A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
I had the opportunity to read Greg Easterbrook's blog on the Maurice Clarett' "victory." I think it can count as quite a patronizing entry fro both student athletes and for NFL franchises.

My issues? A letter (and by the way, Mr. Eastbrook is not alone. Most of the sports commentators I read fell similarly):

dear easterblogg,

as much as i might sympathize with your worry that the nfl will end up having its talent diluted, i don't think it will happen because of this court decision, or by allowing a more open market in draft players.

1. why claim the nba has become cruddy because of the influx of poor junior/high school players. could it not be a consequence of more expansion teams diluting the pool of available talent? as for the claim that ego driven young players won't be coached and are destroying teams that play them, wouldn't you expect this to be a self-correcting problem? after all, if the experience of teams is that these players are no good, their stock as a group will fall, and junior/high school players will be drafted further down then they are now, make less money, and in the long run (not that long i think) lessen incentives to jump to the nba/nfl. you make the point (indirectly later in your column "With NBA quality declining and revenues declining, payments to NBA players will inevitably decline". further, the argument by analogy with ibm is seriously flawed. ibm will be quite willing to pick up someone it thinks is best suited for the job, even if they have no formal degree. can they do the job better than other candidates? that is ibm's criteria. true, you would have to be very good, but so? perhaps clarett is that good (i don't know). as for the pilot issue, i humbly submit that piloting a plane and playing in the nfl are a little different in degree and nature? out of curiosity, let's grant your analogy: do you think the nfl will pull a kid at quaterback from high school to lead a team?

2. "Maintaining high quality is the NFL's legitimate reason for keeping out kids." my understanding is that the nfl's aim is to maintain parity. high quality across the league is a bonus.a helpful one, no doubt. but even granting your argument, would you stop someone from competiting if they were as good as those who already play? if so, don't you undermine your own argument? if you worry about a flood of under-achieving junior/high school atheletes, shouldn't nfl teams be the judge of whether they are worthy of playing in the league? if you don't, then i would like to understand why you think nfl teams cannot make rational decisions in evaluating their own talent. sure, they can get it wrong, but they do now anyway. how many kids are likely to be evaluated at that level of proficiency? why do you think nfl teams have to be protected from themselves?

3. "Next, if the judge has her way, what will happen at the collegiate level? Quality of play will be harmed there too, as athletes who might have become college stars instead jump to the pros to become benchwarmers." this is true. so what? as you are no doubt aware, the college game is an anti-trust official's worst nightmare. mankiw has a great section on the ncaa, and the legal monopoly it has set for itself (mankiw, principles of economics, 2nd edition, pp340-341). the truth is that giving student athletes opportunities they did not have before will put pressure on the ncaa and on colleges to recognize and reward athletes that return large amounts of revenue to their universities. currently they receive very little. if i am a poor uni student working as a gifted amateur, and i had the opportunity to go to the big leagues and help out a less than stellar home environment, i might too be tempted to give up my college career and make some real cash. if you check out "hoop dreams" not all of these kids came from wealthy backgrounds.

4. "those who jump straight to the pros are missing their chance to gain at least some college education." i know you don't mean to do this, but it does sound quite patronizing to my ears. after all, there is nothing to stop an individual from going back later in life and go to college. sure, there is a chance they could shoot all that money into their arm, make bad deals, etc. but, it is not clear to me that that chance is enough to deny the (equally probable?) chance that they will have learnt a lot, and then come back to college, and ultimately society, enriched from the lessons learnt from their roller-coaster ride with fame, success, and disappointment.

in a sense, i think you missed the important issue here: why kids who could really benefit from an extra year, two, or three of seasoning and development in college feel the need to try and bypass the college system, even though it will--in all likelihood--diminish their overall lifetime earnings. after all, why would anyone want to leave a hypocritical system that exploits athletes while in many cases pretends to care about them personally, denies them the opportunity to receive the reward of the value they add to a university's name and revenues, and otherwise treats them as children?
i can't think of any reason at all...

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