Band-Aids Are Not Going To Fix This

The NCAA cannot be fixed by giving athletes stipends or easing the transfer rules for athletes.  To its credit the NCAA is attempting to keep itself alive with new and somewhat innovative ideas.  Yet all of the ideas and all of the proposals fail to acknowledge the problem the NCAA has.  It is an anachronism and an anomaly.

The NCAA comes from a time when amateurism was the ideal.  It began when professional sports were the anomaly and not the rule.  It is the tip of a scholastic sports system that is unique to this country.  Sports development is for the most part the province of high schools and colleges, which differs from almost every other country on the planet.  This may be the only non-totalitarian country where athletes are not allowed to pursue their own professionalism on their own timetable.  That is true at least in the two biggest team sports.

The rest of the world aids and pushes its best young athletes to become professionals as soon as they are ready.  This stems from sports being developed outside the scholastic realm and in a purely professional realm in Europe and South America.  On those continents, the development of athletes is the province of professional clubs who bring in and train athletes beginning at a young age (between 8-13). This ideal is at odds with the very nature of the NCAA and the scholastic sports system it represents.

I always think of it this way:  If a kid is a good musician in high school (not a prodigy talent, but good), he can play professional gigs in high school, he can earn a college scholarship to continue his education, he can continue to play professionally through college, and the world does not spin off its access at this attack on amateurism.  The core of my argument is why is this different for athletes?  It is unfair to treat athletes as a different class of citizen then other people in the same age range.

All the proposals the NCAA is starting to put out are not about protecting the athletes or providing a better environment for athletes to pursue their sport professionally.  They are about protecting the existence of the NCAA.  I don’t think in the long term that is a viable solution and unless there is some fundamental change in the sporting structure of this country, I don’t see how the NCAA will continue to exist.

The NCAA’s current solutions don’t address the true problems in the system.  Currently, athletes are not allowed to use their skills to make money until the system grants them permission because of some arbitrary age restrictions that attempt to protect an amateurism that no longer exists.

Athletes in the two biggest sports are at the mercy of the NCAA because there is nowhere for them to go.  For their own selfish (re: monetary) reasons, the NBA and NFL cannot or will not create a path outside of the NCAA to get to those leagues.  This makes the leagues complicit in this sham and unless and until the NCAA is broken up, athletes will still be governed by arbitrary and capricious rules everyone in a position of power simply accepts.

The other thing is, when we say athletes, we are talking about athletes in two sports, football and basketball.  Tennis players, golfers, baseball players, and even soccer players either do not participate in or leave the NCAA system all the time because there are professional pathways they can follow.

The question again, why are these athletes different?  The obvious answer is money.  Football and basketball make a lot of money.  If the pipeline of talent were to drain off and bypass the NCAA the fountain of money that is televised sports may not dry up completely, but it would certainly stop being as bountiful.

As Hal Holbrook told Robert Redford, “Follow the money.”  The NCAA schools make all their money off of football and basketball and the sports leagues get a free training ground for its players.  That is the primary reason I believe those organizations will do nothing to address the silliness of the system until it comes crashing down upon itself, and it will come crashing down upon itself.  No amount of stipend Band-Aids will stop that from happening.

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