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Time to show college players the money

There has to be an easier way. As it is, these college athletics scandals take forever to play out, even though the end point is always the same predictable, empty outrage.

There has to be an easier way. As it is, these college athletics scandals take forever to play out, even though the end point is always the same predictable, empty outrage.

When ESPN and other networks carry games in Philly, the telecasts inevitably include stock shots of cheesesteak vendors and the Liberty Bell. Similarly, there ought to be file footage somewhere detailing how everyone with a heartbeat is simply shocked whenever another amateur program circumvents the NCAA's capricious rules. Keep it on loop and hit the play button when necessary. It would save time.

Haven't we been here before? After SMU received the subtly titled death penalty in the '80s, we should have grown numb to certain indiscretions. Except that underestimates the public's appetite for phony finger-wagging. There's no limit to it.

And so here we are again. Ohio State was the latest school pushed hard into the naughty-program ooze. Weighed down by alleged crimes - according to Sports Illustrated, at least 28 football players, including nine active athletes, sold memorabilia for tattoos, while others were cut sweet deals at local car dealerships - the Buckeyes are sinking fast into the muck. There's not enough oxygen to go around, and not everyone will be saved, which is why head coach Jim Tressel - who was accused of looking the other way - was sacrificed/forced to resign/fired.

Per the familiar, unchanging script, what followed was a roar of dismay and disapproval. Because why would a 20-something rather have ink or a shiny new ride instead of school-issued mementos stamped with the Buckeye symbol? The horror. It's unthinkable. Appalling, even.

Isn't it past time to end the charade? Even the Olympics, long the domain of the true amateur, allows its athletes to make money. (For a story before the last Summer Games, I spent time with Michael Phelps at, coincidentally, Ohio State. He was driving a custom, fully loaded Land Rover that he probably traded for a small Pacific island.)

Big Ten officials recently discussed paying athletes to help cover living expenses. Commissioner Jim Delany said "40 years ago, you had a scholarship plus $15 a month laundry money. Today, you have the same scholarship, but not with the $15 laundry money."

An admirable start, I suppose, but I'm not sure that a socialist system based on meager school or conference handouts is the answer. That might work in Communist Cuba, but America is based on fine capitalist principles where your value is determined by what the market will yield. If everyone else in the country is for sale to the highest bidder, why can't college athletes be as well? On this front, I'm with the nation's foremost sports business scholar and morality expert - Charles Barkley.

"Players should be able to borrow money from agents," Barkley said. "There's no competitive advantage from agents paying players. I'm not talking about players borrowing a million or even $100,000. But instead of leaving early, they might stay."

Again, I'm not sure that goes far enough. The current rules - whereby universities and the NCAA get dirty rich while athletes are resigned to shady backroom deals with unknown benefactors - are inequitable, ineffective, and hypocritical. Better to get it all out in the open and let talent dictate a player's worth. The best athletes would grab the most cash and graft from boosters, agents, hangers-on. Other players would get less. Some wouldn't get any. That's how it goes now, anyway. Big programs get big players, but the exchange of goods and money for services happens in the shadows. The only difference here would be transparency.

If football is played on Saturdays by athletes in good academic standing, what does it matter if the starting quarterback from XYZ University - a storied institution - pockets money from a friend of the program? And if that FOTP chooses poorly, if he distributes cash to a kid who can't play, it's on him - written off as a bad investment similar to a scuttled real estate deal or a stock that flops. In the process, we'd rid ourselves of the fallout from these so-called scandals - the fake indignation, the false probity.

After all, what real damage was done by the OSU flap? What lasting harm was visited upon the common man? Sweater vest merchants in Columbus are no doubt reeling, but if there are other legitimate casualties they've yet to step forward and present their wounds.

Transparency, particularly as it pertains to college athletics, is an impossible proposal for some to accept. A good many people will surely be offended by the mere suggestion. You can almost hear the outrage: Oh, won't someone please think of the children. Which is fine, and I suppose you could even give the kids in question a choice so neither position is forced upon anyone: Go forth, young athlete, and earn what you can - or, if you're against that sort of thing, heat up the hot plate once more and prepare the Ramen noodles. I suspect that would be a difficult internal debate.