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Column: Despite Scandals, NCAA Tourney is Still Magical

Whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s magic…

Despite what Sean Miller probably did, amateurism is not dead. In an age when helicopter parenting of and vicarious living through gifted children is at an all-time high, the NCAA tournament is a celebration of the end of amateurism and the final release from LaVar Ball-type parents. Obviously, not all participants will become professional athletes, but this last hurrah is always a sight to behold.

When else will anyone besides the families of fifteen athletes and polo-wearing alumni scream the name Radford? When else will anyone visit Boise, Idaho on purpose? Without using any lame references to a particular shining moment for any team or city, this truly is a time to sit back and watch some hard-working young athletes perform what is likely the biggest stage they’ll ever find themselves. This is where your kid’s future coach at basketball camp will dunk (or air ball) over DeAndre Ayton and future NBA stars prove their worth. One team will be immortalized as champions before an entire nation, and a bunch more guys will be immortalized in their own, much smaller spheres.

Recent scandals have rocked the foundation of the NCAA and the legitimacy of amateurism. Who can really blame these young men for accepting large amounts of money or cars? Yeah, they know the rules and they’re adults, but when a coach promises to watch after a child and be his mentor, the bulk of the blame falls elsewhere. A good amount of these guys aren’t in school to earn a degree, they’re at school to earn a living. The NBA is the goal, because it means glory and income to help the ones they love the most. If that benefit is offered to them ahead of time, chances are that they’re going to take it.

Former UCLA Bruin and current Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball said the following regarding pay-for-play situations in college athletics:

“Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. That’s just how it is. Everybody’s getting paid anyway, you might as well make it legal. That’s how I feel.”

He went on to say that he himself never received money or improper benefits during his time at UCLA, specifically because his dad didn’t want that. Lonzo is probably in the majority here; he comes from a family that doesn’t need the cash, he’s simply there to satisfy the one-year formality for the NBA. Most guys are there to take advantage of a scholarship and get a degree, and probably aren’t even looked at by the guys who want to pay players ahead of time.

The point is that many if not most of the kids who accept the benefits are simply reflecting their youth and their technical status: amateur. Whether or not players should be paid is above most of society’s pay grade to decide, the easy part is to allow them to play. Basketball is basketball, and this is an opportunity they’ve trained their entire lives for. Don’t let an innocent and understandable mistake sideline them, they likely thought they were doing the right thing.

Instead, watch the game for what it is: a talented group of young guys going out to show that they’re ready for the biggest moments of their lives. Cheer them on, appreciate their skill, and enjoy the tournament. Also, don’t get all caught up and stressed out about brackets. It’s like tripping out over gas station scratch offs.

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