Saturday, January 07, 2006

Cheatin'

It's been a while since the last major college sports cheating scandal, which means we are overdue. Cheating is inevitable when governments or similar bodies set up rules that deeply offend the principles of market economics.

A Vince Young or Reggie Bush is worth tens of millions to a college and a conference - maybe hundreds of millions when all the feeders at the trough are considered. The college, conference and TV network get these valuable services for room and board - slave wages in anybody's book. The reason they can manage this remarkable economic feat is that they are supported by a huge conspiracy in restraint of free trade - the National College Athletic Association (NCAA). Such a conspiracy, even when supported by law, tradition, and the public nonetheless creates huge incentives to cheat in recruiting these hypervaluable sevices. The tissue thin rationale for this system is that athletic grants-in-aid are an educational grant, not payment for services.

The free market capitalist in me sees a simple solution - sanction the conspirators, fine them, slap a few college presidents in the slammer and allow student athletes to negotiate their own best terms. The (slightly) practical idealist realizes that this is probably unlikely to happen, since it would likely destroy professional college athletics as we know them. So here is a more modest step: Make all athletic grants-in-aid for four or more years and contingent only on academics. In other words, if USC recruits Joe Schmoe and gives him an athletic "scholarship" he gets to keep the scholarship as long as he remains in good academic standing, even if he gets bored with football and stops showing up for practice (or games) on day one. This would make the "scholarship" fiction real, and partially deprofessionalize college sports.