Last week I read this story about Michael Bowers, a former high school kid whose standing as a special education student may have cost him a chance at playing college football (many details of the case are disputed, which is winding its way through the courts). Of course, if an athlete is ineligible to play in the NCAA, his chances of playing in the NFL are next to nil. Which got me to thinking about the NCAA’s stranglehold on athletic talent, particularly mens basketball and football players.
If I want a chance to play in the NBA or NFL, the only real path to these leagues runs through the NCAA. However, if I want to play professional baseball or ice hockey, I can either attend college to play in the NCAA, or I can play in the minor leagues of these sports. In two of the four major professional sports (baseball and hockey – is hockey still a major sport?) the athlete has a choice between professional minor leagues and college sports. In football and basketball, he does not – the NCAA is the only option.
This is too bad. Whereas I thoroughly and completely believe in education and think that many young people can (and should!) use athletic ability as a ticket to college, the lack of options creates a system that places too many burdens on athletes who, for whatever reason, have little interest (or ability) to pursue a college education. And though I am not an advocate for paying NCAA athletes, I do think young athletes should have an option to compete for a paid position on a professional minor league team upon graduation from high school. Young baseball and hockey players get to choose between college sports and the professional minor leagues. Why not football and basketball players, too?