LEXINGTON, Ky. — College basketball’s pay-for-play scandal, exposed by an ever-widening FBI investigation, might accomplish what Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel has been advocating for years: ending the farce of amateurism.
“There is no purity to it. It’s actually a horrible concept. Somehow we’ve made it into a purity contest. We cling to it. But amateurism is a joke,” Wetzel said on SEC Country’s Kentucky podcast, Wildcat Country. “Nobody believes in it, practically, and maybe if 50 schools end up getting nailed, people will go, ‘All right, you know what? If adidas wants to pay a kid $150,000 to go to one school and not another, I don’t know, is that really a bad thing?’ In the grand scheme of it, no, not really. Do we have to hide it? Do we have to put our coaches in prison?
“Right now, it’s like the dam is just bursting over them and they’re all screaming, like, ‘We can put it back together.’ You can pretend to, but you’re not doing. it.”
Wetzel, author of Death to the BCS and before that Sole Influence — the latter of which is about this very thing — loves to tell the story of how “amateurism” became a thing and why it is patently absurd.
“Amateurism was created in the 1800s in England when the rich people had these sports they played at the country club, where they rode the horses and jumped over the things — whatever that’s called — polo, rugby, whatever, sailing. And the rich people were good at it because they had time to practice it; they lived lives of leisure. The working class worked six days a week in factories. They had no time.
“What happened was, some of these country clubs and tennis clubs started finding the really good guy who was blue-collar and they put him on their team. This is where the term ‘ringer’ began. So what the rich clowns in England decided was, ‘Oh, no,’ the way to preserve this so rich people could win these games was the concept of amateurism: you’re not paid to play the game; you just play it for the love of the game.”
So yeah, a farce. And we have adopted that very concept to rule college athletics. There has to be a better way, right? Wetzel has an idea to fix what is broken in basketball — and really all of the NCAA.
“I don’t think college basketball wants to do this,” he said, “but in college hockey, you can be drafted by a team in the NHL and then go play for a college — and you can make an endorsement deal. [It would be like] if the Lakers wanted to draft Lonzo Ball a year ago and say, ‘Go to UCLA for a year and we’ll call you up when we’re ready.’ The star defenseman of the Boston Bruins, a rookie, he finished the NCAA hockey tournament with Providence College on like March 18 and was playing for the Bruins on March 22. I don’t know, is that wrong? What’s the problem with that?”
Wetzel floated the idea that an NBA team could draft a player, then pay for his one year (or more) of college — or put him on an “internship” — while he also earns endorsements.
“Maybe,” he said, “we could just lighten up and be like college hockey and just enjoy the damn thing.”