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July 5, 2012

Book Notes: Book exposes exploitation of ‘student-athletes’

— This year the University of Kentucky, a school with a storied tradition, won the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Although the national title may have enhanced the status of UK’s athletic program it did little for its academic reputation. All five starting players, three freshmen and two sophomores, announced they were turning pro.

These so-called “studentathletes” probably never had any intention of getting their college degrees. They were in college for one or two years to hone their skills before moving on to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The only reason most of them didn’t go straight into the pros from high school is because the NBA adopted a rule where you have to be at least 19 and one year removed from your graduating class.

The whole system is a travesty.

Why do “distinguished” universities give scholarships to athletes who have no interest in education and can’t handle the classwork anyway? Why do coaches recruit athletes they know will be around only one year? And why should athletes be forced to wait a year before they can turn pro?

Universities admit these “one-and-done” basketball players because it brings in money to the school, increases athletic prestige, and excites the alumni (which in turn brings in even more money). But in doing so these “institutions of higher learning” are sacrificing their academic souls. Giving an athletic scholarship to a basketball player who never attends class and bolts after one year robs a less-gifted athlete (that truly wants an education) of the opportunity to attend the same school.

Coaches don’t mind recruiting the one-and-done athletes because they figure they will probably win instantly and then simply reload with another stellar class of one-and-dones who have no real interest in college. These coaches don’t care if the athlete gets an education. They’re selling the basketball program, not the university.

The NBA likes the oneand- done rule because then they don’t have to send their scouts to high school basketball games. It can use the college game as a minor league and it doesn’t cost the NBA a dime.

The system may work for the colleges, coaches, athletes and the NBA, but there is something unseemly about it. Most often the athlete couldn’t qualify for admission to the school based on his academic records or test scores.

He is housed separately from the rest of the students, and enrolled in Mickey Mouse courses he probably doesn’t even attend. He really isn’t part of the student body at all. The coaches don’t care about the athletes as students.

They can rationalize bringing them in for one year and blowing off their education because they figure they’re simply preparing them for their multi-million-dollar pro careers. If the idea of college is to prepare you for life then the coaches figure they’re fulfilling that obligation.

The universities are the ones that really should be embarrassed. You can’t blame the athlete because he is taking the best avenue to the pros. You can’t blame the coaches because they’re paid to win first and foremost. But the universities are sacrificing their integrity admitting and giving scholarships to athletes who simply aren’t students.

Obviously the answer is to allow basketball players to turn pro right out of high school. Baseball players have the option of signing a professional contract directly out of high school but otherwise have to wait at least three years. At least in that case the athlete has the choice of whether to pursue an education if he really wants one.

If the basketball situation isn’t bad enough, college football is even worse. At least the problem in basketball is transparent and has a possible solution (even though it will probably never happen). College football players have to wait at least 3 years after high school before they are eligible to play in the National Football League (NFL), in part because their bodies haven’t developed enough at 18 to deal with the rigors of pro football. However, keeping them in college for three years can lead to all sorts of abuse.

A new book has just arrived on the scene that discusses the whole sordid underworld of college football. Former agent Josh Luchs has written a tell-all book, Illegal Procedure: a Sports Agent Comes Clean on the Dirty Business of College Football, that exposes the exploitation of and illegal payoffs to “student-athletes.” It isn’t pretty.

Agents act like predators preying on the young and unsuspecting athletes. By buddying up to them and giving them money they hope that these college football players will feel a sense of “loyalty” and sign with them as their representatives when it comes time to turn pro. Some players wise up to the process and suck money out of agents without any intention of signing with them.

Loyalty, even the illegal kind, is not necessarily a two-way street.

Luchs is not necessarily the best spokesman for exposing the seamy side of college football because he was basically blacklisted and had no career left there. But there is little doubt that what he is saying is true. Enough of his former clients admit to payoffs to give him credibility. He also cites a number of documented cases of abuse to confirm that college football is not a clean sport.

Will college football and basketball ever clean up their acts? Not likely. With literally billions of dollars to be made by the schools and their umbrella organization, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), it’s easier to look the other way and make token attempts at reform. For the concerned alumnus that actually cares about integrity and the true student-athlete.