It's time to let college athletes market themselves

So now we understand Mike Slive's preemptive genuflect to the NCAA on Wednesday, when the Southeastern Conference commissioner acknowledged that college football had "lost the benefit of the doubt" when it came to overall sleaziness and needed reforms. On the same day, USA Today's Danny Sheridan claimed the NCAA is tracking down a man who might have paid quarterback Cam Newton's family six figures to get him to play for Auburn last season.

That story comes on the heels of a report in The New York Times earlier this month that the program was still under NCAA scrutiny, even after Newton was cleared to play in last season's national championship game.

It's hardly a stretch to believe that Cecil Newton, Cam's father, would seek a payoff. He was nailed by the NCAA for asking Mississippi State to pay up to $180,000 for Cam's services before Auburn ultimately won the prized quarterback. Or paid for him?

Will Auburn be stripped of last year's title, and Newton forced to give back his Heisman, a la Southern Cal and Reggie Bush? We'll know in a few years, if not sooner.

Maybe it will be a quick fall -- Ohio State already has dumped coach Jim Tressel and forfeited its 2010 victories, with quarterback Terelle Pryor leaving the program following accusations of improprieties there. And can somebody please explain why North Carolina isn't taking a lesson from Ohio State right now? Butch Davis, using the CEO-inspired ignorance defense (see Murdoch, Rupert), is still in charge, despite an investigation into as many as nine major allegations against the program.

Sorry if we're all out of anguish -- the shock value wore off a long time ago. It's time for the system to change. How much evidence do we need before we realize that the money flow to athletes is clearly beyond the ability of the NCAA to police? It's like the War on Drugs, a never-ending battle that does nothing to stop the flow of drugs.

It's time for the NCAA to do the right thing, the American thing and, most important in the world we live in these days, the capitalistic thing. It's time to give up on the outdated notion that college athletes are "amateurs" and thus should have their benefits capped at scholarships. Because there is nothing amateurish about that multi-billion dollar industry, except the way it treats its most important commodity: the talent.

Slive's suggestion that colleges pay athletes an extra $3,000 or so a year to cover living expenses is laughably inadequate. Look at the Newton numbers and ask yourself if $3,000 will somehow stop the flow of money to these athletes. Not when there's tens of thousands of dollars, and more, to be made.

So let them make it. Not through small stipends from the school or bags of money under the table by boosters, but through good, old-fashioned American capitalism.

Let an athlete earn his money by making a buck if he can through endorsements and autographed merchandise. How much might Cam Newton have earned legitimately if he were allowed to market himself? Enough to believe that his family might not have resorted to selling the quarterback to the highest bidder.

But it's not just the star quarterbacks who might be able to cash in. If Maya Moore could have earned a shoe contract while playing basketball at Connecticut, why shouldn't she have been allowed to market her talent, given the short careers of professional athletes? Why rob her of that small window of opportunity?

Missy Franklin, a 16-year-old rising high school junior who also is a world class swimmer, has had to turn down thousands of dollars in prize money and endorsements in order to retain her college eligibility. Her greatest earning power will come at a time when she is denied the ability to earn a dime.

And what of all of those college athletes who likely will not have a chance at making big bucks as a pro? Consider forward Matt Howard, who helped Butler to two consecutive NCAA championship games, but went undrafted in the NBA. Howard should have been able to cash in on endorsement deals while at Butler, when he had some earning potential as a basketball player.

It's time to leave amateurism to Pop Warner and bring free market enterprise to college campuses. And not just for the coaches who make millions in endorsement and radio/television deals.

Isn't that the American way?

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