REGGIE HAYES: The best solution to college basketball woes is true NBA minor league

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, center, talks with his team during a game against Northwestern on Feb. 17 in Rosemont, Ill. (Photo by the Associated Press)

Put me on Team LeBron.

One solution to the problems that plague NCAA men’s basketball would be a full-blown NBA minor league system, one which not only employs players coming out of high school but pays top talent the type of signing bonuses Major League baseball dishes out when it drafts high school kids.

We’re a long way from there, if the trip ever gets started, but it’s a destination worth pursuing.

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James talked about mimicking European leagues and instituting a training ground for teenagers that could perhaps work in conjunction with the G League.

What’s needed is a straight-up minor league system like the one used in baseball.

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If the NCAA and the NBA are concerned about the young players, and not just money, they should follow the lead of college baseball. High school players would be eligible for the draft, and then if they were drafted, they could choose whether to go to college (requiring a three-year stay) or go straight to the pros, signing deals and being assigned to the minors. If they were talented enough, as James was, they could go straight to the NBA out of high school. That would be rare, but it could happen.

Forcing players to spend a year after high school in college accomplishes nothing but contributes to the rules-breaking and “wink wink” payments from agents or boosters that has put college basketball in an uproar.

If the NBA were to establish such a minor-leagues system, it would have a drastic effect on college basketball. But I’m not convinced it would be a seismic change.

The advent of the one-and-done has already altered college basketball. If you get rid of the one-and-dones, would you take out a few shooting star? No question. But you would still have your school loyalties. You would still have the NCAA Tournament. You would still have a place for college students to gather and scream.

You’d eliminate, however, much hypocrisy.

I’ve always been resistant to paying players, given their full-ride scholarships. Having helped my own kids through college, the idea of a full ride seems rich in its rewards. But James makes a great point about the real relationship between the universities and the most-talented players.

“I’ve heard the narrative that they get a free education, but you guys are not bringing me on campus to get an education,” James said of five-star athletes. “You guys are bringing me on it to help you get to a Final Four or to a national championship, so it’s just a weird thing.”

This latest stench in college basketball, with the FBI looking into money being discussed and thrown around by agents, players, family members and coaches, seems to be bringing things to a head.

“It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years,” James said. “I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it.”

The required one year after high school for playing in college (or overseas or the low-paid G League or just sitting idle) before a player is eligible for the NBA Draft is wrong. I’m tempted to say it’s un-American, but that term is best saved for things bigger than sports.

If a basketball player is talented enough and mature enough to go straight from high school to the pros, why limit him? It could go wrong and then the chance at a full-ride college education has been forfeited. That’s true. But life is full of choices and sometimes the ones you make eliminate the other choice. That doesn’t mean life is over. It means you’ll have to take another route.

James called the NCAA a “corrupt” organization and I’m not sure if that’s the right word. It seems incompetent at times, hypocritical at other times and contradictory at still other times.

But maybe corrupt is the right word. Among the definitions is “having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.”

Dump the one-and-done. Work to promote a full-blown minor-league basketball system. If players want to enter the draft out of high school, let them.

Will there be fewer “stars” in college basketball? Probably. Would the Indiana vs. Purdue or North Carolina vs. Duke games still be packed if the minor leagues took some shooting stars? Why not?

The uniforms remain the same, regardless of whether a freshman or a senior wears them. As Purdue has shown, sometimes those seniors bring the added passion of a mutual, longer-term commitment.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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