So before I go to my brother's house in a couple hours and enjoy the holiday with my family, I wanted to shed light on a subject I think is not discussed enough, minor league feeder systems verses college athletics. Major League Baseball uses both college baseball and has a very extensive minor league system in place to help scout out talent before they play in the majors, as does the NHL. However, the NBA and NFL do not have anything in place except college, despite such programs as NBA's Developmental League and Arena Football which could be used more for that specific goal. But as I sat here thinking about baseball, it finally occurred to me that maybe baseball's model is actually the reason the NBA and NFL have no desire to expand.
Let's explore the popularity of minor league and college baseball verses that of college basketball and football for our first reason. Yes, the College World Series is a great event and one I enjoy following, though baseball is my favorite sport period so that may be part of the reason I feel that way, but the ratings are nothing compared to the BCS bowl games and March Madness. I have not been to Iowa yet for the CWS but I have been told that experiencing it person, you will grow more appreciation for the sport and I do hope to one day but let's face it, when it comes to viewing and planning your life schedule around it, the BCS and March Madness are more "sick day" excuses then the CWS. I don't have the ratings in front of me but I think it's safe to assume that CWS and even the NCAA Hockey finals fail in comparison to that of football and basketball. And I bet if you look around your office, you will notice more people still sleepy from the night before after basketball and football (and in some cases, watching the feed to games on their work computers or listening on headsets) then you will for baseball and hockey. Is there genuine concern that a minor league system would negatively impact the huge ratings/generous revenue stream the NCAA receives during the football and basketball post season? Would people tune to watch Jonny Flynn in minor league NBA action as much as they did when he helped Syracuse in a 6 OT game against Big East rival UConn? Or would this cause such a split in viewers that it would hurt either from being as successful as anyone would hope?
And what about the cost of such minor league programs? Both baseball and hockey have differing levels of programs that players have to work their way up during their careers. Many of these players do not make much money but the overall cost when you add up how many teams, coaches, scouting, and many other aspects I failed to mention can make it a very expensive venture. Sure, the cost efficient way is to use a college system that is already in place and successful and evaluate them while they are there but what about the cost of the value of our collegiate education system? Do we not in essence devalue the idea of a scholarship and a college diploma when we offer someone such a deal and they barely attend class, sign up for easy classes, or watch as they leave before they get their degree? I understand the lure of a big contract is so great and I would never blame a person for leaving for such reason (and if it were my daughter or son, I would probably tell them to make whatever decision they wanted with my full blessing as long as leaving meant a secure job). But does it not send a bad message to our children that if you can shoot a ball, don't worry about education because the colleges will help cover for you while you develop your game there and screw the kid who worked hard who's jump shot may not be as good but his GPA and SAT scores are impressive enough to qualify? Where do we draw the line at what is the price we will pay for our sports? Obviously, the NFL and NBA are fine using college so we know where their bottom line is but is it really so awful that these kids get at least one year of exposure to college when there is a chance they may not have tried it without sports?
If we are honest with ourselves, we will all realize that cost and ratings are the two biggest factors deterring the NFL and NBA from developing legitimate minor leagues. Football owners are about to lock out players because they do not want to relinquish any more pieces of the profit and both the NBA and NFL draft players straight out of college to contracts that make a veteran player blush and question his worth so why spend more on developing these players?
I love viewing minor league teams in my area because it is affordable and there is something fun about watching a person competing hard knowing they are working hard to make it to the next level (not to mention, right before your eyes could be the next Cal Ripken Jr. or Mario Lemieux and you can say you saw him then and probably get his autograph for free at the games). They are fun affordable games for the whole family but just not for the team owners who are forced to foot the bill to establish a more efficient system even though in all actuality, they do have the NBA D league and football could use Canadian Football and Arena leagues as well, which are already in place.
The bigger question is though, why spend more money to fix what many consider not to be broken? Are the low ratings and lower attendance figures for minor league and college baseball and hockey the real reason we will never see the NFL or NBA allow the colleges to return to their original intent, that of securing a place for those searching for a degree? Or are college sports themselves a crash course that should allow them some form of a degree for finishing since it does prepare them for a profession that can be very lucrative?
I think personally college sports should be for athletes who would love to get an education first and play athletics second and the NBA and NFL should step up and explore more options even if it may cost some more money but then again, I don't have to pay those million dollar contracts so it is easy for me to speculate from my desk. Just ask yourself this, would you watch minor league football and basketball if it was formed or would you stick by your college allegiance and then maybe we know why they could be hesitant to see things from my perspective? Would the Final Four or the BCS championship game still have the same impact if many of those involved in the games this past year were instead in developmental league championships?