Opinion: Let pros groom future pros

By: Andrew Utz ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of foxsports.com | Bluiett drives past Butler’s Roosevelt Jones during their January matchup in Cincinnati, which the Musketeers won 88-69.

Every year at Xavier, the end of season discussion becomes who is going to go pro or not. So far, we have had goalkeeper Dallas Jaye sign with the newly-formed FC Cincinnati as well as some of the basketball team desire to participate in the NBA draft combine. While Jaye does not have any eligibility remaining for his collegiate career, sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett and junior forward Jalen Reynolds each have some time left to either continue playing for Xavier or become professional athletes.

Schools spend vast amounts of time with high school students in order to recruit them to their athletics program. ESPN has its own ranking of high school recruits for fans to follow who may be joining the program for the next season. Xavier already has three commitments for next year.

While this is no different than a regular draft, the amount of time and funds the schools invest in these recruits makes them more of an amateur league for the professionals to evaluate, like the NCAA sport system is the introductory level of athletes who may or may not cut it at the professional level. It seems almost unfair that the NCAA is in charge of culling the best athletes from high schools around the country, then simply hands off the responsibility to those who have yet to take any investment in the entire process.

Maybe the answer lies outside of school-run sports. I know everyone in college has their “team” (I mean, I do bleed blue for the X), but the amount of freedom many schools have for their athletes is borderline developmentleague status.

Take, for example, the Division I football teams across the country. No matter what game is on, talk about the athletes on the field turns to who is pro-level material. Fans debate whether collegiate athletes can become the next Hall of Famer or if they will flop like Johnny Manziel. The entire process has essentially become the NFL’s farm league, where players can be scouted every Saturday during the season.

Now look at basketball. We will no longer have a straightout- of-high-school recruit like LeBron James, but stars like Andrew Wiggins can sign up for one year of college and play in the NBA a year later. Kentucky has been criticized for pulling in top recruits then shipping them off to the NBA after one or two years.

I realize that there are players who go through all four years of college play, and their athletic prowess is judged during that time. But at the same time, the university undertakes a certain investment in recruiting players, giving them practice time and teaching them on and off the field. No investments are made by the teams interested in using the players, and such actions are considered illegal by the NCAA.

One can argue that players are taken care of once they are recruited. Semaj Christon, a Xavier basketball alum, is currently playing in Italy despite having a contract with Oklahoma City. The Thunder are undertaking a financial risk in signing him and developing him, but this is the first time they’ve had the chance. Before Christon entered the NBA draft, they did not have any part in his developmental training.

What if we changed the model around so the professional teams have to partake in the grooming process? Such a process occurs in professional soccer in Europe, where scouts are sent to youth academies across the globe to find who would benefit the club. Such players are signed to the team’s affiliated, in-house academy team to train and become groomed into the professional world. Many of these academies participate in leagues where their players can compete against their peers.

Photo courtesy of twitter.com | Christon dunks in an Italian League game.

Back in the United States, a similar project occurs in the NHL, with lower-level club teams becoming a place where the young players can get ice time and develop. In the MLB, some teams enter contractual affiliations with lower leagues in order to have a development program for recruits straight out of high school or college.

If pro teams did get involved in the development process for collegiate athletes, who would become the oversight? I would argue that the NCAA would benefit from having an influx of funds to monitor potential pros across the country, while schools themselves would also receive some benefit in the process.

Some pitfalls to consider would be how many recruits could be sponsored per school, as well as how involved the pro teams can be in the athlete’s process. But maybe such a partnership can aid in the excitement of college athletics, drawing in more fans to watch their favorite teams.