The beauty in watching college sports is that you get to acknowledge and appreciate sports at their most basic and truest form. These athletes work day and night to perfect their craft and for just a few times a year they can put that hard work on display for the entire world to watch.
When you watch a collegiate national championship and you see the teams dog pile and celebrate at the end of the game, what you are witnessing can only be described as pure joy. It's not like professional sports where players are taking a business-like approach and simply doing their job. These athletes live together, eat together, go to class together and hang out with each other. That's when they aren't at practice, in the film room, in the weight room or at study hall together. It's a brotherhood that anyone who has walked on a college campus has seen. It's similar to what fraternity and sorority members might experience.
As we get ready to watch one of these remarkable displays of amateur sports at the College World Series over the next week, we need to remember that the NCAA isn't necessarily in the best state right now with all of the issues surrounding college football, most recently with Terrelle Pryor.
College baseball is vastly different from football and basketball for a few different reasons. For starters, the amount of games played between the sports is substantial. Most of the teams in the College World Series have played over 60 games this season in less time than a college basketball team plays their entire season of 38 games or so through March Madness.
The amount of travel involved is also substantial, especially for any northern schools that must travel south in mid to late February to start their seasons. The biggest difference in terms of the NCAA is how much money these programs generate for their schools and athletic departments. The Biz of Baseball had a story that talked about how every Pac-10 school in 2007 had been operating in the red on their baseball programs.
One pre-requisite to making money in college baseball is a premier facility. The schools that are profitable – Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi State among them – have stadiums that compare favorably with the best facilities in Minor League Baseball.
It's an uphill battle for college baseball programs to get into the black and become a revenue-generating sport with all of the expenses that these programs face, mainly travel budgets. They aren't just going on a road trip to play one game and then head back, they're playing three-game series and getting hotel rooms for upwards of 30 people including players, coaches and staff for three or four days.
One thing you don't see out of college baseball are the scandals and problems that are constantly shuffling through news cycles day after day. Those problems lie within football and basketball. Some of these issues have been the fault of the NCAA by turning a cheek to a rampant problem. None of this was more apparent than their decision to let Terrelle Pryor play in the Sugar Bowl last year along with the other four suspended Buckeye football players.
Pryor was suspended on December 23rd, 2010 for the first five games of the 2011 season, but allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl just two weeks later. How could this possibly be justified? To the NCAA and the Sugar Bowl Exec's it's very simple, money. Pryor became the MVP of the Sugar Bowl and they made a boat load of money from the TV ratings. They wouldn't have had those same ratings if they had suspended Pryor along with his four teammates. They knowingly broke NCAA rules and got away with it. It's not surprising now that Pryor has decided to forgo his senior year, hire an agent, and take his shot at making more money in the NFL than he did in college.
One of the other major differences between these sports and baseball, besides revenue, are the professional opportunities available. Now that high school players are not allowed to go straight to the NBA a problem has been created, and they had to have seen it coming. These one-and-done players are changing the culture of March Madness and ruining a little bit about what made the tournament special. If these kids have what it takes to play in the NBA, which most of them don't right out of high school, but if they do, then let them go straight to the NBA.
These coaches have multi-million dollar contracts riding on the decision of where these top-recruits are going to spend one season. These players don't care about how great of a school it is or the academic qualities of each of these different schools that are recruiting them. They are there for one year and they are done. How are coaches supposed to separate themselves from other schools for these kids when their main 'selling' points don't apply to these top-recruits? Therein lies the problem.
High School baseball players are allowed to sign professionally, and if they choose to go to a four-year NCAA school, they have to wait until after their junior year, or when they turn 21 to be draft eligible. Something similar should work in basketball too. If they don't want to have to wait three years to be drafted, then head to a junior college and be a one and done there. It happens in baseball all of the time. Four of the top 60 players chosen in this past MLB draft came out of junior colleges.
When you put multi-million dollar contracts on the line for coaches who are recruiting kids to a school they will help make millions of dollars for and those kids are only getting an education, not that an education isn't a lot, but there is a flaw in the system. They need to figure out a way that puts enough fear into these players and coaches that they must follow these compliance guidelines. The easiest way to do this is by taking away the very thing that leads them to these decisions in the first place. Money.
The North Carolina football players that were suspended last season ultimately cost themselves a lot of money by breaking NCAA rules from having illegal contact with agents. Their consolation is still a NFL career and millions of dollars in the bank. What if there were an agreement between the NBA and NFL that any player who violates their amateur status in college gets a 5-year ban from their professional leagues? This would open some eyes as to whether or not that $40k they are offered in college for some signed memorabilia would be worth the millions they could potentially lose. Something similar should be in every coaches contract that they could face suspension from wherever they are coaching if improprieties are found, and add to that a hefty fine as well.
People might think it's a little too stiff of a penalty but we've seen this situation before. Major League Baseball sat back and reaped the rewards of the steroid era with a cheek-turned the other way, while money flowed like water as players got bigger and bigger. Much like the Sugar Bowl fiasco last January where the NCAA and Sugar Bowl exec's played dumb until the checks all cleared and money was in the bank. We saw how baseball dealt with the situation eventually. They changed the testing policy to include the minor leagues, where the root of the problem was, and handed out 50-game suspensions to anyone who was caught. People thought the penalty was too stiff then, but a few years later the game has cleaned up and is just as popular as it was before. They do get some credit for fixing the problem they helped create.
The College World Series that starts on Saturday shows us the one pure men's NCAA championship that is still left in today's NCAA climate. The problems have been created by a broken system, players not caring of the loose consequences, and coaches willing to put their jobs on the line for that big contract brought in by the success of the very players they are putting their jobs on the line for. Baseball doesn't have that problem. The players who wanted to go pro, went pro. The money isn't flowing in like it is in these other sports. So the moral of the story is when money isn't the biggest issue facing the players and coaches, it's pure. The College World Series displays the very essence of what makes sports great and when you watch the elation and joy from those players and coaches next week, it's coming from a place of true passion and integrity.