Let Them Play for Pay, But Not in College
Why young ballers shouldn't be forced into the NCAA in the first place.
University of Kentucky freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins didn't make it to the Final Four, where they could've played at least one more college basketball game before possibly bolting for the NBA. Otherwise, the young Wildcat players reached the pinnacle of their field, becoming the first freshmen teammates selected to the Associated Press All-America team. Along with another freshman, Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech, they're near-certain Top 5 picks if they decide to leave school for the NBA Draft.
Who could blame them if they did? Well, you can always find someone spouting the same old, tired, politically-correct nonsense. For instance, take Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss. She wrote in March that "staying in school, and graduating, and then starting a career would be the best thing for every player. Suggesting otherwise is harmful."
No, what's harmful is the intellectually dishonest argument that signing multimillion dollar contracts is inherently a bad thing for young basketball (and football) players, but not for young golfers, tennis players, hockey players or baseball players. Numerous athletes in those sports begin their pro careers right after high school, which was the case in the NBA until the league colluded with its players' union to force teens into a one-year pit stop on campus.
Of course we want every child to grow and develop. But not every child chooses higher education as part of the process, not even some who easily could graduate with honors. There are plenty of bright, high school grads who, for whatever reason, choose to make money instead of grades after the prom. Surely our society has room and a need for those skilled in trades and sales, degreed or not. And imagine if Broadway, Hollywood and the recording industry arbitrarily decided not to sign entertainers - no matter how gifted - under the same conditions. Imagine if Wal-Mart or McDonald's refused to hire workers who weren't at least one year out of high school. Imagine any employer, in any industry, refusing to hire fully capable individuals who had completed their compulsory education.
We shouldn't deny that young men who are intelligent, honest and earnest can consider their options, weigh the plusses and minuses, and then decide that turning pro is the smart way to go. They can reach that decision coolly and rationally, with approval from their parents, some of whom own degrees themselves. You don't need an MBA to grasp the potential windfall. Last year's No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Blake Griffin, signed a three-year deal worth $16 million guaranteed; No. 10 pick Brandon Jennings signed for three years and $6.9 million. (The NFL payouts are even greater, with last year's No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford guaranteed $41.7 million and No. 5 pick Mark Sanchez guaranteed $28 million). "I'd take the money," then-Fort Myers (Fla.) High boys' basketball coach Ed O'Brien told me a few years ago, asked what a high school star should do if he were a lottery pick. "With that money you can buy yourself a college. To me it's a no-brainer."