Kansas' Malik Newman (14) shoots against the Villanova Wildcats in the semifinals of the 2018 men's Final Four on March 31, 2018, at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

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Keidel: New Hoops Rules Only First Step Toward Fixing NCAA's Problems

Players Still Aren't Getting Paid

Jason Keidel
August 09, 2018 - 1:10 pm

As a legislative body, the NCAA is like that friend we all have who thinks he can assemble anything sans instructions. His hand cupped under his chin, he broods over the project, as if ready to make his masterpiece. A few hours later, the job woefully unfinished, he either asks for the pamphlet or asserts there's something wrong with it. 

So it is with the NCAA and the notion of amateurism, and the idea of the unpaid student-athlete. There are many jokes about this age-old dynamic, including the one about the USC football player who returned for his senior season because he couldn't afford the pay cut once he enters the NFL.

In a new way to look less like a caricature and more like a competent and centralized governing body, the NCAA just announced a "major overhaul," according to at least one headline, that gives a pro basketball prospect more freedom as he considers professional sports. These more permissive rules include "elite" high school players -- a designation to be made by USA Basketball -- being granted a relationship with an agent without losing amateur status. College players may also work with agents, attend the NBA combine and, if they still go undrafted, return to school. 

These rules reach down to the high school phenom. So that the next Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James may consider leapfrogging college and go straight to the pros. This, of course, presupposes that the NBA will erase the rule that states you must be at least 19 years old to play for it. 

There is more legalese regarding the school's culpability when its program runs amok. Schools are now more officially accountable to the NCAA when they bend and ultimately break the rules. But sports fans don't spend much time wondering about the legal restraints placed on chancellors or school presidents. 

What bothers fans, rightfully so, is the notion that our nation's basketball monoliths -- and the NCAA -- inhale billions of dollars on the backs of young men who are not allowed to make a nickel from their athletic talents until they turn pro. Even worse, when these players talk to an agent, wink at an agent or eat a meal bought by an agent, they are booted from their schools and stripped of their amateur status, their time at the college erased from the walls, box scores and memories of the athletic department. 

This doesn't solve all, or even the most glaring, hypocrisies of college sports. Players should get some remuneration for their efforts on the court, gridiron or diamond (along with a number of fields not mentioned here). The argument that they get a bed and a free chair in a philosophy class and they should just be grateful for the college experience is part of the duplicity that makes the NCAA about as popular as Congress. And even this new rule, which shows some providence, only applies to basketball. 

The NCAA has been so wholly dysfunctional that any measure to make life better for its athletes looks counterintuitive. Even still, we're talking about a microscopic position of a very small minority of athletes. But while these young men may be outliers, they are also Americans and have every right to ponder their profession, even at 18 -- an age when Uncle Sam says makes them worthy of dying on a battlefield and voting for our next president. 

A young man or woman in their sophomore year can consider working for their parents' construction company, or becoming an opera singer, or starting their own business. Yet, if a basketball player wanted to work with an agent and the NBA to gauge his draft potential, he became toxic to every college in the nation, a pseudo-felon who had the audacity to look beyond the classroom. 

There are a thousand reasons to go to college, stay in college and graduate college. But there are a few who have more -- and better -- options than the rest of us. Rather than renounce their rights, we should reward them. In a way, the NCAA is a perfect microcosm of America -- a body built on fine ideals but that too often ignores them. A few new rules in favor of a few gifted basketball players doesn't erase decades of professional oppression, nor does it fix the ghoulish bureaucratic body the NCAA often becomes. 

But at least they are trying. And trying to do right in the face of so much wrong is another American ideal. So maybe a tip of the cap to the NCAA for trying to make college sports better after spending too much time on the sidelines.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel

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