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Friday, May 16, 2008

Commentary: Age rule brings trouble for NCAA

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The NBA and NCAA continue to pound square pegs into round holes.

What you end up with are simmering - though hardly shocking - scandals such as the one implicating former Southern Cal basketball player O.J. Mayo.

Mayo might be undereducated in the traditional sense, but he's smart enough to understand that a college education isn't required for his line of work anymore than it's a necessary ingredient to the success of Hollywood actors, pop stars or tennis players. Even Bill Gates is a college dropout.

It's assumed that Mayo would have skipped college altogether had the powers that be not created the 19-year-old draft-eligibility rule. It's a rule that thumbs its nose at the law of unintended consequences.

Do the age-limit regulations benefit young players who are good, such as Mayo? Maybe. Maybe not. But concern for the athlete has nothing to do with why they exist. Their real purpose is to allow the colleges and pros to control the product.

The motives of those of us who enjoy college hoops are only a little less cynical. Fans want to see the best players wear the uniforms of their favorite teams without losing them so quickly to the NBA.

Have you ever found yourself wondering whether Miley Cyrus will attend college? Let's hope not because that would be weird. And because the only response is: Who cares?

So why do fans and media constantly obsess over the life decisions of college basketball players?

Our supposed concern for the young jocks' maturation is a masquerade intended to cover our desire to be idly entertained. We want the Diaper Dandies to show up for freshman classes so that, like Dick Vitale, we have something to shout about as we watch TV.

Pardon the rant.

The sermon has been dusted off again in wake of the Mayo allegations.

As a result of the 2-year-old conspiracy between the NCAA and NBA, the best teen players now are required to trade their talent for a year (or single semester) of a college education they don't want.

The NCAA calls this progress. The NBA calls it a refinement of its (free) minor-league system.

Can you blame Mayo and other young men for calling it hypocrisy?

If Mayo accepted cash and gifts the past few years from a runner representing an agent, you can argue that he should have known better. But we all know better than to believe that he's the only one-and-done college player who's had his hand out.

It only figures that more are on the way. Young men who will cut and run after only one season on campus are more apt to accept money and other favors from dodgy agents eager to represent them.

It's easy to see why the NCAA can expect more controversies. Mayo might be caught in a web of lies that affects USC, but the deceit created by the 19-year-old age requirement goes deeper than that.

The charade begins when colleges refer to the one-and-done prospects as "student-athletes." But while some colleges are perfectly willing to cash in on the talents of exceptional players in exchange for a bogus educational opportunity, athletes who work the same side of the street are branded cheats and deceivers.

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