OJ Mayo isn't to blame for the latest NCAA rules violation, and neither was Reggie Bush.
The problem isn't with the players themselves, but with the NCAA and the agents they let influence kids coming out of college.
Mayo's story is the same one we hear about once a year. In collegiate sports, you always have a case of kids that don't have much money dreaming of making the big bucks.
When I was in college, I would have taken any dollar thrown my way, as all struggling college kids would.
The crime here isn't that Mayo and Bush took money and gifts from agents and boosters.
The crime is that the NCAA has done absolutely nothing to keep these kids away from that kind of influence until they're mature enough to handle it.
For the record, collegiate athletes do get paid for the services they provide: It's called a free ride at an accredited university where they receive a quality education and a bright future that doesn't have to be tied to what they do on a basketball court.
I know the arguments for paying collegiate athletes and some are good points. Yes, the universities are making a ton of money off the performance of these athletes.
What do the athletes get in return?
Something those outside the athletic department would love to have. Instead of graduating with student loan debts in the tens of thousands, like yours truly, they have everything completely taken care of.
No tuition, no books, no living expenses...a free ride for 4 years.
Do the math and you're looking at a "salary" that beats some professors at their University. Not to mention, with agents pulling the tricks they are already pulling, do you really want free agency in collegiate athletics?
This brings us back to the true problem with the NCAA and collegiate athletes—the agents.
How can the NCAA fix the problem?
NCAA Bylaw 12.3.1 says, "An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport."
The NCAA is in fact giving these kids a choice, which gives them the ability to declare and sign with an agent without penalty since they're not coming back anyway.
It's time to take it a step further and ban all contact, directly or indirectly, with collegiate athletes while they are enrolled in classes.
You would also have to have provisions in place to prevent athletes from withdrawing from school the semester they are drafted. Under such a ban, all agents would have to wait until the "draft" semester is over before initiating any contact with the player themselves.
I can already here the arguments against such a proposal, so let me address a couple of them now.
The NFL draft is in April. If agents cannot sign players before the draft, who will give them the guidance they need in the weeks prior?
Well, the only real guidance they need is whether to declare for the draft or not. They can lean on their coaches for that information. Last I checked, it doesn't take much hand-holding to wait for your name to be called on draft day.
Argument number two will be over contracts with the teams that draft them. With the exception of the number one pick in recent years, no draft picks sign with their teams until the summer anyway, giving them time to find the right agent for them.
People seem to forget that these athletes are still kids making their transition into the world. They have enough issues going on with their lives than to be influenced by a greedy agent that looks at a kid and sees dollar signs and endorsement deals.
The college game is the only sport where the athletes are not motivated by money, but have a pure respect for the games they play. Get the agents out of the way and let these kids do what they do best, play the game.
The only way that will ever happen is to get tough on agents, and restrict access to these easily impressionable kids.
I'll admit, getting this done will not be easy, and will probably face stiff resistance from the professional leagues. The NCAA has to stay firm and send a message that these kids will not be taken advantage of on our watch.
What happens when they leave is up to them, but it is the responsibility of the NCAA to send them off on the right path.