The Case for Minor League Football and Basketball

I’ll be right back with a Davis Cup preview but let’s look at college sports for a quick moment.

My 95 year old mother is in the hospital so I’m flying home to help in any way I can and that’s why I was sitting in the airport when a woman next to me said into her phone: “So, no news on the kidney transplant yet?”

The words “human rights or somethin’” popped up in the conversation a few minutes later. I can only hope the subject was not illegally harvested organs. My week has been dominated by medical talk. It has also seeped into sports.

National Football League (NFL) player Sean Taylor died from a bullet wound to his leg fired by an intruder who broke into his home. There’s been a lot of discussion about Taylor’s past problems and his college days at Miami, a college known for recruiting rough and intimidating players. Taylor is the third Miami player to be murdered since 1996 and Miami helped start a bench clearing brawl against Florida International that was memorable by any standard.

There are rumors that Taylor’s murder might be linked to gang activity from the neighborhood he grew up in. We don’t know whether that’s accurate or not but you can be pretty sure Sean Taylor was more likely to end up with a bullet in his leg than Heisman candidate Tim Tebow who was raised by missionaries and home schooled.

I’m not espousing religion here, in fact I don’t believe there is a creator. As far as I’m concerned, the universe is continuous with no beginning and no end and therefore no need for a creator. No, I have a different take on the situation.

I believe that many football and basketball players would be better served by going to a minor league out of high school rather than a big-time college sports program. By that I mean a minor league similar to baseball minor leagues.

Or, if you will, tennis minor leagues. A young tennis player has to go through three steps to earn his or her way into an ATP tournament draw. They start by playing futures events then move on to challenger events. When they’ve earned enough points, they can enter the qualifier for an ATP tournament and win they’re way into a main draw.

If the tennis player starts losing too many matches, its back to futures and challengers again, just like a young baseball player who isn’t hitting in the bigs goes back to the minor leagues.

A college football or basketball player, instead, gets a scholarship to college and is immediately handed an easy class schedule and a tutor for every course. This was basketball star Greg Oden’s course load his first semester at Ohio State: The History of Rock’n’Roll and Sociology 101. He got two more credits for playing basketball.

Colleges not only cater to players but sometimes they contribute to their criminal behavior. Tony Taylor had a history of sexual assault when Jim Harrick gave him a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia. When Taylor was accused of sexual assault again while he was at Georgia, Harrick denied knowledge of Taylor’s past history even though he’d been recruiting Taylor since high school.

Here is a question from Taylor’s final exam in a basketball course – yes, basketball course – he took while he was at Georgia: “How many points does a 3-point field goal account for in a basketball game?”

If players, instead, went to a minor league, they’d be responsible for feeding and housing themselves instead of spending the night at a luxury hotel the night before the big homecoming game. If they got into legal trouble, they’d be on their own. If they didn’t play well, they’d be dropped from the team.

In short, athletes would have to mature well enough to manage their own lives. For many players that would be far better preparation for the life of hero worship they’ll find in the pros than three years of a suffocating college sports program that caters to their every whim.

They’d also avoid the misleading designation of amateur student-athlete and be what they truly are: professional athletes.

This is not a conclusive take on the subject. Professional athletes from poor neighborhoods have a difficult time divorcing themselves from childhood friends with criminal records for a number of reasons and I’ll go into that some other time. And my take would shrink the huge commercial operation known as NCAA football and basketball. Good luck with that.

But we owe it to athletes to provide them with job opportunities other than big-time college sports programs. These programs recruit problem players and make a lot of money off them without giving them the tools they need to be mature professional athletes.