Saturday, May 17, 2008

The NCAA: Monopolizing Talent

The NCAA is one of the biggest monopolies America has ever known. If you are one of thousands of athletes that are looking to make it pro, and are not one of the select few that can go straight from high school, you have one choice: go to college and play there. Each year, perhaps five high schoolers go straight to the minor leagues in baseball. Every other athlete needs to go to college for at least one year, depending on the mandate for their particular sport. There is one league to play in: the NCAA.

So, the NCAA gets to demand anything they want from their players. For instance, the NCAA is the only organization that is allowed to profit from this monopoly. The players cannot profit. Contracts are illegal, recruitment briberies are frowned upon on the highest level. It is essentially mandated students must see no profit from their abilities until they are on the professional level. Although college athletes often get as much attention as professionals, their bank accounts must remain empty. 

That brings us to the OJ Mayo issue. He is accused of accepting money and gifts from USC throughout his high school career in order to attend the university (for one year before he inevitably declares for the NBA). While the issue of how long players should stay in school is its own discussion, the issue of gifts and payment is poignant. 

This is not the first time USC athletics is accused of this type of behavior. Their football program fell under similar allegations with Reggie Bush. Do I think USC is guilty of wrongdoing in both of these cases? Yes. Do I think college kids should be allowed to receive benefits for their talents? Of course. And they will when they get to the pros. I think it is unfair for the NCAA to benefit so heavily from their talents, while the athletes themselves receive nothing. An untimely injury can leave them disabled and incapable of ever seeing the benefits of their ability. 

Yet, after all, they are just kids. It would be a dangerous environment to give a college student millions of dollars worth of contracts while still in school. And, after all, college is supposed to be about learning the rules of life and experiencing life for yourself. As the commercial says, "Most student athletes go pro in something other than sports." So let them live their college life, and they will get their pay day in the pros if they are good enough. 

These recruitment rules are in place to protect the integrity of the college system. The reason people are so drawn to college sports is the purity. It is athletes playing for the pride of their school. As a University of Maryland student, we pay thousands of dollars each year, some of which goes to paying for the tuition of our basketball and football players. We do this so we can be proud of the school we go to, and say "Hey, our basketball program was the best in the country and won it all in 2002." This pride in the program and in the integrity of the sport makes it better in some respects than professional sports. That is why these rules exist, and because of this and this alone, they need to be honored and respected.

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