Is College Worth It For Elite Athletes?

Is it still worth it for the best young athletes to play in college? This has been the source of much recent debate as college sports are beginning to be seen as a risk to future professionals.

Zion Williamson’s minor hamstring injury against North Carolina rekindled these discussions to a large degree. NBA all stars such as Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins have encouraged Williamson to sit the rest of the year out.

Williamson is the obvious number-one pick in the next NBA draft, regardless if he plays or not. From a strict monetary standpoint, he should definitely sit out.

However, it is still the dominant prevailing argument that collegiate athletics are worth the risks.

You can’t put a price tag on a year of player development and bonds formed with teammates, not to mention the free college education players recieve.

Major sports enthusiast, Nash Cotten said, “Most of the people tweeting about this never set foot on a college court , myself included. But part of the reason Zion went to play for Duke is to play in the [NCAA] tournament. Plus none of these people seem to have heard of teammates.   

“Teammates are your best friends. It’s not easy for someone like Zion to just tell his best friends he’s out.”

Cotten was adamant about players honoring their commitments to a university. Conversely, he was not so defensive of the institution of college basketball itself.

“Payers should be paid,” he said.

“The whole system was set up like 70 or 80 years ago when nobody really attended the games and the players were playing for nothing but school pride. In 1938 when Oregon took home the title, they probably had no idea that in 80 years players wearing the same uniforms would be plastered over billboards and be playing in televised games that are being watched by 30 million people,” he said.

Cotten believes that the NCAA rules are dated, and the statistics seem to validate his point.

According to “Business Insider,” NCAA Division 1 schools generated roughly $9.15 billion in revenue from sports in 2015. Some powerhouse programs pulled in more than $180 million on their own.

Dimond Assistant Coach Krehg Perez has an insider opinion on the matter.

Perez was a coach on the 2018 Men’s Basketball McDonald’s All-American Team. He had the opportunity to coach and interact with the nation’s best high school seniors, including Williamson.

“I think they should have the option to declare [for the NBA Draft] out of high school,“ he said.

“Most of those guys could benefit from college hoops, but a few are ready to play at the highest level right away and start making money. It is not fair to hold players back who can play in the NBA and change their family’s lives,“ he said.

Dimond Head Coach Brad Lauwers did not share in his opinion.

Lauwers was the head coach on the All American Team, and he has also been coaching for around two decades longer at the high school level.

“Players should experience college. I believe that college can be a great place to learn life lessons and mature away from the pressure of professional athletics,” he said.

Lauwers does make a compelling argument. It is no secret that many young professional athletes have gotten themselves in trouble after becoming millionaires at 20 years old.

However, I believe this difference of opinion between coaches reflects a generational difference. For the elite, collegiate athletics may not be worth what it used to.

The thrill of March Madness or playing in a bowl game is still very enticing to any student athlete. However, big-time endorsement deals and ever-increasing salaries for professional athletes also make a compelling case.

For many, it is simply not worth the risk of injury.