NCAA Forces Football and School to Go Together (Unfortunately)

Amidst the beginning of the 2017 college football season, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen made a statement about student athleticism that has shook up the world of collegiate athletics. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Rosen said that “football and school don’t go together, they just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way. Then there’s the other side that says to raise the SAT eligibility requirements. Ok, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.”

Rosen isn’t the first football player to make this point. Back in 2015, Seattle Seahawks’ three time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman spoke about the difficulty in balancing a life as both a college football player and full time student. But could there be a way out of this difficult situation? If so, what would it look like?

The concern that Rosen has over the time constraints of being an elite Division-I athlete and a student shouldn’t come as a surprise. College football brings in huge revenues for the school, the conference and the NCAA. As those revenues have continued to grow, less emphasis has been placed on academics for those who compete and star on the highest level. As a result, many football players choose an easy major with a light work load in order to stay eligible. Rosen’s major, economics, takes more time and effort than one which simply keeps you eligible to play a time consuming sport. So it would seem as if he has a first-hand experience as to the difficulties a student-athlete would encounter when dealing with the pressure of an intense academic schedule.

Rosen’s claim that there are players competing at the highest levels in college football who have no business being in college should also not come as a surprise either. Since putting a great team on the field takes priority over other concerns, elite schools in top conferences will often forgo sub-par academic performance in order to assemble a better squad. This is often why easy majors at these universities exist in the first place. It has also lead to a number of academic scandals involving top athletic programs.

The key statement in Rosen’s comment is that “there’s no other way.” This refers to the fact that playing football in college is the only real way to get noticed by the NFL. Despite college academics having nothing to do with playing a sport, top football players are forced to take on a full time class schedule and football schedule at the same time if they want to reach the professional level. Since a player must be removed from high school for three years before entering the NFL Draft, an athlete must find a way to stay eligible through several semesters. This is a significant difference from the NBA’s “one and done” rule where athletes leaving school after one year only have to stay eligible for a single semester before being drafted.

The solution to this problem is that the NFL needs to take a page out of Major League Baseball’s playbook. Create a minor league system that allows players to be drafted by an NFL team and develop their skills on that level before going pro. This way, players who do not desire a full time college schedule or those not able to undertake one would not have to. Doing this would certainly provide the “other way” that Rosen cited as not existing in the current system.

Sadly, the NCAA would not let this solution occur. Allowing another path to the NFL would likely cause many elite football players to choose against playing for a top school. Thus, the level of talent on the field would suffer. The NCAA is not about to let this happen. So for the sake of maintaining a certain level of play in college athletics, they will prevent a “minor league” system managed by the NFL that would threaten their significance. The revenue stream for college football can’t be threatened in any way. As a result, going to college must remain the only way for an outstanding football player to display the talent that he has. Whether that player has the academic ability or desire to be in college in the first place will not be a matter for concern.

John Thompson Delivers Best Quote From Latest ’30 for 30′

The latest installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, One and Not Done, examines the career of current Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach John Calipari. The title is derived from a certain type of player in college basketball who only plays one year at a school, then goes into the NBA draft. This phenomenon has occurred primarily after the NBA passed a rule in 2005 making it so that drafted players had to be at least one year out of high school. Calipari is largely credited in leading the way in getting elite players only wishing to play one year of college basketball before jumping to the professional level. This has made him a controversial figure in the college basketball world.

Most of the documentary reviews Calipari’s beginnings as a head coach and his rise through the ranks of basketball. The “one and done” phenomenon is only introduced and discussed throughout the two hour film’s last half hour. But in the midst of all of the discussions and opinions about the system Calipari has pioneered, one quote stood out as perhaps the truest and most insightful. That quote was from former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson when discussing the departure of many of these players from the ranks of college basketball. After claiming that he wouldn’t like Calipari if he were currently trying to coach against him, Thompson said:

“this whole religious experience that we have about people leaving school. How many people have you heard of, millionaires and billionaires, that dropped out of school and still were successful in life?”

First of all, Thompson’s equating of college with religion is strikingly accurate. In both the American political and social circle, college is exalted to a near religious status. More money for college (provided by government of course) is always good. More kids going to college is always a sign of societal improvement. More college graduates are nothing but a positive for social advancement. Few American institutions are more sacrosanct than that of higher education.

The second part of his quote displays an overwhelming truth as well. That is the fact that many people aside from college basketball players do not need college to become successful. Remarkably wealthy entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Ralph Lauren and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college before receiving a degree. But of course, there isn’t the lamenting over the abrupt departure from college when it comes to these individuals. This is because performing the job that gets them this wealth is not a spectator sport at the amateur level like basketball is. No one was gathering around a television to watch Zuckerberg write algorithms in college (or out of college for that matter). But since college basketball is a wildly popular televised event, many people can’t seem to cease all of the lamenting as to why elite basketball players choose to leave school for a big paycheck rather than stay at a level that doesn’t pay them at all.

Not only is Thompson’s quote accurate, but it’s refreshing to hear someone from his generation embrace the market-driven aspect of these players’ decisions. Thompson is 75 years old and had his heyday as Georgetown’s head coach in the 1980’s. Back then, players were much more likely to stay longer at college than they are today. Patrick Ewing, the best player Thompson ever coached, stayed all four years at Georgetown. It would be unthinkable for a player of his talent to stay at a school that long this day in age. Other coaches from Thompson’s era, like Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight, have been quite critical of “one and done” players. It seems these coaches aren’t content with simply preventing players from getting paid for their skills for just one year.

Of course, for those of us who believe in the freedom of contract and self-ownership, the problem with the “one and done” rule is that it requires those who have reached the age of adulthood to spend at least a year not being able to profit off of the talents that they have. Therefore, there should be no age requirement after a player gets out of high school who has the talent to play a professional sport. All college athletes are barred from receiving any financial compensation for the duration of their college careers. So by preventing athletes from entering the draft for any period of time, the freedom of contract is violated.

So Thompson certainly deserves credit for recognizing that times have changed and those elite basketball players who do leave school early are just responding to the economic incentives that can lure people out of college to pursue any other career. Perhaps if the NCAA and NBA came to accept this fact, athletes considered to be adults by law could be allowed to enter the draft and get compensated for their talents. Either that, or allow college athletes to get paid while competing at the school. But the prevention of these things will only cause those athletes to see greener pastures at the professional level and make the decision to get paid what they are worth.

Ledecky Shouldn’t Have to Choose, But Wealth Makes Choice Possible

Five time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky has passed up the opportunity to become a professional swimmer in order to maintain her amateur status and swim for Stanford University. She was faced with the choice to either cash in on endorsement deals by turning pro or compete collegiately in an elite swimming program while working towards a degree. Estimates are that she could have earned as much as five million dollars annually had she decided against swimming in college. The Olympic champion was still able to collect the prize money given to the game’s medalists.

The NCAA’s prevention of its athletes being able to profit off of their talent is what leads to the choice that Ledecky (and others) have to make. Competing collegiately means the athlete must forgo any endorsement deals that may be offered. In order maintain their claim of amateurism, the NCAA strictly enforces the lack of payment to its athletes despite collecting extraordinary amounts of money from their skill sets. Thus, the money one could get from leaving college and becoming a professional is often too enticing to pass up.

Refusing to compensate athletes through possible endorsements appears to be a detrimental policy for the NCAA. Not only does staying in college to compete in a sport appear to be a risky financial decision, but the American public seems to be embracing the idea of allowing college athletes to receive endorsement money. A 2014 Reason-Rupe poll found that 64% of those surveyed thought that student-athletes should receive money if a college or company sells gear containing their likeness or jersey number. Who or what is ultimately harmed if Ledecky were to be paid by those willing to compensate her for her likeness? Well, other than the NCAA’s increasingly unpopular definition of amateurism of course.

One may wonder why Ledecky left so much money on the table in order to commence a college swimming career that isn’t going to pay her. It may seem like a big risk considering the possibility of injury that is always lurking for all athletes. But looking into Ledecky’s family, it’s clear that the lifestyle she comes from minimizes those risks and makes competing as an amateur much more appealing. Her father, David, is a Washington D.C area attorney who has a B.A. from Harvard and went to law school at Yale. Her uncle, Jon, is one of the owners of the New York Islanders hockey team. For obvious reasons, someone coming from this kind of economic status is better equipped to embrace a choice that emphasizes collegiate amateurism rather than a professional pay day.

Since collegiate swimming receives very little fanfare throughout the country, Ledecky’s decision in this matter was not met with many strong opinions either celebrating or condemning her for it. The game that American sports fans complain about most when it comes to its athletes selecting a professional career over spending time in playing as an amateur is clearly college basketball. There seems to be a collective lamenting throughout the nation after the end of every March Madness when a huge portion of the college basketball elite opt for the NBA over another year at their university. However, it isn’t hard to see why this is the case. College basketball players who are able to become high picks in the NBA draft often come from disadvantaged, urban areas of the country. The payout they would receive from becoming a professional is usually vastly more money than either they or anyone in their family has ever seen before or will ever see again. So can we really expect poor, inner city youths faced with the possibility of million dollar salaries and endorsement deals to make the same economic decision as someone as financially privileged as Ledecky?

All of this makes an excellent case for why college athletes should be able to get paid by their schools and enter into endorsement deals. If the lure of a pro salary is too enticing, then allowing amateurs to collect some money for their talent is a good way to lessen that enticement so that more will choose to return to college. Sadly, the NCAA shows very few signs of adopting this model despite the positives that would likely occur. As of right now, in order to minimize the risk of delaying a professional salary, you need Ledecky-level family money.

 

Ben Simmons Going Number One Shows Absurdity of NBA Age Limit

The NBA’s much anticipated draft night has come and gone. The annual event often provides plenty of surprise and debate over the order of the draftees. But what was certainly not a surprise was the Philadelphia 76ers using their number one overall pick to draft LSU’s Ben Simmons. Not only was Simmons often called the best NBA prospect, but Philadelphia allegedly informed him that they were going to take him with the draft’s top selection.

Simmons ascending to the top draft spot was certainly not unexpected. Even prior to the 2015-2016 college basketball season, many identified him as the year’s most promising choice. He’s been described as having point guard skills in a 6′ 10″ in body. Combine this with his speed and leaping ability and it isn’t hard to see why the NBA’s lottery teams were put on notice all year of the things that he was able to do on the court.

What has become apparent about Simmons’ lone year he played in college is how insignificant it was to his development as a player. If anyone in the NBA didn’t know about his superior skills before the start of the college basketball season, they didn’t have to wait long for those skills to be fully displayed. Certainly Simmons did not need the entire college basketball season to prove that he deserved to be the draft’s number one overall pick. Yet the freshman phenome continued to play throughout the rest of the regular season while putting his body at risk for no salary.

What made Simmons’ case somewhat unusual was that he did not play on an elite or even good team during his one and only year in college. LSU’s basketball team was so bad during the 2015-2016 season that they didn’t even make the 64 team NCAA tournament despite Simmons’ greatness. This is an especially unusual occurrence for such a high profile player considering that they usually gravitate toward the country’s best programs. But this inability to get his team to The Big Dance was apparently not enough to deter the 76ers from making him their selection.

As inconsequential as Simmons’ freshman year at LSU seemed to be, what came off looking even more worthless was the academic undertaking that he experienced at the university. Whereas the actual intelligence of the Tigers’ big man cannot be known, he appeared to be mostly disinterested in furthering any kind of education while at the school. Academics were so ignored by Simmons that he was initially benched by his head coach for most of the first half of a game against Tennessee. At the end of the regular season, it was revealed that he was not eligible for the Wooden Award (given each year to the most outstanding men’s and women’s college basketball player) because he did not meet the minimum requirement of having a 2.0 GPA.

One could make the case that Simmons should have applied himself more on the academic end so that his team would not be hurt by his being benched for nearly a half and so he would be at least eligible for college basketball’s top regular season award. But why was someone like Simmons who was so uninterested in furthering his education put into college in the first place when he has a separate skill (playing basketball) that he did so well? The answer to this question comes in the form of the NBA’s age limit that went into effect before their 2006 draft. As a result of this rule, players no longer could jump directly from high school to the NBA since the age limit said all draftees must be 19 years old and be at least one year out of high school.

If any recent NBA Draft selection demonstrated the absurdity of the league’s age limit, it would be Simmons. Here we have someone who barely even needed college basketball to demonstrate his skills, played on an average team and didn’t benefit from the opportunity to further his education in the slightest. But despite his academic struggles and his team’s mediocrity, Simmons still became the draft’s top pick. Now he will finally get paid for the considerable skills that he has for what he does best.

So what is the solution to avoid a situation like Simmons’ in the future? The NBA should remove its age limit and start developing young players in the Developmental League (D-League) if they aren’t yet ready to play professionally. This way, NBA ready high schoolers who have no interest in furthering their education (like Simmons) could focus more on what is most likely to be their career. If this sounds extreme or unworkable, consider that Major League Baseball does virtually the same thing by drafting players of different ages (including out of high school) and placing them into a minor league system. The NBA would be wise, not to mention fair, to allow promising high school stars the same opportunity that MLB provides. Sadly, this is currently not the case.

 

Louisiana Budget Crisis Highlights Benefits of LSU’s Resistance to Subsidies

The budget crisis in Louisiana is so bad that it apparently threatens the upcoming college football season. This is according to the state’s new Democratic governor John Bel Edwards. The current yearly budget deficit has reached $940 million. The situation is so dire that higher education in the state faces the realistic possibility of running out of money and taking college sports with it.

Even though all Louisiana state funded colleges are faced with this harsh reality, the focal point of much of the public’s scorn is directed at the possibility of no LSU football this coming season. Much of the old south is Southeastern Conference (SEC) country and college football commands more attention there than even professional sports. Thus, the emotion that comes with the threat of not having LSU football looms much larger in the minds of many Louisianans than the threat of cancellation of other school’s athletics or even the possibility of academic shutdown on campuses. In the land of the SEC, college football will grab headlines over most other issues. This is especially true when its very existence is being threatened.

Upon closer inspection of Louisiana’s state budget, one can see that a major culprit for the deficit has been corporate giveaways. Under former governor Bobby Jindal’s predecessor, money given to the six largest recipients of government subsidies totaled $200 million. But under Jindal, that amount grew to $1 billion. Combine this with the state’s 400 other handouts, plus the raiding of rainy day funds to cover shortfalls and you have a recipe for a budget disaster.

So in order to put Louisiana’s fiscal house back in order, Governor Edwards has proposed one of the largest tax increases in state history. Taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, rental cars and other items are due to be increased as a part of the governor’s proposal. But given that Edwards is facing a legislature controlled by Republicans, many of these tax increases appear unlikely. A bipartisan compromise will probably be reached combining some tax hikes with some spending cuts.

But of all the things to threaten to shut down, why did Edwards target higher education and college sports? The answer lies in an old political trick called Washington Monument Syndrome (or sometimes Mount Rushmore Syndrome). This is a phenomenon where a government facing some sort of revenue shortfall or budget crisis will cut government funds which cause the most visible pain. Once the public witnesses this pain, opinion shifts in a direction that the government desires it to shift to. In this case, the state’s governor wants to pass certain tax increases. If he doesn’t get what he wants, college football could be cancelled statewide. In the state of Louisiana, few actions would cause more pain and public outcry than the cancellation of a college football season. Thus, a public official will use this to threaten the people he supposedly serves in order to pass his desired legislation.

The peculiar thing about LSU specifically is that they are one of only seven Division One programs which don’t accept state subsidies (the others being Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue). In fact, LSU’s athletic program generated so much revenue last year that it transferred over $10 million to the school’s academic program. Clearly LSU football can survive without taxpayer money, since they do so already. Again, cancelling of the state’s biggest college football program is simply a scare tactic used to further a political agenda. After the aforementioned compromise is most assuredly reached between Edwards and the legislature, politicians from both parties will probably point to LSU’s football team taking the field in the fall as some great political achievement even though the school’s athletic department didn’t need or spend their money in the first place.

As for the rest of the state of Louisiana’s higher education system, this sad state of affairs is an unfortunate lesson in what can happen when government assumes control of an institution. The competency of that institution will be subject to the whims of those who control that government. Any budgetary failings of public officials who dole out this money will inevitably affect those that are so reliant on it. If college were independent of government, then the influx of money would not be based on an appropriation from a government but the ability to provide a service (education in this case) to the public. After all, there is no imminent crisis in Louisiana regarding the sale and purchase of food, electronics or automobiles. This is because people generally spend their own money on these things without intervention from the government. If education were treated like any of these things, then it would be independent of government failings and different educational institutions would be sinking or swimming based on their own merits. But sadly, these colleges and universities will likely not learn their lesson and continue to look for funding from the very organization that is causing their current laundry list of problems.