Conventional wisdom suggests that the answer to what ails intercollegiate athletics is to pay student athletes. While there is merit to this argument, it is by no means a remedy to the problems which leave embarrassing stains across college sports.
If major programs can afford to pay their student athletes a wage on top of their scholarships, room, board, and the other amenities that they already receive, those institutions should do so. Players shouldn’t be forced into cameo seasons on campus, during which they express little interest in their education while the NBA and NFL benefit from having sanctioned minor leagues for their pro franchises.
Maryland forward Bruno Fernando (23) drives to the basket against Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Big Ten conference tournament, Thursday, March 1, 2018, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Wisconsin won 59-54. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
But it’s preposterous for anyone to believe that a stipend, work study salary, or some other form of compensation will change the flesh-peddling culture of sports agents brokering deals with players, family members, or “advisors”, before their collegiate eligibility is over. Paying players won’t change the game at all.
In the current culture of college athletics, many players are hostages. Between families who look to them as adolescent bread-winners, and AAU coaches or advisors who get compensated for leading them to specific shoe companies, schools, or agents, the players are pawns in an “amateur” basketball episode of game of thrones.
The FBI’s investigation into massive corruption throughout college basketball has already implicated several blue-blood college programs and exposed the rogue nature student athletics around the country. It has already cost Hall of Fame Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino his job. Last weekend, Sean Miller, who was offered the Maryland job before Mark Turgeon, was reportedly caught on a wiretap brokering a $100,000 payment for center DeAndre Ayton. Though he denies any wrongdoing, Miller didn’t coach at Oregon last weekend while the investigation continued, and the jury is still out on whether he will coach again.
This investigation has the University of Maryland under a microscope as well. One of Turgeon’s supposed program-changing recruits, Diamond Stone, was among the names on a spreadsheet of payments made by the disgraced ASM Sports agency. ASM lost its license following an FBI raid late last year, during which the company’s computers were confiscated. Turgeon maintains that he “never had any dealings” with anyone from ASM. However, Yahoo! Sports published a photo of the spreadsheet showing that someone in Stone’s entourage was paid $14,303 during his lone underachieving season in College Park.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Upper Marlboro’s Markelle Fultz, the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft after a one-and-done season at the University of Washington, allegedly received $10,000 from ASM Sports. The money may have been funneled through his trainer/advisor Keith Williams by agent Christian Dawkins, who was the early focus of the investigation.
To assume that ASM Sports is the only agency that operates this way is naïve. Agents such as Andy Miller, who lost his license to represent NBA players, will continue brokering under-the-table deals with the entourage surrounding top prospects once they are identified as elite talents. Often, kids are courted during middle school by “runners” such as Dawkins through parents, guardians, and either AAU coaches or other advisory types who claim to be operating in the best interest of the young player.
However, in many cases the beneficiary is not the athlete—it’s people surrounding the kid who are cashing in. Kickbacks for certain arrangements can lead to five-figure cash payments to advisors, gifts for family members, and a lavish lifestyle for these individuals.
Until pro sports leagues stop forcing young players to filter through the college system, the flesh-peddling of student athletes will continue while the NCAA loses control of its golden goose.