Could the College Basketball Corruption Trial Lead to an End of Amateurism?

Marky Billson, host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

Listening to Colin Cowherd two days ago he brought up his argument that baseball managers aren’t as important as coaches in other sports.

Cowherd spoke of how the head football coach at Boise State, Bryan Harsin, makes significantly more money than Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

But is that because Cora is that less important to his team, or because Harsin has the luxury of participating in the sport where the players aren’t paid?

I asked Phil Fulmer about paying the players in college athletics during the Vol Caravan last spring. He replied a college scholarship is payment for play.

Suddenly, the motivation for Fulmer’s answer is clear. He doesn’t want to take a pay cut.

Two days ago when a jury found two former Adidas employees and an aspiring sports agent guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, it brought questions up about the legitimacy of the amateur sports model.

While the trial was supposedly a victory for amateurism, as it said paying college athletes is now a federal crime, Time’s Sean Gregory asks how long this model can last.

“While one arm of the federal government hears out amateurism, another swoops in with a criminal prosecution that equates paying players with corruption. This reeks of government overreach,” Gregory writes.

If you’ll pardon the cliche, paying college athletes would open up a huge kettle of fish. How do you do it? What about women’s sports, which generate very little revenue (the top money loser in all of college athletics is women’s basketball)?

If Tennessee pays their football players, what trickles down to the Lady Vols? Does a school lure a top prospect in with a promise of a contract? Do you limit eligibility to four years? If I can stay at a football powerhouse while taking graduate classes and money is involved, why not allow players to play beyond four years?

It’s already tough enough for the East Tennessee States and New Mexico States of the world to compete with the Alabamas and Clemsons. How do you do it in football if players are paid?

If players were paid, it would be a boon to the Tennessee Volunteers (let alone Texas and Texas A & M) because the football program, while not elite any longer, still remains one of the most profitable in the NCAA. Assuming players salaries would not be capped (a big assumption), then recruiting advantages rival schools have against the Vols that have caused the program to falter, such as more home state talent and television contracts that even the financial playing field in the Southeastern Conference, is lessened significantly.

Back to basketball. Now that the G-League will pay the top high school prospects $125,000 a year, it’s hard to imagine why any prospect would want to go the one-and-done route. With the top stars out of college basketball, it’s a boon to the mid-majors, who will now be more competitive in an even playing field.

One of the arguments against breaking up the NCAA is it would kill the NCAA Basketball Tournaments, which are heavily slanted towards major conference members. If and when mid-majors become more competitive, and remember Gonzaga, Nevada, and Villanova are all in the men’s basketball preseason Top 10, one could see the major conferences break away from the NCAA and institute their own rules.

Certainly a post-season college basketball tournament of major college powerhouses would continue to be more profitable, perhaps moreso with the teams involved far more recognizable.

Do players get paid then? If college football players are paid for the relative value they bring to their programs, where does that leave the volleyball and track and field teams that don’t? For those sports to survive, their coaches will likely have to become fundraisers, much the way Fred Warren is at ETSU.

It would mean less emphasis on women’s sports, but perhaps an opportunity for the mid-majors to capitalize, as ETSU golf did in 1996 when they finished ranked third in the country.

The Lady Vols would suffer, but Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech would have a chance to compete in women’s basketball again.

The NCAA is currently a wounded animal walking a fine line keeping its profitable schools happy. Look at Penn State, who committed the worst crime in college football history and ultimately received a mere two-year bowl ban.

Clemson got one year more than that in 1982 primarily because one of their boosters offered James Cofer, a football recruit from Knoxville who never played major college football, what Cofer said was $500 to keep his Clemson commitment.

So don’t look for the programs involved in the college basketball corruption trial to face any significant penalties.

Not only is the NCAA practically powerless over the programs it supposedly is supposed to regulate, how do you punish college programs for being the supposed victims of a federal crime?

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Watch his show live and archived here and here.

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