The View From Pluto: How a Busted Shoe Revived the Debate Over Paying College Athletes

Feb 27, 2019

The debate over whether college athletes should be paid was revived the moment Duke basketball star Zion Williamson’s shoe exploded last weekend. The likely No. 1 draft pick hurt his knee in the big matchup against North Carolina. A lot of people are wondering why Williamson is even playing college basketball, and whether he deserves to be compensated.

Ending the one-and-done rule
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says in 2005, the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. It prohibits players from entering the draft until the year they turn 19 and one year after their high school graduation. So, it ended the days of players like LeBron James in 2003 going straight from St. Vincent St. Mary's High School in Akron to the Cavs as the No. 1 pick. 

'Right now the system is just broken. The unfair part of it is just obvious'

"The players association was for it too because they thought these 18-year-olds could barely tie their shoes. So, at least make them go to college for a year and grow up and be on his own for a little bit," Pluto said. 

A day after Williamson was injured, USA TODAY reported that the NBA is reversing course. The proposal submitted to the NBA Players Association would lower the draft-eligible age from 19 back to 18, likely in 2022. 

Pluto says legally, it makes sense.

But he says, "Are these kids ready? Most of them are not. And a lot of them get drafted and make some money. By the time they're 21 or 22, they're on the end of the bench, they're out of the NBA and they're playing in Europe."  

Duke rakes in millions, Zion earns nothing
The 6'7", 285-pound Williamson was injured in the first minute of a marquee matchup between Duke and North Carolina. The crowd was littered with celebrities from Spike Lee to former President Barack Obama. Tickets were selling for around $3,000 on the secondary market. 

Duke and similar powerhouses earn millions in TV and apparel deals. While Duke won't disclose the amount, Ohio State agreed in 2016 to extend its deal with Nike for $252 million through 2033.

However, Williamson and other college athletes receive only a scholarship. Pluto says the dilemma for the NCAA is that if it decides that players should be compensated, that would have to include all players -- from baskebtall to field hockey.  

"The way NCAA is set up is very socialistic," Pluto said.

"Whether you're on the field hockey team or basketball team at Duke, they all get the same scholarship. The argument is, they're not all the same. If you start saying everybody should be paid, Akron and Kent, other smaller schools, they run deficits. It's impractical."

'If you start saying everybody should be paid, Akron and Kent other smaller schools, they run deficits. It's impractical'

A solution: Create a super division
Pluto suggests a solution: Create a super division of the top 25 or 50 schools, like Ohio State, Duke, Kentucky and others.

"They would have their own set of rules. Kids could get their scholarship and a minimum of $10,000. They could also sell their autographs. But you can't do that at Kent State."

Or, Pluto says, "Zion Williamson could get a scholarship and perhaps sign a Nike contract. Schools could be allowed to buy an insurance policy on each of their players in case of injury. Or, perhaps let players sign a contract with Nike, and Nike could buy that player an insurance policy."  

G League ups its salary
"Right now, your only choice as a top high school player is go to the G League," Pluto said. "Those players make a minimum of $35,000."

However, starting next season, the NBA will pay top prospects $125,000 to play in the development league. "So, just go play," Pluto said. "Right now the system is just broken. The unfair part of it is just obvious."