Thursday, May 14, 2009

The student-athlete is dead

You've no doubt read, by now, about the revelation that USC men's basketball coach literally paid for O.J. Mayo's services, giving $1,000 cash to Rodney Guillory, Mayo's "handler".

You've no doubt heard in the past about infractions involving USC and Reggie Bush and his shady real estate deals.

You've doubt grown quite skeptical of college athletics and its "student athletes". And you have every right to be.

I'm not going to bash USC for what appears to be a major NCAA violation with O.J. Mayo, but can anyone honestly say they're surprised? He was widely considered the best basketball prospect in the country out of high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, and out of nowhere he signed with USC? Not Duke, North Carolina, or Memphis, some of basketball's national powers? Not even Ohio State, right in his own back yard, to ride the coattails of the success brought to the school by Greg Oden?

The scenario seemed sketchy from the beginning, and rightfully so.

But this must be rampant in college athletics, which has become as big a business as any professional sport. It's near impossible to put a price tag on the recognition and credibility Mayo brought to the Trojan's basketball program. The only thing bizarre about it was the $1,000 asking fee - seems a bit low, if you ask me.

College athletes may not be paid, but they certainly get "paid." They receive absurd stipends, not to mention the free education. Well, the chance at a free education, anyway. I doubt guys like Mayo attend many classes in their one year on campus.

At Virginia Tech - the college I attended - athlete stipends were put onto something called the "Hokie Passport", which basically is an ATM card accepted at the on-campus shops as well as local businesses (including Wal-Mart). Seems like an easy way to distribute money, right? Well, what happens when a linebacker (I'll refrain from naming him) buys rounds of drinks downtown with his Hokie Passport?? Isn't that supposed to be his stipend money? What if this same guy goes to the local Wal-Mart and buys a Playstation with his stipend? Isn't that essentially the same as paying college athletes? Maybe not officially, but when money goes from the university to the athlete, to essentially use however he or she pleases, that's close enough.

I've never had a problem with it, either. It's business. It's the way the world works. Star athletes in big time programs bring in big time revenue for their schools - and why shouldn't they get a small cut of it?

Now, I don't know if Mayo received any part of the thousand dollars paid to his handler to sign with USC, but I'm certain other perks were passed down along the way. I don't think college athletics should start handing out signing bonuses left and right, but it's time we admit that the notion of pure student-athletes is silly.

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