Utah Sports Ruckus: Separate sports from school

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2015 2:36 p.m. MDT

Kansas freshman NCAA college basketball player Andrew Wiggins leaves a news conference at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Monday, March 31, 2014. Wiggins announced he would be entering the NBA draft. (Orlin Wagner, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Kansas freshman NCAA college basketball player Andrew Wiggins leaves a news conference at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Monday, March 31, 2014. Wiggins announced he would be entering the NBA draft. (Orlin Wagner, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

What does playing sports have to do with academic higher learning?

Nothing whatsoever.

In America church and state are separate.

Sports and school should be separate as well.

Our universities should not serve as corporate minor league systems for pro sports any longer. Young people who want to expand their minds and get a true education should not have to pay ridiculous tuition amounts to support professional athletic programs.

Universities should be welcome to provide students with organized athletic opportunities, but they should be extracurricular, voluntary organizations for actual students or they should be self-funded programs.

So what to do with gifted young athletes?

Professional sports organizations should be able to sign them to contracts as soon as they are of legal age to sign such agreements.

There should also be no draft systems or maximum contracts.

If, for example, the Utah Jazz wants to offer Andrew Wiggins a 12-year, $200 million contract after this season, the team should be able to do so. If it had wanted to offer that contract before he spent a year under the total and utter farce of being a “student” athlete at Kansas University, it should have been able to do that as well.

Professional sports leagues should have a hard salary cap if they are worried about keeping things balanced and fair. There should be no luxury tax or other wink-wink exceptions. If the salary cap is $100 million per team, then that is the limit.

The hard salary cap and the elimination of the draft and max contracts would balance out the leagues competitively, get rid of "tanking" in the NBA and solve myriad other problems with our sports leagues, including the un-American idea of having players “drafted” by teams rather than being able to choose their own employers. It would also solve the current hot-button issue of college athletes unionizing or being paid.

Having the “right” to draft a player has not helped teams all that much anyway. How often has a top draft pick in the NBA, for example, led his team to a championship while still under his rookie contract?

LeBron James couldn’t do it. Michael Jordan was in his seventh season when he led the Bulls to their first title.

The pro leagues, not our universities, would be responsible for establishing their own minor league systems to develop and stockpile players. All players under contract by the organization, whether assigned to the top-level roster or a minor league roster, would count toward the salary cap.

Of course, this concept has wrinkles to iron out that cannot all be detailed in this article.

In any event, American universities should not be paying the contracts of young athletes or compensating them in any way. Playing a sport has nothing to do with higher learning.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

If an athlete wants to pay to take classes and pursue a higher education during the offseason or in his or her spare time, as thousands of working adults do in this country, then that is outstanding, and such educational pursuits should be encouraged.

If, at any time, a university student was offered a job in professional sports, he or she would be free to drop out and pursue that career if desired.

Would this be a big change in our country? Yes, it would. But the changes would be rational and would cause us to evolve and improve as a society.

Would some people be upset? Absolutely. For one thing, there are many overcompensated individuals who make a pretty darn good living through the farce of “amateur” college athletics. These people will survive, adapt and find a more useful way to contribute to society.

Will some “traditions” regarding college athletics in our country be eliminated or altered? Yes. Would this be sad in some ways? Yes.

But human beings adapt to their circumstances; whatever space is left open in people’s lives by the changes proposed here would quickly be filled by something else. I don’t want to get crazy here, but some might even, dare I say, spend more time paying attention to the other people in their lives.

Now there’s a scary thought.

The fact that something is a “tradition” in our country is not a sufficient reason to resist positive change. Americans have many traditions we would be better off without — fast food, the exploitation of women in the media, the concept of buying now and paying later, celebrity magazines, the glorification of criminals in movies, arrogance, sarcasm, etc.

Sometimes what is in our best interest causes discomfort or pain, whether it’s getting an immunization shot as a child, ending an unhealthy codependent relationship, quitting smoking or thousands of other examples.

It may be painful, it may be sad and there surely would be resistance — but it’s time for sports and school to follow the example of church and state in America and separate.

Nate Gagon is a published sports, music, and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free throw line and can be reached at: nategagon@hotmail.com or @nategagon.

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