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Michael Beasley And The NCAA Facade

In possibly the least surprising news of the year, a dispute between Michael Beasley and his former agent revealed that Beasley received “improper benefits” in his one season at Kansas State. As CBS Sports Gary Parrish noted, this means the top-3 picks in the 2008 Draft (Derrick Rose, Beasley and OJ Mayo) might all be ruled retroactively ineligible by the NCAA.

All three were part of the high school class of 2007, one of the most talented in over a generation. But because of the NBA’s one-and-done rule, all three were forced to attend college for at least one season, even if they had no interest in being student-athletes.

Of the 14 lottery picks in the 2008 draft, seven were college freshmen from the class of 2007. Such a dramatic infusion of talent, many of whom would have gone straight to the NBA out of high school otherwise, enlivened the college game.

For only the second time in the last thirty years, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the 2008 Final Four. The Memphis Tigers, led by Rose, ended up losing one of the all-time great championship games, blowing a late lead to Kansas and eventually losing in overtime.

Yet because Rose had someone else take the SAT for him in order to be eligible, Memphis’ season has been vacated by the NCAA. But when it comes to amateurism in youth basketball, Pandora’s Box has already been opened, and no amount of investigation and well-wishing by the NCAA or anyone else will change that.

Elite prospects are worth a lot of money. The Texas Rangers gave two 16-year old Dominicans a combined $8.45 million in signing bonuses this summer, and it’s much harder to project baseball players, who have to ascend through four levels of minor league competition, than it is basketball players, as the elite ones literally stand out over their competition.

Thirteen of the NBA’s top 112 players today were in high school in 2006, and only two (Blake Griffin and James Harden) weren’t ranked in the top ten of their respective graduating classes. It’s almost a certainty that a few kids in the high school classes of 2012 and 2013 will be among the NBA’s elite by 2016.

And because the league has taken a completely hands-off approach to youth basketball in this country, their primary way of learning the game and earning a reputation is on the AAU circuit, where coaches bid for their services in order to enrich themselves.

When you put poor kids from single-parent households who will soon be worth millions of dollars in that type of environment, the end result is inevitable. The real question is whether anyone actually cares if they are taking money.

Bringing Beasley to Manhattan quieted many of the doubts surrounding Frank Martin, who had taken over the Kansas State program despite never being a head coach at the college level before. The Wildcats are now a perennial top-25 team, and Martin has a $1.5 million annual contract.

The NCAA is about to begin one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory, primarily because of the wealth of talent that stayed in school due to the ongoing NBA lockout. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond, despite never playing a minute of college basketball, are already projected to be lottery picks and sign contracts worth millions of dollars next June. It would be negligent on an agent’s part to not at least try to build a relationship with them already.

The NBA, meanwhile, benefits immensely from the popularity of the college game. Their future stars get huge amounts of fawning publicity, especially in parts of the country like the Midwest where the league doesn’t have many franchises.

In theory, the only people that lose in this situation are the players, since they aren’t allowed to receive extra benefits beyond a one-year college scholarship for their athletic ability. But Beasley’s case, like countless others before, shows that the players are getting a cut as well.

It’s a win-win scenario for everyone: the players pretend to play for the love of their alma mater, the schools pretend to teach them and the fans pretend to be outraged when it comes out years later that the “student-athletes” were amateurs in name only.

The only real loser is the NCAA’s academic integrity and sense of shame, something they abandoned years ago in their mad rush to enrich themselves.

 

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