As a resident of North Carolina and staff member at UNC, I was among the many people who were delighted at the news this past week that Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green have opted out of the NBA draft and will be returning to UNC for their senior years. It greatly increases the chance of seeing UNC in the Final Four and making a whole lot of money off of naive homers in NCAA brackets next spring.
But it brings up the perennial issue surrounding college sports: Oh man, I really hope that College Star A doesn't go to Pro Sport Draft B and ruin Hometown College's chance at winning The Championship.
It's a multi-layered problem, really.
It starts with the fact that college sports are so much of a business, they are extensively marketed and intensely followed. More people go to watch college football in the American South than Pro Football. The stadiums are bigger. College players are essentially unpaid pro stars.
On top of that, it pays ridiculously well to play a pro sport. Where's your incentive to finish out your college career when you could go pro and make hundreds of thousands of dollars minimum for doing exactly the same thing, except without all of the annoying classes? There's no academic requirement at the pro level, after all, you can be an illiterate asshat and still be Kobe Byrant.
But, let's look at this realistically, and let's use basketball as an example. Let's also assume that the NBA drafts out of only NCAA Division I schools (which they don't). There are currently over 300 schools listed at Division I. Let's assume that each one of those has 1 star player that will make themselves eligible for the draft. This seems conservative to me. There are 30 teams in the NBA, all of which start 5 players and have another 7 to 9 on the bench, which means that at any given time there are roughly 420 active players each year. There don't seem to be places for 300 new players each year.
So what happens? One or two lucky ones will go straight into the starting rotation on a team, a handful more will garner bench positions and replace retiring or injured players. A good chunk of them will go play in the NBA Development Leagues, and another good chunk of them will decide that they're never actually going to get to play pro-ball and go try to figure out what to do with their lives.
The question is, what do you do with your life when all you've really wanted to do up until that point is play ball? You've got an undergraduate degree in business that you probably made it through with the help of a tutor and now -- what.. sell used cars? You might try to get a job with a pro team doing something *other* than being on the court, but with no experience, what are you going to do? Fetch coffee?
This is why I advocate the development of directed Sports Majors at college. You're going to Large State University to play college ball and don't really have any academic aspirations for anything outside of your sport? No problem! Declare your major as Basketball. Not only do you play the game under a prominent nationally-known coach, you learn the ins and outs of what is involved in all aspects of the Pro Team. You learn Sports Medicine, Finance, Statistics, Corporate Strategy, Economics, Marketing, Journalism, and Broadcasting. All of it has one focus in mind: Pro Sports. When you leave this program, son, you will be equipped to contribute to a Pro Sports team on any level. You might not be in the starting lineup, but you won't be far away.
What's even better is that you can take the major even if you're not playing the sport. Love baseball but can't hit the broad side of a barn when you throw? You can still find a place with a major league team! Major in Baseball and contribute in ways you've never even considered.
Pro sports is such a large portion of our economy and such a large part of our cultural identity that it only seems to make sense to me to capitalize on the fact that we're good at it. In addition, it even increases the quality of our pro sports. When you actually have people trained in statistics focused specifically on how they apply to your sport, your team can do nothing but get better. When you've got people actively studying marketing trends in major league sports over the past 30 years and forecasting for the future, you're much more likely to succeed.
It could give a lot of kids something to aspire to. That inner city kid who's great at ball but never really did well in school might be really intimidated by going to play college ball because he has to keep grades up in subjects that he's not particularly interested in, but make the sport his focus and college starts to look like a much more viable alternative.
And finally, it can only be a plus for the fans. Refine our sports and make them awesome. Give us level playing fields, make every season truly competitive, and everybody will be happy.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.23.08 @ 8:20a
And theology schools should have a program for pastors in the Church of Baseball.
6.23.08 @ 10:19a
Isn't that basically what UNLV has?
You also did forget to take into account the odds of getting injured in one's senior year and missing out on pro-dough. To me, that's a much bigger draw for entering the draft before graduation than just the money alone. If you're good enough as a junior to get an NBA-level salary, why take the chance of blowing out your knee in the NCAA tournament?
6.23.08 @ 11:11a
That inner city kid who's great at ball but never really did well in school might be really intimidated by going to play college ball because he has to keep grades up in subjects that he's not particularly interested in, but make the sport his focus and college starts to look like a much more viable alternative.
As long as you don't mind legitimizing "dumb jock" as a societal class, I suppose this works. Otherwise I don't see this as being particularly aspirational.
Don't get me wrong, I love sports. And I'm all for extending the "professional" aspect well before the major leagues. Some people are naturally gifted, and should have their talents honed. It's what happens with most Olympic athletes, after all.
However, I can't see giving a ballplayer a diploma, implying that he's on equal footing with a B.A.Ed graduate, whether you give him the luxury of a "Baseball" major or not. It's bad enough now, when student athletes are kid-gloved all the way to commencement; why aggravate the situation by making it a fair policy? Most college students spend their four years (and many more) just scraping by, while simultaneously trying to excel in their coursework, and maybe hold a job, too. How does that Lit major feel when she's trying to scrawl out an essay while foaming some guy's latte...oh, and that guy happens to be LeBron, whose homework is deciding which feels better: the Nikes or the Reeboks.
Sports majors are fine. I know some schools already have programs in sports management, and I think that's great. If you want to specialize (say, Sports Management with a concentration in Hockey) then I think a program could be put together.
But not at a college or university. Let's split the difference and do Sports Trade School. Let MLB and the NFL and the PGA... hey, any sport that wants to pony up... create a few regional campuses dedicated to playing and managing (tactically and economically) sports. Make senior year an internship: placement on a AAA team as a player/coach/broadcaster/sports medicine doctor or whatever, with a reasonable stipend. Graduation = The Draft.
Would this end College Sports As We Know It? Yeah, probably. But it's not as if these kids wouldn't be playing somewhere, they just wouldn't be associated with all that sentimental alma mater nonsense. They'd be playing intramurals at an extreme level. There would be a huge collapse in the incomes for a number of schools, to be sure; without the rah-rah money from alumni, they'd have to figure out a new strategy for keeping the bucks flowing in.
Or maybe, like Pro Sports in general, they'd just have to adjust themselves to a more reasonable economic standard.
6.24.08 @ 4:50p
I am for anything that reduces the number of times "he's due for a hit" gets mentioned...great read, Erik.
5.20.09 @ 12:33a
Actually, it's not quite the same, but a friend of mine is enrolled in an MBA program at Columbia that focuses on sports managing.
Oh, and you misspelled "Bryant" when you were making a point about his illiteracy.
5.20.09 @ 9:08a
That's called "irony."
6.17.09 @ 8:13p
Maybe, but I know Kobe Byrant and he's an asshat, too.