An imminent free-for-all in university sports


Across the country, the sports world is in a frenzy. Locally, a few frenzied Gator fans want to fire Mike White, the University of Florida basketball coach (after six successful seasons).

What’s going on here? Isn’t it enough that we just wrapped up a season of patchwork college basketball in the midst of a deadly pandemic? Or that Florida have been forced to cancel up to nine games and, in their fourth game only, saw their star player, Keyontae Johnson, collapse on the pitch, threatening his life and ending his season?

Can’t we just get back to normal? The answer, of course, is no, because there is no longer a normal – for players, coaches or the game.

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First, the NCAA now allows players to transfer freely and play immediately. Second, a new Florida law will allow players to profit directly from the use of their “name, image or likeness” (“NIL”). Then, on top of everything, it’s likely that gamers will soon be able to accept game-specific cash payments.

Before I consider each of these “game changers”, let me say a few words about Mike White. He’s won every year he’s been to UF and made the NCAA tournament every season except his first. He is a person of great personal integrity who has run a program without a problem.

Yes, he didn’t win a national championship, but Billy Donovan – the legendary coach White lives in – at the end of his sixth season. I can already hear those who will exclaim, knowingly, that “Mike is not Billy”. That’s true, at least not yet. But let me also remind Gator fans that even Billy endured calls from the fringe element that he was fired because his team lost in the first weekend of five consecutive NCAA tournaments (preceding his years of national championship).

Florida Gators goalie Tyree Appleby (22) lines up for three as head coach Mike White looks on during an SEC basketball game against South Carolina at the Exactech Arena in Gainesville in Florida February 3, 2021. The Gators lost to the Gamecocks 66-72 to end their four-game winning streak.

However, back to business at hand – and that’s exactly what Mike White is doing. When four UF players announced their transfer a few weeks ago, he immediately turned around and used the transfer portal to acquire a new foursome, just as good as the starting players. In fact, ESPN considers the four inbound transfers among the top prospects in the country.

This is what an exceptional and innovative coach is doing these days. Either you change your entire recruiting strategy or you find yourself lagging behind. While no coach conveys a true 5-star perspective, building the future with high school rookies will increasingly lag behind recruiting from the rapidly expanding transfer portal (which is currently approaching 1,500 players). basketball only).

The free-for-all sparked by a widely open transfer market will only intensify as star players start enjoying their celebrity status. For example, Florida’s NIL law allows athletes to earn “compensation” for the use of their “name, image or likeness” regardless of the amount supported by the market. They can hire agents and enter into any “third party” agreement of their choice (provided this does not involve their school). So, get ready for our quarterback’s face to be plastered on the buses of the regional transit system.

This is the latest major break in the issue of student-athlete compensation. No direct paychecks, of course, but monetizing athlete performance nonetheless.

The next big shoe to ditch could come from the United States Supreme Court, which is assessing whether the NCAA’s restrictions on direct payments to student-athletes (for certain “education-related” expenses) violate US antitrust laws. country. A robust decision could easily lead to a full-fledged “pay-to-play” system, satisfying many critics of the current system.

A player’s ability to transfer freely, make lucrative “NULL” deals, and accept direct cash payments will leave the student-athlete (“amateurism”) model in tatters. Indeed, we are rapidly approaching the point where the question is not whether players should be paid, but in what form and in what amount.

Increasingly, academics are little more than an afterthought – not just for newcomers, but for the parade of “seasoned” players, who come and go from year to year. Why not end the charade, accept the reality and stop “forcing” players (with no interest in schoolwork) to attend classes? Just treat them as paid employees who, if eligible and motivated, can still pursue education, but on a purely voluntary basis.

Carl Ramey, former Washington communications attorney and monthly contributor to The Sun, lives in Gainesville.

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