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School of Athletics

Kevin Drum comments on an excellent post by Eugene Volokh on college sports. The core question: “Why should we be demanding that athletes who are getting an education in athletics pass muster under academic standards, or for that matter engage in academics at all?”

I feel obliged to observe that in many cases, we aren’t. Let’s look at the four major North American professional sports. Neither the NHL or MLB really care much about college educations. Not coincidentally, both of them have very good minor league systems, in which hockey or baseball players respectively can get fine educations in their sport. The NBA doesn’t have much of a farm league, and angsts a fair bit about kids coming straight to the NBA. Since there’s no way for a team to keep the rights to a player while sending him to the minor leagues to mature, this is no big surprise. The NFL is in the same boat.

It can’t be a coincidence that college basketball and football are big money, while college baseball and hockey are not. I think the connection is that the significant talents in the former two sports almost have to go to college; on the flip side, the best baseball players may not wind up in the college game. We Americans like to see the best and the biggest, after all.

This implies that one very practical road to reform for college athletics would be for the NFL and NBA to revise their draft rules such that it was possible to draft a player and keep his rights while he played in another league. Wouldn’t require any significant infrastructure investments, wouldn’t require any changes to NCAA regulations. It wouldn’t be necessary to affiliate minor league teams with the major league teams, although such affiliation is useful for other reasons. Just let teams keep the rights to people they draft for a couple of years.

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