Playing collegiate sports is mutually beneficial for both the players and the NCAA. The NCAA gets the better end of it, but it's still a good deal for players of all skill levels.
O.J. Mayo was the example used in Boyce Watkins' article, which contends that the NCAA should compensate its players on top of any scholarships. O.J. Mayo went to one year of school at USC. He was not able to go directly to the NBA. That wasn't the NCAA or USC's fault, that is the NBA rule.
Formerly, high-school players with top-level talent could go directly to the NBA, but that's no longer an option. However, no one forced O.J. Mayo to attend a university. If he didn't feel right about USC and Tim Floyd banking off his star talent, he could have chosen to wait out the required year by practicing his crossover and jump shot in a gym. But why would he want to do that? There are more than three dozen professional basketball leagues worldwide.
He could get paid to play! Right out of high school! Sounds like we've got a viable alternative.
That sucks, though, that he might have to go overseas to get his "fair market value." There isn't as much exposure over there. Nike wouldn't know whether to give him a contract. He wouldn't be playing against the best that he could be.
Maybe he looks great, maybe he stinks it up. How would the NBA have graded him against different competition? Would he still go No. 3 in the draft after playing overseas for a year? Would anyone even know who O.J. Mayo was?
Therein lies the rub: Mayo's payment at USC was the exposure afforded by major college basketball, ESPN, Los Angeles, the NCAA tournament, etc. Mayo's future earnings will likely be higher because he attended USC. Isn't that why most people go to college?
Mayo and other lottery-type talent are one case. The "guys who are superstars in college but don't have the body type or athleticism to compete in the NBA" could play overseas after college. Paul Shirley carved out a decent career playing basketball professionally, and no one would confuse him with a superstar.
The other 95 percent of college basketball players? Make sure to get your free diploma!
With all due respect to Watkins, there is a difference between playing collegiate basketball and working in a sweatshop. These kids aren't forced labor. If they need to help support their family, they can take a day job at McDonald's or a hardware store. Nowhere is it written that one who has sports talent must be compensated for it.