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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

NCAA's decision on athletes being able to get paid is mostly a good one

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Sept. 21, 2019.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Sept. 21, 2019. Credit: AP/Richard Shiro

Huxley College president Quincy Adams Wagstaff: “Where would this college be without football? Have we got a stadium?”

Professor: “Yes.”

Wagstaff: “Have we got a college?”

Professor: “Yes.”

Wagstaff: “Well, we can’t support both. Tomorrow, we start tearing down the college.”

Poking fun at the shamateurism and hypocrisy of major college sports already was an old joke by the time the Marx Brothers skewered it with that exchange in the 1932 film “Horse Feathers.”

And it already was an old issue by the time “The Outlook” magazine examined it in a scathing piece in 1905, writing in part:

"The college athlete of the sward or of the water on the physical side finds temptation to masked professionalism, to the sacrifice of scholarship in athletic excess, and to the giving of undue dominance to the verb to win.”

The silliness of it all dates at least to the 1880s, in the earliest days of intercollegiate sports, when it became evident quickly how boosters, alumni and bottom lines would poison the notion that it all was just in good fun.

The only real solution is what it always has been:

To adopt a sane system like that widely in use in Europe and elsewhere, in which people go to universities to learn things and attend keg parties while sports clubs exist for elite athletes who wish to play sports.

Too radical, I know.

So the best we can do is continue to act as much like grownups as the system allows and reform the way college sports are regulated in the United States.

Wednesday brought a major step in that direction.

The NCAA Board of Governors announced a recommendation to its three divisions that would allow student-athletes to cash in on their names, images and likenesses, likely in time for the 2021-22 academic year.

There will be restrictions involved, including not being paid directly by the university, not using its logo and not endorsing certain products, such as alcohol.

The likelihood is that a relatively small number of athletes would be in line for big paydays, while most would have little to no market value beyond perhaps picking up some extra cash for late-night pizza.

But still, this is an earth-shattering development that mostly is a good thing because it peels away one layer of that century-and-a-half worth of dishonesty and unfairness.

Why shouldn’t Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence be allowed to get paid for endorsing shampoo or other products he uses to keep his famous blond locks in working order, or to be a social media influencer?

College writers, actors, artists, tech entrepreneurs and biochemists can do so if they wish.

Might teammates get jealous? Probably. But that is Dabo Swinney’s problem.

Just let Lawrence pick up the tab for his teammates at the local Waffle House once in a while. That’s fair.

The Alabama elephant in the room, obviously, is recruiting, which figures to be radically altered.

As Hofstra athletic director Rick Cole Jr. told Newsday’s Roger Rubin on Wednesday:

“It helps figure out what student-athletes should be able to get that other students at their schools get already. Still, the devil will be in the details. This is not supposed to impact recruiting.”

That sound you hear in the distance is President Wagstaff chortling.

As we speak local car dealers across America are spending their pandemic downtime figuring out ways to let high school stars know that endorsement deals are waiting if they sign with the right school.

After Nick Saban and Swinney take their turns visiting recruits’ living rooms, Joe from the local Ford dealer and Bob from Toyota might be next in line.

Again, this mostly is a good thing, even with the inevitable complications that will ensue.

The NCAA was under pressure to act in the face of legislative efforts to get college athletes paid. They are trying to stay ahead of that posse.

“The next step for us is we have to figure out what is going to be permissible,” Stony Brook AD Shawn Heilbron told Newsday, “and we have to go in with our eyes wide open.”

Said St. John’s AD Mike Cragg, “I am sure there are a lot of things that this could bring that the NCAA doesn’t want, but who are we kidding? Compliance and monitoring will be essential.”

Good luck with that.

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