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The Problem of being an Amateur

Once upon a time the Olympics allowed only amateur athletes to compete. The idea was that professionals would have an unfair advantage over those who not only trained in their sport but had to spend time doing other things like making enough money to live. They wanted people who embodied the ethos of a sound mind and a sound body. In other words, those who were well rounded, not one dimensional. But eventually some countries, like those in Eastern Europe, found a way around the rule. They would hire top athletes into the army and let them train full time while they paid them for their "military" service. Those athletes had an advantage over their non-paid counterparts. As a result, in 1986 the IOC decided to allow professionals to participate in the Olympics.

Now the NCAA is running into similar problems in college football. Unscrupulous agents and middlemen are giving cash and gifts to top players in the hopes of recovering their investment when the player enters the NFL. Reggie Bush made huge headlines recently when it turned out his family was living rent free for a year in a $750K home. Of course the family signed a contract saying they would pay rent every month, but no money was ever paid until after Bush turned professional.

Which means USC is now the ones really paying the price. They're banned from bowl play until December 2012, they'll lose 10 scholarships a year for the next 3 years, and they're stripped of their national championship in 2005. USC even volantarily sent back the Heisman trophy awarded for Bush's play in 2005 that they had on display. No word on if Bush will send back his trophy.

Some people are complaining that USC is paying the price while those who benefited, Bush and his family, are walking away unpunished. But how much money did USC make because Bush was on the team? How many people watched USC simply because of the dynamic play making ability of Bush or went out and bought his jersey? USC may be paying the price now but they made plenty of money off of him while he was there.

More after the jump.

Now the NCAA is on the war path. They don't want a repeat performance from another top player so they're cracking down to send a message. Recently they were in Chapel Hill interviewing 13 players for "Bush like" violations at UNC. One of those players was top NFL prospect Marvin Austin who was seen driving the 49ers own Kentwan Balmer's car.

They then went down to Columbia to ask questions about South Carolina TE Weslye Saunders. Upon hearing the news, Gamecock's head coach Steve Spurrier couldn't help but take a jab at ex-USC coach Pete Carroll by saying, "We're not going to look the other way like possibly Southern California did. We're going to abide by the rules."

And then if that wasn't enough, word came out that they're also investigating ex-Gator Maurkice Pouncey for allegedly accepting $100K from an agent. And this wasn't all done on the spur of the moment. Reports say that the NCAA has been gathering evidence for months.

The problem the NCAA has is that college football is big business. Top coaches in college make just as much, if not more than their counterparts in the NFL. While the players, on the other hand, are receiving well below thier fair market value. So with players being paid only in an education and free room and board, and with college football bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars every year, it has created an opening for people trying to work the system.

Yes, I know a good education could be worth a lot in future income, but the top players could care less what their scholarship could mean for their future income. They're looking at the money NFL players earn, where their degree in criminal justice won't matter. Plus, how many players even get their degree? Not surprisingly, for a top school like Stanford the graduation rate in 2010 was 89%. But when you go to a football factory like USC the graduation rate drops to 57% and when you go to Texas it drops even more to 49%. The national average for FBS schools is 67%, with Duke having the highest graduation rate at 96% and SJ St having the worst at 33%. So while a free education has value, it doesn't equal the value of the top players to their school. At least not in the players eyes, otherwise so many of them wouldn't throw it away by not graduating.

So what's the answer? Players like Reggie Bush make a lot of money for their schools but they're not getting paid what they're worth. At the same time, if schools started sharing their income with the players the difference between top schools and bottom schools would widen even more. By and large recruits would choose the school that gave them the best opportunity to earn the most money. I suppose they could create some sort of revenue sharing system where all they players got paid a flat rate based on their playing time and position, but that still wouldn't keep agents and boosters from paying under the table. No matter what, as long as there's money to be made, people will try to find ways to make it. And few sports are bigger business than college football.