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College sports reform needed

By Daniel Feeney

Jan. 18, 2010 9:13 p.m.

UCLA is one of the greatest athletic institutions in the history of collegiate sports. Although we may not currently be among the top 10 national contenders in the highest revenue college sports, basketball and football, we are still among the most well-known schools who can use our past prestige and history to attract many of the top recruits in the sports.

Students at UCLA and college sports fans everywhere benefit greatly because of the amateur nature of college sports. For fans there is a perceived purity: players without contracts, playing simply to prove themselves and for “the love of the game.” But through all of these thoughts about the purity of sports, we seem to be forgetting the one person who is intimately involved in the situation: the athlete.

For those who have the talent and ability to enter into the world of professional sports, there is a good chance to earn a lot of money. Unfortunately, eligibility to enter the NFL and NBA is based on year of high school graduation, which can be detrimental to athletes. Basketball and football both have rules preventing athletes from entering the NBA or NFL until one year after their high school class graduates for basketball, and three years after the class graduates for football. Because athletes’ careers are dependent on both age and their ability to avoid injury, preventing them from entering professional sports from high school possibly prevents them from earning anything for their skills

To understand why, for football especially, giving players the chance to earn revenue is important. We have to look at what can happen to a player when they become injured. There are countless stories of players injuring themselves in college and never again being able to play. For these players, some of whom are extremely well-known athletes, there is now no way for them to earn money for playing. For players such as UCLA’s Brian Price it is easy to understand why, sometimes, although they may wish to keep playing for their college team, they have to take the safe route and go into professional sports. Another caveat in the story is cases where the players’ families are living in poverty. For these players who have to forgo any income which they desperately need there is an added hardship on their families.

These rules, preventing players from playing out of high school, were created by professional sports leagues for a multitude of reasons, some of the ones I have heard mentioned center around increasing the athletes’ name recognition and skill. By strongly limiting athlete’s choices, either through rule or general custom, some athletes who would otherwise have a chance at some compensation, lose all opportunity whatsoever.

In order to more adequately see why the system for football and basketball is unfair, a comparison to baseball is in order. Baseball has a minor league farm system in place which high school students can elect to enter into. Minor league baseball players are paid. While they are not necessarily paid big bucks, they have an opportunity to receive compensation. Baseball players can also choose to play college baseball and are eligible to be drafted into a farm system. Both routes are available for students who either want to play and get compensation, or play and receive an education.

Football and basketball have very little minor league opportunity. Football, which is among the most injury-prone sports, has almost no opportunity to circumvent college to receive some salary. Although they receive an education, players are not necessarily receiving a just compensation based on their skill level. Basketball players also are in a similar situation, although theirs is not nearly as extreme. For one thing, although rare, a couple of young players have chosen to forgo college altogether to play in European professional leagues. This, if it remains a viable alternative to college, will help to make the system more equitable to players.

While basketball’s case is different, a football “farm system” is unlikely to work. The costs involved with having a start up league would likely prevent it from happening altogether. So instead of completely changing the college football scene, if the NCAA allowed players to receive advertisement and endorsement deals, players would be able to help ensure some payoff for their skills.

The problem with college sports comes down to money. Players should have a right to earn compensation for their skills.

By being strongly encouraged by all forces to enter into college sports, they are being pushed to a decision which risks their future financial livelihood.

While all athletes should have the choice of entering into college, for many athletes, being able to enter directly into a system where there is revenue would be financially beneficial for them and their families.

Although a change in professional and NCAA rules that allows for players to receive compensation might change the nature of the college sports, it would help to make the system fair for athletes, who are risking their futures by playing for free.

E-mail Feeney at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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