Remember a time when Division I college football and men's basketball were truly amateur sports? Remember when players from these two sports, in particular, were true "student-athletes?"
Unfortunately, I can't.
True amateurism at the top levels of these two college sports hasn't been around since long before I was born, or at least it certainly feels that way.
Sure, true amateur sports can still be found on campus in forms like gymnastics, baseball and volleyball. These sports have a pretty even playing field, and small schools have a legitimate shot of winning national titles. The NCAA still prides itself when it says that the vast majority of participants will go pro in something other than sports.
That spirit of amateur sport is nowhere to be found at the top levels of both college football and basketball anymore. Nowhere is that more evident than the FBI's investigation into corruption at top basketball schools, including Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Arizona, North Carolina and Kansas. That's quite the list of blue blood programs.
And this isn't anything new. Remember SMU's football program in the '80s? How about "Free Shoes University" in regards to Florida State in the '90s?
The rash of the latest scandals led to the NCAA to commission former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to form a panel to investigate. They released its findings and recommendations Wednesday after an investigation into corruption in NCAA men's basketball, and it contained quite the indictment on college athletics.
"The levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it," Rice said according to the New York Times.
Somewhere along the way, college football and basketball at top-tier universities became the tail that wags the dog. Too often, it seems that Division I college football and college basketball are semi-pro leagues trying to pass themselves off as amateur leagues.
College athletics has turned into a multi-billion-dollar industry. The Big Ten alone has a $2.64 billion contract with its media partners over six years. According to ESPN, the highest paid public employee in 39 of the 50 states is either a college football or a college basketball coach. As of 2017 according to Business Insider, 27 universities make more than $100 million with Texas topping the list at $182.1 million. College athletics, for an elite few at least, has become a cash cow.
But all of this money has a cost: Namely, the integrity of our schools, colleges and universities. Why has it become the job of universities to act as semi-pro leagues for football and basketball to the detriment of their actual missions as institutions of higher learning?
To its credit, the NBA has been slowly building a true development league for young players who are not interested in college basketball called the G League. One of the main recommendations of the Rice panel is to eliminate the so-called "one-and-done" rule, which would allow players to skip college altogether on their way to a professional basketball career.
This is a good idea, but it's not nearly enough to fix what ails college athletics.
First off, it's well past time for the creation of a development league in football. The system, which includes both the NFL and the NCAA, has for too long forced colleges to sell their academic souls for top-tier players who have zero interest in higher education.
It's time to reserve college athletics for only those who truly desire to be student-athletes, not those who are content with taking a one-paper class like what happened at North Carolina.
If college athletes wish to be paid to play, then we should create semi-pro leagues in which that can happen. Let college athletics be for those who are actual students who happen to be athletes as well, not aspiring professional athletes who have no desire for a real college education.
The current direction of top-tier college athletics is to engage in expensive and often unethical bidding wars for top talent so that those institutions can keep on raking in hundreds of millions while they thumb their noses at smaller programs who can't afford to do so. The divide between the "haves" and "have-nots" in college athletics is astonishing.
If these were simply businesses, that would be just fine.
But they are not.
The majority are public institutions and even those who do not receive millions of dollars of tax money.
Eventually, such practices will not escape the notice of federal regulators and lawmakers. Not only that, perhaps university presidents across the nation are asking themselves how institutions of higher learning lost their way and their principles as it comes to football and men's basketball.
I dream of a day when college football and basketball become amateur sports again. A time where colleges truly push for players who wish to learn more than how to make it to the pros. An era in which universities don't have to spend more and more of their resources to simply keep up in a toxic bidding war for players who don't care about what those universities are supposed to stand for. A time when universities don't have to tolerate the underhanded dealings of certain coaches in order to win recruits, games and championships. A time when you don't have to go to one of the "in" universities to compete for a national championship in college football.
Will this ever happen?
The cynic in me says no, but perhaps there are a growing number of fans who don't want college football and basketball to be mere semi-pro leagues. Perhaps there are many who would love to see a return of true amateurism enshrined in moments like "Win one for the Gipper."