College sports provide broken system
As of now, Ohio State running back Maurice Clarrett's future remains uncertain. Suspended by OSU for the 2003 season for violating NCAA rules, he has several options.
He can transfer to I-AA Grambling, where he would not be forced to sit out the start of next season. He can remain at Ohio St. and come back next year. He can challenge NFL rules to gain early entry into the 2004 draft. Or he can head north of the border to the Canadian Football League.
The media has had varying views on the decision, but everyone has an opinion. Most agree that in a perfect world, Clarrett would start for the Buckeyes next year.
But it is big-money college sports that destroy the perfect world.
Two of America's four major professional sports use collegiate athletics for player development: basketball and football. Not coincidentally, those two sports are the only two that make significant money at the college level.
But the problem is that the potential pro basketball or football player, upon leaving high school, is on average far less prepared for college than the potential hockey or baseball player. Then, when they have academic problems in college, like Clarrett, they're labeled as black sheep.
Meanwhile, does anyone remember where Wayne Gretzky played college hockey? He didn't. Does anyone know where Cal Ripken played college baseball? He didn't. But now they are recognized as ambassadors to their sport.
I doubt however much Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant achieve in the last years of their careers, which started straight out of high school, that they will be revered after retirement the same way as Tim Duncan, who graduated from Wake Forest.
Like it or not, it is a fact that the average black American is afforded much poorer public education than his/her white counterpart. It's also a fact that the majority of players in the NFL and NBA are black, unlike the MLB and NHL. It doesn't mean that black athletes aren't capable of performing well in college and in collegiate athletics. But it is tragically unfair that those who play basketball, and even more so football, have no alternative out of high school, while those who play baseball and hockey do.
Football and basketball at the Div. I level are often money-making machines that fund not only themselves, but other school athletics and other school programs in general. College baseball and college hockey are popular in some places, but not to the same extent.
College football and basketball dominate the developmental level because they existed in large scale entirely before the professional level. The reason the NFL plays on Sundays is because when the league started, they did not want to conflict with the vastly more popular college football scene that played Saturdays. Meanwhile, in the "old days," every little town had a class C or class B semi-professional baseball team.
Sure, Wichita State has a tradition of greatness in college baseball, as does Minnesota in college hockey. But in these sports it's not the norm, compared with Kentucky or North Carolina or Indiana basketball, or Penn State, Notre Dame, Nebraska or Texas football.
Without the big names, minor leagues are able to compete and defeat college baseball and college hockey. With the big names, starting minor league football or minor league basketball isn't prudent financially.
Thus, big-money college athletics spoil my perfect world, where athletes who are professional caliber aren't discriminated against because they don't want to go to sociology class, something that has nothing to do with their career path.
The fact that this affects black athletes more than white ones doesn't mean that racial discrimination created the flawed system. But, unfortunately for Clarrett and others, it is why they unfairly are forced to overcome the stigma of falling through the system's cracks.