To the fans of North Carolina, it is no secret that the 2016 season has been a special one for the Senior Class. We have had the privilege to spend all season watching two future Smith Center Honorees lead the most successful team (to date) of their four-year careers. But to a more casual fan, especially those who don't start to pay attention until March, it may come as somewhat a surprise that the recent trend of freshman/sophomore domination has taken a year off, and that most of this year's best teams are led by those who have been on campus for four (and even 5) years. As such, ESPN decided to take a brief hiatus from its incessant coverage of everything "Ben Simmons" yesterday to pay homage to this year's senior class in a series of posts. The first post featured a look at the advice these elder statesman of the game would give to their freshman selves and is worth the read.
However the more interesting of the two, in my opinion, was the one in which several of the seniors made suggestions as to how they would change the game to make it better. While I enjoyed, understood, and agreed with most (sorry, Yogi... 6 fouls would be terrible), the two that I found to be the most interesting were delivered by, unsurprisingly, Marcus Paige and Malcolm Brogdon.
The one-and-done rule. If kids are ready to go [pro] after high school, then they need to go. And if they come to college, they need to make a commitment toward getting a degree. Make them stay two or three years, kind of like the baseball model or the NFL model. One year just seems like the university gets used. ... And it's hard to do a lot academically in two semesters.
Okay, so if we are going to be technical, what Paige is suggesting is out of control of the NCAA and would require a change to a future NBA CBA; however, given its immense impact on college basketball, it is understandable why he went there. As for the actual suggestion, it has always been my opinion that the baseball model would serve both the NCAA and NBA well. While I don't believe the number of high school basketball players who should make the jump to the NBA is anywhere near as high as some would lead you to believe, there still may be 1-2 every couple of years who absolutely can do so, and players like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant have shown that it is usually in everyone's best interest for them to do so. But the more important aspect of the baseball model is that it offers a measure of protection to the athletes from those who would fill their heads with images of grandeur, because there is no "declaring." You are either eligible (after high school, and again after your 3rd year, and each year thereafter), or you are not, and the NBA/NCAA decision can be made after they know if (and where) they have actually been drafted. Would this require the NBA to perform even more diligence before drafting a high schooler (or underclassman)? Absolutely, but if the reward is what they think it might be, that should not be too large of a price to pay. And for the colleges, while this would delay the finalization of their roster until the end of June or early July, one would assume the trade-off of knowing exactly how long you would have the players who do commit/return would be worth the inconvenience.
As for Brogdon, his take may, at first glancem appear a little flippant, but peel away that initial layer and you will find that he hits on at least a partial solution to a very complicated and, at times, contentious question:
I would change the violations of people being allowed to take you to dinner and pay for food for you. ... Food is a really big part of my life, I love to eat. A lot of times I have to turn down free meals because it's an NCAA violation, and I know I'm not the only one. I think that would really benefit thousands of college basketball players.
The question of whether or not NCAA athletes are properly compensated, and if not, how they should be, is extremely complex, and it is not necessarily the purpose of this post to make a case in one direction or the other, though if the discussion ensues, that is fine. But what Brogdon's comment brings to light is that there may be a way for college athletes to capitalize on their skills, abilities, and relative fame in a way that does not require their university or team to provide them more than is already included in the current scholarship package. In other words, the NCAA needs to rethink its stance and views on amateurism in much the same way the AAU was forced to do so in the 1970s.
Once an athlete signs a Letter of Intent, the idea of said athlete excepting a free meal, or making a few hundred or thousand dollars selling autographs, or even getting compensated by a business for the use of their image, is at worst a victimless crime, and for the 99.9% of us who never have been, or never will be, under the ruling thumb of the NCAA, it is not a crime at all. The arguments against something like this that I have heard (e.g. "Some athletes will be treated differently," or "It will create recruiting imbalances," or "Athletes may be motivated by more personal, less team-oriented reasons.") really fail to make a significant impact because all of those situations already exist. Superstar athletes do get more attention and are treated differently. The North Carolina's of the world already have massive recruiting advantages over smaller or less prestigious programs. And the future NBA Lottery pick already has motivations that exist outside of what the team ultimately does. What separates the truly great programs from the rest, is the ability of the coaches and players to contain these outside influences. Allowing the athlete to "legally" earn extra income on the side would not change this, and if anything, bringing it fully into the open should make it even easier to control.