High school and college athletes deserve an equal shot

June 1, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 7 months ago

Few debates in the world of sports have rung as eternal as the debate over the role of high-school and college athletes in professional sports. Sure, people can go back and forth on how to remove steroids from sports, the benefits of revenue sharing or the enormous salaries of athletes. But the debate about high-school and college athletes is the hottest, probably most controversial one of them all. And with a lawsuit brought against the NFL by two college football players, it certainly ranks among the most current.

Different leagues have different views on the issue. Basketball allows anyone from high-school senior on up to enter the NBA draft, which has produced such big-name, high-school-to-pro stars as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The MLS's stance on this issue is crystal clear after D.C. United signed on 14-year-old Freddy Adu. The situation with the NFL is murkier. Players have to wait until three years after receiving their high-school diplomas to enter the draft. This oppressive rule spurred Ohio State University sophomore Maurice Clarett to sue the NFL for his entry into the draft. His case is justified for a number of reasons.

First of all, high-school graduates are adults. Adults get to make their own decisions. There is no law requiring people to attend college, nor are there laws requiring people to wait X years after high school before applying for jobs. There's certainly no guarantee that those who decided to skip college will get jobs or even be considered, but there is the potential. A college degree is not the be-all end-all of the working world, but it sure helps a candidate's case. Still, the point lies not in the degree but in the choice. If a person wants to skip college and dive right in to "the real world," they can. If a high-school graduate wants to try to make it in professional football or otherwise, they should be able to. They may not be successful, but there aren't laws against failing either.

Which is a good point to raise against the "We can't send kids to their death in the NFL ranks" guys. That argument goes something to the effect of "They're just kids! They aren't fast/strong/smart enough to compete with professional athletes!" Well, some basketball players, soccer players and baseball players are. And some aren't. But shouldn't we let the scouts and coaches, the guys who make their living scooping talent, decide? I'm sure that some high-school graduates could compete in the NFL, and those that can deserve the chance to.

Finally, there's the matter of the greed of the NFL and colleges. College football is an enormous market that the NFL has essentially engineered for its own personal use. The players can't get paid or endorse products while biding their time until draft day, but the colleges certainly can. The college athletics programs reap the rewards of big-name college stars while they wait for draft day, and when draft day comes the NFL teams have pre-packaged stars on their hands. One need look no farther than Michael Vick two years ago to see this phenomenon: the minute Atlanta drafted him, season tickets sold out. The NFL's rule isn't in place out of concern for the athlete. It's a money-making venture.

America as a country has always portrayed itself as a land of opportunity and choice, a land where people with specific talents could prosper and grow. Only the NFL of all major sports leagues continues to exclude recent high-school graduates. What the clash boils down to is essentially freedom. The freedom to get an education or to gamble on immediate prospective job opportunities. The freedom to enter the draft and move on to a calling or to even make the wrong choice and try again next year. It's a matter of personal preference, one from which the NFL should release its greedy stranglehold.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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