With the underground economy of college basketball unraveling before our eyes, there is a temptation to come up with a Grand Solution, a single swinging idea that comes crashing down like a hammer through a glass coffee table, and changes everything once and for all in a sweeping orgiastic revolution.
The world, you may have noticed, does not tend to work that way.
Especially where powerful institutions are involved, revolutions come through a series of small, mostly unsatisfying compromises. It’s not really much fun, compromising. On the one hand, compromise leads to things like the Mustang II. On the other hand, the whole American system of government is based it.
If we’ve learned anything new from the FBI probe of college basketball — a question of some doubt — it’s that college basketball players are pretty cheap, as the black market goes. Arizona reportedly got DeAndre Ayton for $100,000, and lots of other players were receiving their “salaries” a couple thousand bucks a a time. It’s a middle-class life, at best.
Figuring out how to allow players to be paid in this manner without destroying college basketball as we know it is a challenge that will take a lot of time, thought, and trial-and-error to figure out.
So in the meantime, just let players endorse stuff.
Now, listen. The problem with this, from an NCAA perspective, is going to be that these endorsement deals would surely be used simply to launder bribery money — some booster pays a player for acting in a commercial that never airs and so on and so forth.
This would not “clean up the sport” by any common understanding of that phrase, and the removal of old rules prohibiting endorsements by players would require new rules setting the boundaries on what, exactly, is considered an “endorsement.”
This is not the solution to fixing college basketball, but it would be a relatively painless way to make the system more fair to athletes, and a few years down the road, as the kinks get worked out and the market finds its equilibrium, it may reveal a new path forward.