A simple man like myself can offer simple answers, that is all. On the surface, and with a certainty that there is much below as well, I can see two solutions (or a combination thereof) to the problem of athletes and those around them violating the rules pertaining to gifts and money.
However, what the issue brings about is more questions than answers.
Solution 1. Any proven violation of NCAA rules pertaining to amateur athletes and improper payments and/or benefits results in at least a year (possibly more) suspension from playing in the NCAA or NBA.
Solution 2. Pay the players.
The hardship rule, allowing players to come straight out of high school into the pros, isn't what it used to be.
The NBA has a one year rule, more aptly coined as the "one-and-done" clause, and the NFL requires a player to be three years removed from their graduating high school class before becoming eligible for the draft. Those athletes and their families who truly suffer hardship have no choice but to abide by these rules.
Should there be more information or investigation into proving hardship and allowing those who qualify in? Does the "one-and-done" really help college basketball?
The hardship rule when it pertains to the NFL is a little different, due to the physical nature of the game of football. As we know, a player fresh out of high school is more than likely to be physically overpowered by the pro-caliber player.
With basketball being less than a "contact" sport and a proven track record (although the rate of success may be questioned) of players making the jump (LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, etc), the issue remains very cloudy at best.
Money. We all know it's about the money, whether hardship exists or not.
The lure of millions and fame call high school players and cause some to become impatient. With agents and representatives whispering to them with promises of riches in return for their promises of signing with them, players like O.J. Mayo are subject to enormous temptation.
Do they all succumb? Of course not. It is really amazing to me that there aren't more reports of illegal benefits, gifts, and money being offered and accepted in the amateur ranks—which either means it isn't as prominent as we think, or there are those who are much more good at hiding it than others.
It isn't a secret that universities make millions off their sports programs, and without the players, the point is moot.
Basketball players who would normally forgo college for the NBA but are subjected to the one year rule aren't really students for the most part. I am sure there will be those who do value a college degree and would like to put forth the classroom effort to garner the credits they can retain until they decide to resume their education after cashing in playing pro.
But those who don't, and I believe it is the majority of that group, will probably rarely attend a class if at all. College is a stopover, nothing more.
My first solution is more of a pipe dream and would never happen. So that leaves us with paying players.
You may find that absurd as well. It is strange to say, although the idea has been out there forever.
From a first look, you would think it would curb the violations of players taking gifts and money when they know they have something coming from the college of their choice and their status can remain intact. The universities can protect themselves from sanctions from the mighty NCAA, which keep them in good standing and scandal-free.
As I said, I am sure there is much that would have to go into plans such as these, facts and issues I could not fathom. But it makes sense in many ways.
Just as coaches cannot go home with players, college or pro, neither can universities. Players align themselves with "mentors" that schools and agents feel they also have to recruit to get close to their desired targets. Universities are subject to possible "death sentences" if violations are serious enough.
Would paying players solve the problem? I doubt it, there is always someone looking for a shortcut.
And what of non-athletes, who are shelling out record amounts of tuition and repaying massive student loans? Because they don't excel at sports, they have to pay instead of being paid? What happens to the financial structure of a school or all schools if some students pay and some are paid?
Have I even made any sense? Its a complicated subject, and each and every time there is alleged misconduct by a player, these questions arise and possible solutions are bandied about and debated.
There are only a couple ways to go and that's either feed and keep, or seek and destroy. Either pay the players or they pay with their athletic futures in some capacity.