Healthy is the (NCAA’s) Dangled Carrot

Throwing money in order to stifle the kicking and screaming coming from out of a social issue will only create exterminator-like results: problems won’t actually disappear, the cockroaches and termites just pack up and move elsewhere.

There is one sure way money can be used pragmatically. I’m reminded of the oldest trick we all learned in psychology 101: Incentive based classical conditioning. Remember Pavlov’s dog? But I’m not talking cookies, biscuits or atta boys. I’m talking signing bonuses, 401k’s, and even college scholarships.

Hold on-college scholarships!? But this is 2011: a time when fortune cookies just straight up tell us “You are smart,” and everyone under 30 gets what they want or they pack their marbles and go elsewhere. Free knowledge, rodent free shelter with hot water, internet, books, athletic facilities and equipment, access to a trainer, dibs on the cheerleaders and A-list treatment to all the best parties-its already compensated for NCAA’s athletes on scholarship. And that’s no longer good enough.

If only Darth Vader instead could have opened a suitcase full of bundled cash to tempt Luke with on that wild night in Cloud City. But because it was so darn windy, Darth could only offer Luke a shared control of the galaxy.

This sure wasn’t enough for former Ohio State Buckeye star quarterback Terrell Pryor. Once a cornerstone of the program, Pryor reportedly decided one or two cars wasn’t good enough for such a demanding lifestyle (where sweatpants in public 5-days-a-week is acceptable) so he reportedly drove up to eight during his time in Columbus. He was last seen in a Nissan 350z.

I know a recent college graduate up to his nostrils in student loan debt; a talented, honest guy trying to make an honest living, last seen in a ’94 beige Corolla. I believe it was a four door.

First Bush for TWO terms, now we are considering paying kids holding an 11-lb. Butterball turkey under one arm, the loaf of bread they cry about not having under the other. Who will dupe us next?

My first car was an '84 Oldsmobile we called "The Hooptie." It had a tape deck, velvet seats, and smelled of maple syrup.

Boys with access to free toys like the Ohio State football program will be boys. If you’ve ever been a teacher, you know how just one boy can disrupt the rhythm and harmony of your classroom. Put yourself in Jim Tressel’s shoes, if he were hired at Ohio State now as opposed to when he actually signed on 10 years ago. As told by the rich President behind a mahogany desk in an elegant office-let’s call him President Wormer:

“Jim I need you to manage the X’s and O’s, of course. But more importantly, we have a growing image to live up to here at The Ohio State University. We expect you to be the internal leader for the 90+ on our roster, to be the public spokesman of the program, and ideally, earn BCS bowl game reservations at least two out of every three years.”

President Wormer gets up and heads over to the mini bar, places a few cocktail napkins down. He then reaches for the glasses. The tongs and ice from a bucket soon follow. Then comes the sobering question. The one that fools Tressel into thinking his boss is in touch with the common man’s world. (When in actuality, he paid his secretary time-and-a-half to do weeks of private investigating so that he could frame such an inquiry.)

“Oh, and just out of curiosity, Jim…have you ever baby-sat a boatload of boys whose minds yearn for nothing but fast food, Playstation 3, skirt, poor music, even cheaper grass and Facebook for the 14 hours they’re actually awake on a daily basis? Well, when you sign with us, we’ll pay you $3.5 million-a-year to figure out how to make our young brain-bashers the best in the country. Would you like a splash of Evian in your scotch?”

Tressel’s annual salary sounds fair to some. To others, it sounds as if Tressel, a devout Christian, made a deal with the devil. Some say brutal timing. After all, Tressel was coming into The Ohio State when Bob Knight, a legend synonymous with high winning percentages and graduation rates alike, was burning out trying to identify with today’s kids whose idea of inspiration is the poster hanging next to their beer-pong table reading, “C’s get Degrees.” Sure we must hold the coaches ultimately accountable, because that is what we do in America. And that is what Tressel signed up for in the beginning. But better coaches have done far worse and made it back to the sidelines. Former Washington State University head coach Mike Price not only kept Ryan Leaf free from mugshots and fingerprints on one of the most notorious party campuses for nearly four years, but he lead the Cougars to two Rose Bowls during his tenure. When Alabama came calling, a program that needs no introduction, Price got the marquee job he deserved. Soon after, he made one of the single poorest decisions anyone over 50 and not diagnosed a geriatric could ever make: he spent an evening at a strip club with some of his Alabama players. Price was 0-0 as Alabama’s head coach. He is now the head coach at UTEP.

Mike Price managed to win a Pac-10 Championship with Ryan Leaf as his leader in the huddle.

Jim Tressel, a championship-winning head coach at two different collegiate levels, will surely become a head coach again. When he does, let’s hope the NCAA has instituted the Reserve/Trust Bank, heavy on checks-and-balances, for all its athletes to have access to on a yearly basis.

It would go something like this:

*The NCAA develops a trust of sorts for all its athletes. Each University would be responsible for developing their own office, appointing their own treasurer to satisfy the needs of such a movement as well.

*Let’s say when a player signs his/her NCAA scholarship contract for the year, they can mark an “X” in the box to become eligible for a contract severance bonus.

*$2,500 of tax-free money would be paid to the athlete after successfully completing his/her first year of eligibility-academics including. In the second consecutive year, remaining academically eligible all the way through, the athlete’s pay would double to $5,000.

*A third-consecutive year would only yield $5,000 more. We’ll call it the cap. Upon completion of a fourth and final consecutive year of eligibility along with graduating, the athlete could earn the standard $5,000 along with a $5,000 graduation bonus. Did he or she graduate with honors? Throw in an extra grand. Academic All-American during any of those seasons? That warrants a bonus as well.

So it’s pretty simple: If the athlete has a good year on campus, assuming they use up a year of eligibility, they get paid. The NCAA’s golden carrot is dangled.

The Fab Five story is something out of the Old Testament. We all enjoyed watching them for various reasons, especially the bar they set on and off the court. They were poor young artists riding around in a Dodge Dart, wearing plain navy Hanes t-shirts during pre-game intros of Nationally Televised games and cutting down regional nets. Sometime along the way though, Webber allowed the serpent to deceive him, and they all paid for it.

Paying the athletes who are enrolled at various universities throughout America, kids who are given everything they need to survive comfortably, is taking the easy way out.

Sure it’s unfair that billions of dollars are being made off of them, but that’s all this really is–unfair. It’s not inhumane.

Nothing in this life should ever come easy-unless, of course, you already have God-given athletic ability.