Blurred Lines: Where Do Professional Athletics Begin And Amateurism End?

Should college athletes be paid? That’s a tough question to answer. Check the twitter timeline of former Duke standout/ESPN college basketball analyst, Jay Bilas and it’s an unequivocal yes. Read up on former UCLA baller and NBA veteran, Charles O’Bannon and you’ll find an argument that college players shouldn’t give up licensing rights and should be compensated for the use of their images, as well as having a voice on how and where those likenesses are used.

With the NCAA’s counter point that money generating sports like football and basketball financially support not only their respective sports, but entire athletic programs for most universities, it’s tough to find a concrete side to take. But what we can’t argue is how murky the line the between amateur and professional athletics has become.

College football doesn’t need a jolt in the slightest, but it is must see TV on a saturday afternoon thanks predominantly to one man: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Aggies game against defending champions, Alabama generated the highest TV ratings in over two decades. In a gunslinging game that ended in a 49-42 Crimson Tide victory, OVO Johnny can’t take all the credit for the hype but the only freshman to win a Heisman is a superstar. Suspension over possible moneys made in a now infamous autograph singing incident nearly sidelined Money Manziel, but he narrowly money danced around sanctions like he would a linebacker who can’t catch him. Controversy over violations sidelined the collegiate career of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, while players like Cam Newtown and Reggie Bush narrowly escaped punishment from the NCAA in time to move on to successful NFL careers.

Money talks off the gridiron too, with players on the high school basketball circuit often negotiating ‘pay-for-play’ situations. Earlier this summer, interviewed former high school basketball prodigy Lenny Cooke, who admitted the fast life came early for him. After the debut of his self-titled documentary Lenny Cooke, the former number one ranked prep prospect admitted that money, expensive trips and women were a part of his lifestyle before he ever sniffed a chance at shaking David Sterns league—a plateau he never reached.

“[Everything became too much to handle] from the start,” Cook said. “It’s a lot for a kid 16 or 17-years-old. Everyone telling you what you can have and people throwing things at you… all the rankings and teams buying you this and buying you that just to play with them, it’ll mess a kid up.”

While Cook understands now as a 32-year-old adult where he went wrong, even the “kids” who go about things the right way have a very regimented lifestyle usually associted with the pros. In the documentary slated to hit theaters next Spring, At All Costs explores the reality of where professional basketball truly starts and takes the audience behind the scenes of the current state of AAU basketball. Director Mike Nicoll shows the dedication, extra hours with private trainers and everything else it takes for young players to reach collegiate, and sometimes pro, levels by having one-up on the competition.

Who knows if college players should be paid, but what we can no longer call them is amateurs. Too many factors, too many adult choices and too much money is at stake for all parties involved for college players to be considered novices at sports they dedicate great portions of their lives into perfecting. The only thing in question is how much is it truly worth?

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