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Legalizing Agents And Paying Players Won’t Solve The NCAA’s Problems

The NCAA is horrible.  I get it.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet since last week’s SEC Media Days then you’ve surely seen one or a dozen of the columns written by folks who view today’s NCAA system as being just two hairs shy of out-and-out slavery.

“Agents aren’t the problem with today’s game.  The NCAA rulebook is the problem.”

“Agents aren’t the pimps.  The college coaches are the ones who mislead and misuse America’s youth.”

“Money isn’t the root of all evil.  Money is the solution.  Let’s just pay the players and let them all have agents.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ve heard it before.  David J. Neal penned just that kind of piece yesterday for The Miami Herald.

But what folks don’t seem to think through is the fact that the “pay ‘em all” solution just adds another layer of problems to college sports.

I don’t want to spend all afternoon writing this, so I’ll give you a couple of quick examples and be done with it:

* Pay the players!

Okay.  Let’s say the NCAA decides to start paying players.  They can’t clean things up completely, so we’ll say it’s better to just blow up the whole system.  Fair enough.  So let’s look at the details.  How much should the players make?  Just a stipend of some sort or a nice percentage of a program’s wealth?  Should the NCAA pay all athletes, or just those at the FBS level in football?  Do walk-ons get any money or just scholarship athletes?  What about the redshirts?  What about kids on medical hardship who are technically still on scholarship?  Does the 85th man on the roster get the same amount as the star quarterback?  What about the other sports?  If the NCAA is going to start paying football players, you can bet it won’t take too long for some member of a women’s crew team to threaten a lawsuit for her share of the NCAA pie. 

And where does the money come from, by the way?  Sure, Southern Cal, Texas, Ohio State and Florida make gazillions, but is Louisiana-Monroe going to be held to the standards of those big boys?  If so, how does ULM make enough cash to pay their athletes?  If small schools can’t/don’t/won’t pay players, then isn’t that just increasing the “haves versus have-nots” system that folks don’t like to begin with?  Many athletic programs have a hard time turning a profit at all, so now the idea is to make them pay out more cash to — at the minimum — 85 football players?  I don’t think that sounds feasible, but hey, I’m not one of those people who thinks he can fix all the ills of college sports in a single sports column.

* Let the players have agents!

I’ve had this one brought up to me a dozen times on radio shows this week.  If the NCAA won’t pay the players, then let ‘em go ahead and have agents.  Okay.  Let’s say agents are no longer verboten.  What happens the first time one player on a team gets a Lexus from his agent while some other kid is still forced to drive his hand-me-down Dodge Dart?  Chemistry problems, perhaps?  And at what point can a player sign with an agent?  Is the NCAA going to have to start policing high schoolers to make sure prospects aren’t already tied to agents during the recruiting process?  What if a player tells a coach to simply speak to his agent during recruiting?  Is that a problem?  Or is that legal?

I’ll end with a scenario that fans and coaches alike would love.  Let’s say Alabama reaches this year’s BCS Championship Game.  The Tide is going for back-to-back national titles.  But Mark Ingram has a sprained ankle.  (Keep in mind that last year, Greg McElroy played in the BCS title game with a broken rib.)  Let’s say Ingram’s agent has a chat with him prior to the big game.  “You know, Mark, this championship is important, but you’ve got a career to think about.  If you do further injury to your ankle it could knock you down NFL draft boards and keep you from making the kind of money that will change your family’s future forever.  You already have a BCS ring and a Heisman Trophy on your mantel.  Sit this game out and make sure you’re a healthy man when the NFL combine kicks off next month.”  Does that scenario sound good to you?

“Pay the players.”  “Let the players have agents.” 

Those are simply the half-baked suggestions of people who’ve obviously never heard tell of a little thing called Pandora’s Box.


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