Quick Fix for O.J.

May 13, 2008

Let me start out controversially enough to hopefully pique your interest, but I will not elaborate immediately:

“The improper benefits issue is a covertly systematic form of racism.”

I am NOT just rabble rousing, and I am NOT calling those people who are offended by improper benefits ‘racist’. However, we need to consider the young men whom are frequently at the epicenters of the biggest scandals. Because they are in fact just that, young men with eyes set on a golden ticket and a chance to deliver their families from poverty. Conventional wisdom might tell some of us that if the golden ticket were there at a young age, then it would still be there when a person were officially eligible to receive money.

While it would be hard to put yourself in those shoes, try to think about how far away that payday must seem to a teenage boy with the weight of saving his family on his shoulders. Mike Golic thinks that age has nothing to do with this. He thinks these kids all know what they’re doing when they take money and other expensive gifts from questionable characters. Perhaps they do Golic, and perhaps immediate relief for their families with a slightly tarnished name is more important than struggling to get by for another year or three just to keep a squeaky clean reputation.

Yadda yadda yadda, how do you solve the problem?

First off, let’s stop pretending that improper benefits don’t happen. The sooner we can accept that reality, the sooner we can begin weighing realistic solutions. Improper benefits have happened in the past (this we know), they are happening now (this we pretend to not know until someone rats someone else out), and they will continue to happen (this I think we refuse to accept), so why not legalize the process and establish sanctions therein?

The solution is really that easy, but the NCAA will never even consider it, because college athletes are amateurs (!), and to allow them to receive money or other items of value would compromise the integrity of college athletics(!!!). But to allow the kids to take money with a promise to eventually sign with that company allows these kids to legally and prematurely access the money that would otherwise lure them out of college abruptly. If the money is promised independent of the university that the athlete chooses, the fairness of recruiting competition would probably increase to boot, as smaller schools with smaller boosters wouldn’t be edged out by Jerry Tarkanian-like gentlemen with specific universities’ interests in mind. These stipulations solve the problem of who is getting money, who is giving the money, how much money is changing hands, and what is promised in return.

Secondly, if a business wants to roll the dice on a 17-year-old kid, why should any one care to stop them? There are no guarantees, and an Agency could easily back a kid like Terrelle Pryor, and watch him turn into an “Xavier Lee”. Likewise, a company could become financially tied to a kid that they thought would Carmelo-ize a situation, but he instead took a very Malik Hairston-like 4 year path to mediocrity. These kids are calculated investments for potential agents, agents who eventually will be leaching off of the success of these kids. So why shouldn’t the athletes be allowed to capitalize on their own talent when they have the opportunity? If a student athlete with wealthy parents, and a student athlete with poorer parents both want to continue playing and studying in college, but the student with the poorer family has a greater sense of urgency tied to his professional pay day, then he CAN’T stay in school as long as the other kid can.

Yes, that’s right, some of these student athletes want to be in college. A chance to begin and possibly complete a 4-year degree while learning from a college level coach, and preparing their body against college competition for the pounding it will take against men twice their age. Hard theory to swallow? That’s fine, join the crowd of people ready to assign these young people a mentality that is completely self-serving, that cares only for money.

Analysts, On-Air personalities, old people stuck in old ways. They’ll all tell you that improper benefits are destroying college sports. Writers at FOX Sports, writers at Yahoo!, writers as Si.com, and writers at the World Wide Leader is using this case to put the NBA’s age limit on blast, question the integrity of the kids, the agents, the coaches, the universities. Some that fall in line with this type of thinking suggest that if these kids feel like they are ready to make the jump to the professional ranks, then they should be allowed to make the jump to the professional ranks. Then these universities would not be put into such a tenuous situation with 1-and-done players potentially flirting with the line of what is proper and what is an improper benefit.

Really? Is that the place that we’ve come to? When all of the sudden it is better to say:

“to hell with college, higher education, and the opportunity to better prepare these young men before sending them diving head long into the biggest stage in professional sports,”

than it is to say:

“perhaps the rules need amending in order to preserve the integrity and quality of both the college and professional games, and to encourage all young athletes to go to school”?

STOP LOOKING AT THE PAST! Here is today: different. All the bright lights of the big stage are even brighter. Rims are bigger. Bling twinkles more. The allure of riches and a life free of poverty is more alluring. But poor is still poor, and the difference between rich and poor is that much bigger. Call it greed if you have to, but it’s time to start accommodating these young men that are going to take the money anyway, AND stop ignoring them and then slandering them after they get caught doing what we already know they’re doing.
If the NCAA could pull its head out of the sand, it would see that this is a situation that cannot be monitored in its current state: underneath the table. Despite the recent whistle blowing, it is important to know that these events have unearthed but a small fraction of the extra aid that many college stars get. It happens at every school. A car lot wants to up its image with the college kids, so they “help” get a couple high profile players into a shiny set of wheels. A club wants to be the new hot spot so it lets the star athletes have VIP status, free drinks, no cover, etc., what-have-you. A booster wants to be the cool guy with the city’s most famous crowd, so he/she pads the pockets of some hungry college kids.

Listen folks, the NCAA can continue being like the US Government in its battle against marijuana, or it can set the standard for accepting change. Recognize when a situation is inevitable and unmanageable. This is not like the MLB trying to monitor steroids. These are sports agents and agencies that are trying to grease the door to slide in, and they can be held accountable if they are given a set of rules to play by. Right now there are just some yet to be established agents taking advantage of the fact that they have nothing to lose. If the big boys were allowed to play in the game too, then the guys in the shadows would not have that same leverage. If the NCAA, NBA and NFL required that any agents engaging in Good Trust deals with young athletes enter into a binding contract that is necessarily independent of Universities, then they could monitor the flow of monies.

Assumptions:
- Money and gifts are reported and taxable.
- Money and gifts are good faith contributions. (i.e. if the athlete does not sign a pro contract, the athlete is not required to pay the full amount)
- Contracts are binding, and neither the athlete, nor the agency can exit the contract prior to the end of the athletes’ eligibility.
- Contracts will not contain stipulations regarding choice of school, staying in or at a particular school, performance based incentives, academic based incentives.
- Athletes will still maintain amateur status regarding endorsements.

I know this is tough to wrap the head around, and I’m sure I didn’t nail all the kinks. But if improper benefits won’t ever stop (and they won’t), and neither the athletes nor the agents can be held accountable after the fact, then we can all keep playing dumb and then acting shocked, or we can begin looking for ways to have control over the situation, and find a way of making someone accountable.

9 Responses to “Quick Fix for O.J.”

  1. Mike said

    Good points, but what about the 7th and 8th graders being recruited at basketball camps and such? Many of these kids have been recruited before they enter high school. Is it wise or ethical to be offering contracts to kids at this age?

    First of all, I hate the age requirement for the NBA. The NFL has it, because of the nature of the sport. Basketball players don’t need the health protection. For every Kobe Bryant, there’s a Kwame Brown. So if an NBA team wants to take on the risk let them.

    Second, I believe there should be compensation for college athletes. The reason outside university funding won’t work is because hell will be brought down from women sports. These marketing groups will not pay the money to women as men. It won’t be allowed.

    Solution. Open the gate for these kids to enter the NBA draft early if they wish after high school. Those who choose to attend college should have a miscellaneous account where a monthly payment goes to athletes on scholarship. It would be modest, but lets say a $1,000 month additional payment on top of tuition and food should help them out personally.

    Lastly, the family situation: Any parent that wants to put that kind of pressure on their child is just plain selfish. These parents need to support their child’s decision. If he goes pro great, if he goes to school great. I think the parent situation is part of a bigger issue.

    If the NCAA built in these payments into scholarships, then student athletes get the payments they deserve.

  2. Unconvinced said

    College is for amateurs. Professional leagues are for pros.

    There is nothing preventing 18 year old basketball players (or 16 or 17 probably for that matter) from playing in one of the many professional leagues not named the NBA for one year.

    You seek a new paradigm where none is needed and you bandy about labels like racism to make your point. The former could be an honest mistake, but the latter probably makes you a bad person.

    If a person wants to go to college, go to college and accept all that comes with it. If a person wants to turn pro, turn pro and accept all that comes with it. If there were no alternative to college, you might possibly maybe begin to have a point. But there is not an absence of alternatives.

    The fact that you fail to point out the other professional leagues around the globe or even the NBDL undermines the entirety of your argument. Why is this situation undesirable? The competition at a top club in Europe would be better than losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament better preparing them for the NBA, experiencing life abroad is probably a more appropriate preparation for having large sums of cash thrown at your feet than pretending to take Algebra II for one semester, and they are getting paid to boot.

    The one-and-dones are not the victim. They want to have their cake and eat it too. Its a perfectly understandable position to hold, but it doesn’t mean that they should get it. And it certainly doesn’t mean anyone or any system is racist. Let them make their choices and live with them, like the rest of us adults do.

    Of course this is all academic. The improper benefits system will eat itself in due time. After enough Reggie Bush’s and OJ Mayo’s come through, and enough colleges are punished and harshly enough, the schools won’t be interested in kids who are most likely to take the improper benefits and those kids will be funneled to the other leagues anyway.

    Win/win. College stays amateur while getting the kids most likely to be proper student-athletes, and kids who should be playing pro ball begin to beat the path of what will become the new one and done in Europe and elsewhere and get paid to do it instead of staying with the safe and familiar.

  3. Taylor said

    These are all interesting points.
    I am still unsure who I want to side with here… Unconvinced- You bring up a lot of good points, but I am not sure that sending these kids overseas is a great alternative to the situation at present. I wish there was some kind of a happy medium where these kids could still go to school, but reap the benefits of their monsterous talents. Like it or not, institutionalized racism exists still- That doesn’t make the person who points this out a bad person, it means we need to make some changes in our society at large. If we continue to be void in engaging in discourse about the covert racism that happens all the time, no solution will ever surface out of fear of talking about it. That, in my opinion, makes YOU a bad person.

    At any rate- Interesting points all around.

  4. ruggedly said

    Unconvinced - That is a great scenario. I would love it if some of those kids did go and play pro ball over seas and then made the jump to the NBA. The thing is, you can’t make them do that. You could even go as far as to mandate it. They will still continue going to whatever schools they want to, and even if a bunch of preps begin migrating toward European leagues, the preps that stay at home and go to college will still get extra benefits. If you don’t know that, and if you think that Universities will really ever stop pursuing the top high school talents because they suspect extra benefits, then you are not a bad person, but you are delusional.

    Extra benefits are inevitable, and if we don’t find a way to stop banning them, and start controlling them, then we’ll just keep watching new scandals pop up year after year, with no one to hold accountable.

    Mike - It may be easy to call these parents selfish, but if your family needed your help, it would not take the convincing of a selfish adult for you to feel pressured to help them. That is just love. OJ Mayo’s mother gave birth to him when she was 17 years old. She has struggled his whole life to financially make ends meet, and I guarantee you no matter how selfish or unselfish she were, O.J. would still feel pressured to save her from her poverty.

    Improper benefits date to long before the NBA’s age limit, so removing it will not stop boosters and agents from giving illegal money.

  5. Unconvinced said

    When what I predict comes to pass, the college players won’t be receiving the benefits in the way we see them today for one simple reason. The players in college will be very unlikely to ever turn pro. There will be no reason to specifically woo them. The best players will have already turned pro.

    The kids who would have agents chasing after them will already have agents, perhaps as young as 14 or 15, and they will already be professionals and possibly millionaires.

    To me it is absolutely selfish for the kids and their parents to want them to turn pro. And this is a GOOD THING. They should do it immediately. If an agent wants to talk to your 15 year old basketball player and wants them to earn money. GO DO IT. THERE IS NOTHING STOPPING YOU.

    This is the message that needs to get out. Not all these distractions about arbitrary notions like fairness and accusations of institutional racism. GO GET YOUR PAPER NOW. THERE IS NOTHING STOPPING YOU.

    And to me, to accuse racism without naming names and without specific proof is a very bad thing. The purpose is to shame and to shut down debate. The purpose is to claim an artificial moral authority. So I stand by my outright rejection. If a case is strong enough for racism, it will be perfectly visible and need not even be named. There is no racism here. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the people in the NBA benefitting from this rule are black. They are the players who are already in the league. Their job security is marginally increased when they don’t have to worry about losing their job to some prospect who may be set to make twice as much as them but may or may not pan out.

  6. ruggedly said

    Unconvinced - if you think that all racism has a name, and is completely visible to everyone at once, or not existant at all, then I’m afraid that we haven’t experienced the same prejudice in our lives. I can see that you are set in you views though, so we apparently need to agree to disagree.

  7. [...] and players both are becoming eerily similar to Dr. Frankenstein. Our ambition drives us to madness such that we are blind to the monster we [...]

  8. Haveasoda said

    If this were Europe we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Kids are signed at an early age. I am thinking specifically about football (soccer) young men with talent are signed to a team or agent when they are believed to have great skill. You know who is against kids getting signed at a young age? NCAA without those talented kids playing college level athletics how could they make their money from TV and or boosters. It isn’t going to happen because the people in charge are the puppet masters and there is no denying that. Side deals for athletes with more talent than the others won’t happen because they then would in fact be getting paid because of their skills and therefore be a professional.
    If an athlete comes from a poor family and has amazing talent should they be able to break the rules? I don’t like how society is either but I follow the laws, I don’t take what I believe I can get or am owed because I don’t think I will get caught.

    High profile athletes are their own species, somebody always wants something from them and that is sad, but it is how things are.

  9. Nathan said

    Wow, this got a little heated. Just a few side points. Unconvinced makes a good point, these guys can go pro whenever they want, they just can’t play in the NBA, and its not because of NCAA that the rule exists, its because the NBA doesnt want these guys yet. It was obviously damaging their product (Check statistics from 200-2006 when high school draftees got out of control) ratings were down, almost 2 spots per team were held by guys not ready to play. I think the NBA needs to make the NBADL a farm type system if it isnt already and tie team control to an NBADL team so they can develop players while still having team control of that guy. Secondly, I would like to see some real sanctions put on teams, like if they were to decide that Reggie Bush did in fact receive improper benefits, and USC had any knowledge of it, suspend them from Bowl Play for one year, and the next case of it make it two years. I honestly believe people would make more of an effort to stop these guys from receiving the money. Lastly, this is not just black guys, Rhett Bomar is one of the most famous cases I can remember

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