YOSHONIS: College basketball needs to rid itself of the amateur ‘ideal’

Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (2) dunks the ball against Michigan during the Big Ten Conference tournament semifinal. Jackson is entering the NBA draft after one year at MSU. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (2) dunks the ball against Michigan during the Big Ten Conference tournament semifinal. Jackson is entering the NBA draft after one year at MSU. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

The college basketball season usually ends with what has become to be known (and trademarked, naturally) as March Madness.

But this year, the real madness came about three weeks later, on April 25, 2018, when the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball issued a set of recommendations that would try to address the increasing corruption in the sport.

The NCAA set up the Commission to, in its words, “to identify bold legislative, policy and structural modifications to improve the integrity of our processes and the well-being of our student athletes.”

That’s funny. It’s that last bit that makes me laugh the hardest.

What the NCAA really wants regarding its “student athletes” is to keep them from getting paid, maintaining the charade of amateurism and pretending that those who play college basketball are just regular college kids who happen to want to play basketball while they study for a degree in something else.

The Commission was formed in response to the news that the FBI was investigating recruiting violations among coaches, agents and apparel companies. Ten people were arrested in September, including officials at Adidas and assistant coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State, USC and Auburn.

Some of the recommendations of the Commission actually addressed those issues, but it also could not help itself in trying to perpetuate the outdated idea of amateurism.

Until that idea is quashed, nothing of any substance will ever change in college basketball.

I have argued before that schools should embrace the idea that some kids go to college for no other reason than to be able to play professional sports, instead of lying to themselves and denying it. They should be allowed to actually major in their chosen profession, football or basketball.

The NCAA will tell you, perfectly accurately, that the vast majority of college athletes will not make a living in professional sports. They can even rightly claim that most college football and basketball players will not, despite the fact that playing college football or basketball are virtually required for pursuing those sports as a career.

The NCAA will tell you that amateurism is some sort of noble, morally wonderful activity that “has the correct perspective” or “plays for the right reasons.”

Balderdash.

That argument has been made for over a century now, and is no more odious now than it was when it was first created as a way to allow rich, pre-World War I European aristocrats to feel superior to those who sully themselves by actually working for a living.

Sure, most college basketball players won’t make it to the NBA, and most of them are playing basketball as a means of getting a degree. That’s fine, and it’s something to be applauded.

But those aren’t the ones who generate the billions of dollars every year that NCAA basketball brings to its schools and to TV networks.

The hypocrisy of amateurism in college sports will remain as long as amateurism in college sports remains. The NCAA is really the only place left on Earth where amateurism in sports matters.

And it shouldn’t. There is absolutely no reason for it, other than to artificially inflate the obscene amount of money generated by college sports by not having to pay those who generate it.

If a college wants to attract players by paying them, let them. The cynic would argue that many colleges already do, they just hide it well. And there is an element of truth to that.

But until the players can be paid openly and above-board, there will always be coaches and schools which look to gain a competitive advantage by paying them secretly, finding ever more innovative ways to get away with it.

And no amount of committees or Commissions tweaking and tinkering and adjusting the rules that try to keep it from happening will ever change that.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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