For the good of the game, start farm teams

In college basketball, an FBI investigation has revealed more than previously known about a black market that pays players in various illicit ways. The same problems have plagued college football for years.

Many say the solution is for colleges to pay their athletes, since for the top ones, the notion that they are anything but professionals is nostalgic and false. We repeat what we have said before: The answer, instead, is for the NBA and NFL to start up minor leagues. This corruption is only a problem on anywhere near this level in basketball and football, in which the pro leagues rely almost entirely on colleges to develop their future players. It doesn’t happen in baseball and hockey, which have minor league farm systems. In those sports, a teenage athlete who knows he only wants to go pro can pursue that goal exclusively and get paid doing it. The college game in baseball and hockey is still strong, but those players are doing it to get a college education as well.

The NBA and NFL have plenty of money to set up minor leagues, but some say, what’s their incentive to do so since colleges are doing it for them? Our answer is that the integrity of the college football and basketball system is so compromised that it cannot stand much longer. Maybe the FBI will bring it down, maybe the NCAA will decide either to go totally pro or totally amateur — either way would be a tough road — or maybe non-athlete students will finally revolt, demanding that their colleges return to being colleges and stop driving up tuition to support massive professional sports franchises.

Something is going to have to give, and when it does it will hurt the sports as a whole — weakening fans’ interest and toppling the NBA and NFL’s supply chain. For the good of the game, the ones at the top with all the money should start a few farm teams now.