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It’s Time for NCAA to Contract and Pay Football and Basketball Players

NCAA basketball has hit a low point. It’s really unfortunate, considering it has long been one of the best sports in the country.

The uninspiring title game Monday was a fitting end to one of the most lackluster NCAA tournaments in recent years. It was the second straight dud championship game. And now we get to watch another mass exodus to the NBA.

The Huskies’ worst fears have been confirmed as both Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten are going pro. Most of Kentucky’s starters figure to follow — for the third straight year.
It’s hard to blame any of them for leaving. They are getting paid peanuts in college, yet have to play for a year if they want to be drafted into the NBA.

The NCAA needs to put a stop to it. There’s a simple, very logical way: Pay the players as university employees and make them sign three-year contracts if they want to play for the school.
The NCAA needs to realize this silly student-athlete façade is a joke when it comes to football and basketball, where many of the players are simply looking to go pro. The NFL has a three-year rule, which makes sense considering it takes that long for 17-year-old kids to turn into 20-year-old men.
In 2006, the NBA shut off the high-school pipeline through which Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James matriculated. Every player since has had to be at least a year removed from high school.

That has led to a ton of one-and-dones at the NCAA level, creating an ever-churning college system in which teams have to scramble to replace their best players after a year or two. College coaches no longer have four years to develop a team; their squads are split into rolling two-year rosters, if they’re lucky.

That system has decimated the Pac-12, and the rest of the NCAA hasn’t fared much better. Teams like Kentucky can get by because they have kids lined up to replace the freshmen and sophomores who leave.

Last year, 37 players left school early, including three each from Kentucky and Kansas. And those schools still made it to the title game this year. That was nothing compared to 2010, when 51 players left early, including five Kentucky guys. Anyone get the idea that Kentucky has become known as the best collegiate steppingstone to the NBA?

Meanwhile, schools like Washington are gambling that the stud recruit they get for one or two years will draw more stud recruits. The Huskies have now lost three guys early in the past two years. How is Lorenzo Romar going to replace those guys? Is it even worth recruiting them if they aren’t going to stick around?

It’s time to make them commit to staying. And the way to do that is to sign them to binding contracts and pay them a living wage. We’ve already made the logical argument that college football needs to pay its players. Well, so does college basketball — not in scholarships and skimpy meal plans, but in cold, hard cash.

The average athletic scholarship is reportedly for about $28,000 a year — an amount that barely covers tuition at some universities, let alone room and board and living expenses.
It’s time to remove the academic requirements and pay football and basketball players — the ones who make money for the school — as university employees.

Every Division I team should be allowed to pay 60 football players and 12 basketball players. Add room and board. Make free educations — the current scholarship plan — available to those who want them. Pay them on scale with top minor-league baseball and hockey players: $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

College football and basketball have always been minor-league systems for the NFL and NBA. It’s time for the NCAA and its hypocritical good ol’ boys to finally quit lying about it and just call it what it is. Pay the players out of those massive coffers and make them stay if they want to play.

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