FBI college basketball probe reveals a broken system. Is it time to pay NCAA players?

The NCAA should allow talented student-athletes like KU’s Josh Jackson to profit from their marketability.
The NCAA should allow talented student-athletes like KU’s Josh Jackson to profit from their marketability. File photo

It’s long past time for the NCAA to hand over its regulatory responsibilities to a governmental agency with the subpoena power to get to the bottom of actual scandals instead of wasting time on petty pretend ones.

But with no such action on the horizon, let’s call off the farce altogether and allow student-athletes to be paid and to profit off their own likenesses and marketability.

Recently, Yahoo Sports reported that the FBI has discovered many of the top programs in college basketball may have broken rules.

The report alleged that Apples Jones, the mother of former Kansas basketball player and 2017 NBA first-round draft pick Josh Jackson, received loans from a sports agent and money from Adidas.

According to Yahoo, Jones received $2,700, which included a Feb. 1, 2016 advance of $1,700, just before Jackson committed to KU on April 11, 2016.

Big-time college basketball has long been a pay-to-play racket.

Yet NCAA president Mark Emmert seemed surprised in a statement released last week. “These allegations, if true,” he said, “point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America.”

The question is not really whether we want college sports but whether colleges should continue to be able to exploit their players, often giving them only a theoretical education while reaping the benefits of their hard work and talent.

The NCAA needs to align with the NBA — the NFL and college football are another matter for another day — and open the marketplace. That approach seems to work in Major League Baseball.

Top talent should be compensated at market value at the college level. If not, allow high school students as young as 16 to enter the professional ranks as they do in baseball and other sports.

Adopt the college baseball model: If a high schooler enrolls at a four-year school, he has to remain in school at least three years before he is draft eligible.

If he enrolls in a two-year school, he should be draft eligible after his first or second-year, then again the next year at a four-year school if he goes undrafted.

Schools make millions of dollars a year off of some of these high-level players, who receive tuition, books, food and room and board in return, but only rarely have enough time left over after work on the court to make the most of their time as a student.

An athlete talented enough to cash in on his ability should be allowed to do just that. Until then, we’ll have more scandals, and more surprise from the NCAA.

Remember Myron Piggie, the Kansas City-based AAU coach indicted, charged and sent to jail on fraud charges in the 1990s? Piggie took money from a shoe company and redistributed funds back into the pockets of his high-flying, high-scoring, high-school-age ball players. He was accused of defrauding college institutions by paying players and spent years in federal prison.

Most of those players — some with Kansas City ties — were top-rated recruits who ended up at high-level basketball programs. Piggie pleaded guilty to paying money to five elite high-school-age basketball players who had played on his summer traveling squad.

So little has changed since then that federal investigators accused several coaches of similar actions in November. But it’s the system itself that’s broken, and that at this point might only be fixed by giving players the right to form unions and seek fair compensation.

After two years undercover, the FBI found members of top NCAA basketball programs involved in corrupt bribery schemes. Here's how those schemes worked.