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Good for Derrick Williams, bad for UA and college sports hypocrisy

Good for Derrick Williams. The University of Arizona men’s basketball player has parlayed his athletic talent into a monumental payday with the NBA.

Williams announced last week that he’s leaving school after two years to enter the NBA draft where he is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick. Last year’s top pick, John Wall, who played one year at Kentucky, signed a two-year $8 million guaranteed contract with the Washington Wizards, which followed a $25 million, five-year contract he signed with Reebok before he was even drafted. Williams, barring any rumored NBA labor trouble, is expecting a similar payday.

Bad for the UA and college athletics. The big money of college sports continues to make a mockery of so-called student athletes.

Two sports, football and men’s basketball, are really pro sport minor leagues. But even calling them minor leagues doesn’t do them justice. They’re billion-dollar industries making lots of people rich, especially coaches, yet they keep the players paupers.

The NCAA last year signed a 14-year, $10 billion contract with CBS and Time-Warner to televise the men’s basketball tournament.

The top college football schools, called the Football Bowl Subdivision, who participate in the Bowl Championship Series that purports to crown the national college football champion, had combined revenues of more than $2.5 billion in 2008. The best football conference, the Southeast, has produced the last seven BCS national champions. In 2008, the SEC negotiated a 16-year, $2.25 billion TV contract with ESPN. A single conference!

Meanwhile, if a player takes so much as a dollar from anyone he can put his college career, scholarship and team’s season in jeopardy.

Last year, a handful of Ohio State football players sold some stuff they’d accumulated over the years including jerseys, Big Ten championship rings and the like to get some extra spending money. The least a player received was $150. The most was $2,500.

Ohio State now faces severe NCAA penalties, the coach has been suspended five games because he knew about it and didn’t report it and the players also have been suspended for five games next season.

Those players helped OSU football bring in about $70 million last year and their coach, Jim Tressel was paid a salary of $3.5 million.

Apparently it is players begging for chump change that corrupts college football and not the millions and billions lavished on the universities, the NCAA, the BCS and the coaches.

Yeah. Right.

What’s worse is that coaches have begun treating the players like they’re pros, not students. Back in the day, say just 10 years ago, there used to be a slang term among athletes about getting a “full ride.” It implied you had hit the athletic lottery – a school would pay your full tuition and books and room and board for four years as long as you stayed eligible, went to school and, oh yeah, played football or basketball.

Those days are over. Scholarships now are for one year. If a player doesn’t perform as expected or another, better player becomes available in subsequent years, coaches are free to not “renew” the player’s scholarship for next year. Meaning, the coaches are essentially telling the players “Play well and help me win so I can get a fat pay check or you’re out of here, kid.”

That’s outrageous.

This isn’t news to anyone. Twenty-two years ago the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletic in the wake of the Southwest Conference scandal that saw the NCAA ban Southern Methodist from fielding a football team for two years because it paid its players to play, released a report that said athletic budgets were spiraling out of control and having a deleterious effect on the education missions of the nation’s universities.

The commission released an updated report in 2009 that said the first report grossly underestimated the rise in athletic costs and that the problem was worse than ever with college presidents essentially at the mercy of big-time coaches, millionaire and billionaire boosters and alumni and rabid fans.

Coaching salaries is one of the largest problems. Rick Pitino earns $7 million at Louisville and Nick Saban $5 million at Alabama, the top basketball and football coaching salaries respectively.

To put that into perspective, Saban is paid more than 28 of 32 NFL head coaches, Pitino more than 27 of 30 NBA head coaches.

When Arizona decided to pay UA men’s basketball coach Sean Miller $2 million a year, the Arizona Board of Regents tasked Regent Dennis DeConcini, a former U.S. Senator, to head a task force to review the athletics budgets of the state’s three universities and consider whether the system needed reforming.

While the creation of the task force created a stir among boosters and fans in 2009, they need not have worried about their beloved Wildcats, Sun Devils and Lumberjacks. The task force has met twice since December 2009 – April 2010 and last month – and each time it received a report on athletics spending from the universities, asked a couple of questions and adjourned.

No overhaul of Arizona university athletics is apparently forthcoming.

The other major problem is facilities. The Knight Commission refers to it as an arms race. In the past 10 years in the Pac-10 alone universities have spent nearly $1 billion improving sports facilities, led by Oregon and its billionaire benefactor Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

The UA fell behind in that decade and now has plans to spend $100 million to expand the football stadium and add a new, massive video scoreboard.

Meanwhile, the NCAA threatens players’ eligibility if they take a couple of bucks from a coach or a booster to pay for a hamburger at McDonald’s.

As a result, top athletes put little premium on their educations. They’re there to get noticed by pro scouts and as soon as their payday prospects reaches a sixth zero, they jump to the pros.

You can’t really blame them. Everyone in college athletics is making millions off their talent except them.

Coaches, athletic directors and even college presidents like to say having athletics is all about enriching the college experience of the students.

No it’s not. It’s about the money.

We shouldn’t even bother having these kids go to school. Just pay them the value of the scholarship and let them play, which is all a lot of them want to do anyway.

Sounds ridiculous, to be sure, but it’d be a lot less hypocritical than the way college athletics is run now.

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