The family of Marvin Bagley III went from relative poverty to living the life of luxury as soon as it became clear the 6-foot-11 teenage basketball prodigy was headed for stardom and the riches that accompany the highest level of athletic success, according to a report on oregonlive.com.
The way this works is that the unscrupulous sports agent or money manager or shoe company representative provides what the athlete and his family view as a huge amount of money in order to curry favor that will eventually lead to a long and lucrative relationship for the vultures.
Of course, the cash and cars and high-dollar rent are pennies compared to what the representatives will get in return if the young player turns pro and they get their cut of his multimillion-dollar contract and/or enjoy the benefit of him endorsing their products.
If you followed college basketball this season then you know Bagley lived up to the hype. After skipping his senior year of high school in a newly popularized maneuver known as reclassifying, Bagley arrived at Duke ready to dominate college basketball. He did just that in leading the Blue Devils to the Elite 8 while becoming a finalist for the national player of the year award.
Just last week he declared for the NBA Draft, right about the time the story broke alleging his family received benefits that would jeopardize his status as an amateur athlete — meaning it’s almost time for the vultures to capitalize on their investments.
If you’re outraged by this narrative, it’s only because you’re one of the millions of college basketball and football fans who have been brainwashed by the NCAA into thinking there is a victim in any of this.
Let’s take a look at the players.
The family goes from barely being able to provide a proper upbringing for their child to raising him in an upscale neighborhood and sending him to a quality private high school. If the parents also happen to be driving in style, that’s just a bonus. Winner.
The player gets the benefit of that upbringing and doesn’t have to suffer in poverty until the NBA decides he’s eligible to be drafted. Winner.
The agents, money managers and shoe companies are simply making calculated decisions about how to invest their money. The smart ones will get a huge return on their investments. The less smart ones will invest in players who don’t make it, and thus lose money. Winner.
The NBA gets the benefit of someone else subsidizing its future stars until they’re more prepared to succeed in the league. Winner.
The NCAA? Well, the officials who are responsible for distributing millions of dollars based on TV contracts for the college basketball tournament have to try to convince the public that they are the losers in this whole charade. After all, players and their families receiving money threatens the sanctity of college athletes and the rules of amateurism upon which those sports are based.
But I ask: Who was hurt by the Bagley family receiving money?
You can’t make a case that it’s Duke’s opponents, because almost every team competing for championships has at least one Marvin Bagley on their roster. In fact, they probably have a roster full of players who could not pass the amateurism test if all the facts were known.
This may sound like a plea for paying college athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The solution for having NCAA officials and college coaches and presidents having to answer for why their teams are cheating is to return college sports to college students.
First, a player like Bagley should be allowed to enter the NBA or one of its developmental leagues at any age. Use a model like professional soccer, where a 12-year-old can sign a pro contract if he shows enough promise.
Second, the NCAA should get serious about college athletes being college students.
My proposal would be for every player to be signed to a four-year scholarship. If he left before his four years were up — for any reason — he would still count as one of the scholarship players on the team for all four years.
So, if you wanted to sign a player like Bagley — who never had any interest in being a college student or being on campus for more than seven months — then Duke would have one less scholarship player for the three years of eligibility he left on the table.
This would require college coaches to recruit only players who they knew were serious about succeeding as students and athletes.
Of course, that would mean great players such as Bagley would not be there to help bring in millions of dollars to the NCAA.
Now, I ask: Who’s most guilty of using these kids?
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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