While rolling around a golf course recently on a sunny day, a topic for a column popped into my head.
Randomly, I was thinking about the debate over whether or not college athletes should get paid. Then, as I watched a dozen or so prep athletes rip drives off the tee boxes during this particular golf tournament, I declared to myself, “If college athletes are going to be paid, then high school athletes should be paid, as well.”
Both levels of athletes put in countless hours during the inseason and offseason fine-tuning their craft, while still trying to balance their school work.
As for that school work, many college athletes are babysat when it comes to studies, having tutors and study halls available at their request. When I was in high school, it was all up to me to make sure I got my homework done after a two-hour practice that followed a seven-hour school day.
Many college athletes are attending on scholarships, meaning they receive part or all of their tuition, books, meals and room and board paid for. Who cooks and cleans and buys books for most high school athletes? The same person who drives those athletes to 6 a.m. practices — mom.
Mom is also stuck with doing the laundry, which consists of clothing that was purchased with dad’s pay check; not given to the family by some swooshy corporation that wants its logo seen on national television. Major college athletes show up for practice with their uniforms — practice and game — neatly hung in their locker stalls by an apparent laundry fairy who somehow, sometime, somewhere got that grass stain out and mended that tear.
Lets review the early portion of this debate. College athletes who are already receiving free food, housing, clothing and, oh yeah the minor thing, education, want to get paid. And high school athletes, whose families scrape by to afford used equipment and activities fees, are paying to play the games they love.
I am completely against paying any athlete who is not a professional, so the thought of actually paying a 16-year-old to putt a golf ball or shoot a 3-pointer is absurd. My argument is that a blue chip high schooler is just as valuable to his school (even more in some cases) than any college athlete is to his or her university.
At the forefront of this declaration is Minnesota’s favorite one-and-done Duke Blue Devil Tyus Jones.
Decades before Jones dribbled a basketball to a national championship in the blue and white trunks of the Blue Devils, Duke was selling out Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Without knowing the exact attendance numbers, I would guess Apple Valley High School, where Jones grew into a Duke recruit, was not selling out every one of its home games prior to Jones’ five-season tenure as the varsity point guard.
Fans of Apple Valley basketball attended and will continue to attend Eagles games no manner who is on the court. After Jones became one of the best prep players in the country, fans who previously had never heard of Apple Valley, including a guy named Mike Krzyzewski, were showing up at games. Wherever Apple Valley played, the gyms were full. Basketball is a team game, no doubt, but it wasn’t the Eagles’ sixth man who earned them an invitation to play on ESPN; it was Tyus Jones.
One of the main arguments supporting the payment of college athletes is that the colleges and universities and the television networks that air the games are using the athletes to promote their games and programs. The added ticket sales and viewership generated from these promotions are making money for everybody except the athlete who those skills and faces belongs to.
Percentage-wise, I would guess Tyus Jones made a heck of a lot more money for Apple Valley High School and the Minnesota State High School League than any individual college basketball player (including Jones) did for his university, ESPN or the NCAA.
The year Jones helped Apple Valley win the Class 4A state championship — 2013 — the attendance for the championship session that included classes 3A and 4A was a record 12,917. The attendance in 2014, without Apple Valley and Jones, a senior, was 10,965.
The difference of 2,000 people might not seem like a lot, but, at an average ticket price of $11.50 ($14 for adults and $9 for students at the 2015 tournament), that’s a loss of $23,000 in ticket sales only. Factor in that 2,000 people can eat a lot of hot dogs and drink a lot of soda, and that’s significant.
Tyus Jones is Minnesota’s most recent local example of a high school kid generating national attention and ticket sales. Maybe the crown example of the possible influence a high school kid can have came when King James himself, LeBron James, was hooping it up on the prep courts around Akron, OH, for the St. Vincent-St. Mary Irish. LeBron appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old junior in high school.
The examples of Tyus Jones and LeBron James as money generating teenagers is truly unique, but proven, nonetheless. When is the last time anybody from Minnesota and anywhere else outside of Ohio paid attention to St. Vincent-St. Mary? Most likely 2003, when LeBron was a senior.
The Kentucky seven, who helped the Wildcats get to the final four before declaring they will enter the NBA draft, certainly drew the attention of some fans, but Kentucky games will be sold out next year, as well, long after those seven are wearing a NBA uniform.
When a once-in-a-generation player graduates from high school, there is no telling how that school will recover and how well that school will attract fans. This past winter at Apple Valley High School — the first in the post Tyus Jones era — the buzz of having a blue-chipper on the court was gone. And, so, too, were all those random fans, including Coach K.
As for college athletes getting paid for their parts in generating money for a university, maybe there is a way it can be done. Make them earn it.
As soon as that student/athlete earns that four-year degree he or she is supposedly working toward, a check from that higher-education institution will be handed, along with that signed certificate, to the worthy athlete as he or she walks across the stage on graduation day.
If an athlete decides to leave college early to enter some draft, he or she probably doesn’t need a petty check from a Big Ten university, anyway. If an athlete enters the draft after earning a degree, he is eligible for payment because he earned it.
On second thought, maybe the kids in high school and the young adults in college should just play the game for the fun of playing the games.
Remember when sports were about fun?
Simply having the chance to play a game one loves at a higher level used to be payment enough.