Today, Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League has been subpoenaed in the FBI investigation regarding bribery in college basketball. An investigation which has already seen the indictment of four Division 1 assistant coaches and the removal of Louisville Head Basketball Coach, Rick Pitino and Athletic Director, Tom Jurich from their positions as well as an indictment for an executive with Adidas. Still think there isn’t a problem with college sports? But the real question is: why? Not why there are coaches involved (money), nor why there are shoe execs involved (money), nor why are there players involved (money). The real question is: why does this need to happen at all?
There is a fundamental flaw in a system that requires athletes to negotiate through NCAA regulations regarding eligibility in order to compete for future professional employment. Basically, if you do not attend college in this country, you simply cannot get a job as an NBA player nor an NFL player. Period. That’s not true for soccer where European clubs pay younger players to train in their developmental leagues. Nor is it true in baseball where players can start in the minors straight out of high school. PGA, Tennis and the NHL don’t require it either. Probably because it’s a ridiculous system that makes absolutely no sense. Not only do the NBA and NFL deprive these athletes a chance to earn a living in their chosen profession out of high school, the NCAA requirements put them under an onerous burden that clearly exacerbates the problem. It hardly represents the ideals of a free market society.
I’ve heard the argument that a college education is an ample payment. I don’t disagree, for most student-athletes, it’s a great deal. Not just a good deal, but a GREAT deal. But the real issue isn’t whether it’s a good deal or not, it’s whether it is commensurate compensation compared to what the market will bear. The current scandal illustrates clearly that the market will bear a hell of a lot more than simply a college education for those exceptional athletes with professional potential. Yet the only way these players can access their true market value is to resort to illegal activities. Activities, BTW, that are only illegal because of the flawed system they are forced to negotiate if they ever want a chance to realize their potential in the NBA or NFL.
So the NFL and NBA get a free farm system for their leagues, with collusion from the NCAA that just so happens to generate billions of dollars in revenue from their football and basketball programs, and the elite athletes get under-compensated. Now I freely acknowledge that the NCAA system provides so many educational opportunities for athletes, the kids that will never play in the NBA or NFL that it balances out. More than that, I would go so far as to say that the system is of inestimable benefit to society because the number of athletes to whom it provides educational opportunities far outweighs the injustice to the few future professional athletes that get screwed. After all, they are going to get paid in a year or two assuming they don’t get injured. But that doesn’t make it right or fair. There is still injustice and imbalance in the system and, as long as that remains, we will continue to have corruption and scandal.