College are Not Meant to Be Minor Leagues

Recently Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney went on the record saying something many others in the college ranks have long felt but had been reluctant to say.  Delaney said that the purpose of college athletics is not to serve as minor league development for the pros.  The purpose is to offer student-athletes an opportunity to play for their schools while qualifying for scholarship financial aid.

If that sounds too simplistic in this modern age that does not mean Delaney is not correct.  At the same time some of his concerns may sound self serving when they are tied into what he thinks should be changed in the relations with the pros.  First of all he does not believe scholarship athletes should be paid.  Not only are they already being paid by being on scholarships that include tuition, room and board, but the majority of the schools in the NCAA could not afford to start adding cash to that value.  Much is noted of the 100-thousand fans that may witness a football game at Michigan or Tennessee, but both those schools may have only six or seven home games per year. And there are many other schools in D1 lucky to pull in 30,000 per outing. Much is made of the millions of dollars television is paying for rights to show games.  But little is said of the total number of scholarship athletes in all of Division I and how if that money was evenly divided under a socialist style of sharing to include all athletes at all schools, it would seriously curtail the schools abilities to maintain and improve facilities and could even result in the reduction of some full sports.

The Big 10 commissioner is part of a faction that favors instead of bringing college sports closer to the pros by paying stipends to scholarship athletes moving them further away.

He wants those who don’t want to come to college for education, but have to come to spend time before they can become pro athletes to stay away.  He wants the NBA and NFL to start their own minor league systems.  He wants a place for non-student athletes to develop their abilities without the sham of being called student-athletes.   Certainly, many players in the NBA and NFL would ultimately still come from the college ranks, but that would no longer be a necessity.

The most egregious example of what is wrong now is in college and pro basketball.  Players no longer can be drafted out of high school by the NBA.  They must play at least one year in college.  Texas Longhorn fans remember Kevin Durant.  Kentucky fans remember a number of former players.  Those basketball stars all spent time in college.  But if you blinked you missed them.  They were only there because they had to be.  Stories of the academic progress of the “one and outs” are legendary.  Many would load up on easy courses and only enough hours to keep eligible for the first semester.  In the second semester they would enroll, but if they attended any classes it would be by accident.  Once the basketball season ended that was it.  They were waiting for the draft.  Those are definitely not student-athletes.  If anything is done that is the most crucial change needed.

How does the NCAA change it?  Some say they should urge the NBA to follow the NFL example and make anyone draft eligible until after they have spent at least three years in school.  But others already claim that is unconstitutional since everyone should have a right to do what they wish.   Fortunately for the NFL there are few, if any, football players who would be ready or big and strong enough to play their sport in the NFL right out of high school.  They, and the players, actually benefit by the three year rule.  In basketball that is a whole different thing.

So what could be done?  Taking a look at baseball’s relationship with the colleges would be a start.  And changing the definition of when a player is considered a pro would help too.  The baseball/colleges do it right.  Baseball allows high school graduates to be drafted.  But the most important thing is that even if they are drafted, but do not sign a contract, the colleges do not consider them “tainted.”  They can retain their amateur eligibility.  In fact a single player can be drafted up to five times.  If a player is drafted from high school, but does not sign he can attend junior college and be drafted after his freshman year and again after his sophomore year.  He can then attend a four year school and be drafted again after he is 21–which normally is after his junior year.  If he is still not signed he can play out his college career and be drafted again.

The only variation in this is if he attends a four year school directly from high school.  In that case he cannot be drafted again until he turns 21 which is usually after his junior year.  The baseball rule is what Jim Delaney and many of his fellow administrators feel would be the most fair.

What would happen if it were instituted?  The basketball level of junior colleges would rise considerably and many of those players who found they were not drafted as high as they wished out of high school would go to a JC instead of locking themselves into three years on the NCAA level where they would have to also be students.  This is not to denigrate junior college education, but requirements for admission are often much lower than in the majority of four year institutions.

The NBA might actually like the idea since they could draft a player closer to when they thought he might be ready instead of taking a chance and over spending.  They could still draft and sign high schoolers, but wouldn’t have to if other options existed.  Also they would not have to build a full fledged minor league system.  The D-League would still serve a purpose.

For football there might not be much change that we have now since hardly any players are physically ready before they are 21 or older.  But the option for them would exist and again no real minor league system needed.

What would this mean for NCAA D1 athletics?  Oh there would be some future NBA stars who never played college basketball on the top level.  Is that really important?  Texas never won a title with Durant.  Kentucky has been running them in and out for years, but has just one title.  In basketball teamwork is so very important and that takes time to produce.  The teams that stay together for three or four years tend to be the biggest winners.  The current system is the worst.  Top high school stars play for one year then are gone.  It might be better if they were never there at all.  Many years ago Freshman were not even eligible to play on varsity teams in college.  That was when the players were student-athletes and the colleges wanted them on a firm academic footing.  We won’t ever go that far, but something needs to be done.  Jim Delaney thinks so. Many agree with him.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports. "Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros' Biggio & Bagwell Years" is available at many Barnes and Noble stores, Costco, Sam's Club and other selected locations. Also can be ordered through Amazon as hard copy of Kindle.
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