycats.

Good luck, young man. You'll need plenty of it.

Questions (pick as many as you'd like): Do you think the NCAA should pay it's athletes? What do you think of AB's profit-sharing plan? Do you think Brandon Jennings will pan out in the Euroleague? Will his move become a movement if he does pan out? Should the NBA institute a two-year minimum? Do you have any idea why the photo above is so painful to me that I can hardly finish this sentence without breaking into hives?

Arizona signee Jennings heading for Europe [ESPN]

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