From some of the reporting, we are supposed to be shocked at the recent announcement that the three-year investigation of college basketball by the FBI that had produced several indictments for bribery and conspiracy has now revealed thousands of dollars in payments by prospective agents and recruiters to current and former college basketball players from prominent schools across the country. What else is new? The Knight Commission has been digging out and reporting these kinds of transgressions and other elements of the corrupt nature of the student/athlete myth for over 25 years. Yet here is the response from NCAA President Mark Emmert: “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports”.
This is borderline terminal naivete. Football and basketball at the major college level have long ago become big time corporate and institutional interests with multi-billion dollar markets. Are we supposed to believe that a portion of this largesse will not find its way to the athletes? Many administrators and observers believe there is only one cure—end the facade of the amateurism requirement and compensate the athletes. I have long believed that this is the wrong direction because these under the table payments are not the only corruption in the current system. And it is not analogous to talents in other fields, such as music and the arts, because of the corrupting influence of the enormous difference in the money involved.
As the Knight Commission has noted, the overall commercialization of college football and men’s college basketball is itself a corruption of the college mission perpetrated by the NFL and NBA and their enablers in the major college conferences who greatly benefit. We should end this major source of corruption by requiring that the professional football and basketball leagues maintain their own player development leagues and cease the reliance on the colleges as minor league systems. College football and basketball should adopt the same rule as college baseball: that if a player signs a letter of intent and registers in school, he is ineligible for the professional draft for three years or until his 21st birthday. That is the player’s choice—either pursue an athletic career after high school or a college career–but the colleges should cease to be the minor league system. This won’t entirely fix the problem, but it will be a move in the right direction and possibly even restore at least some validity to the term “student/athlete”.