As per the request of Bartender Chris, I've decided to take a look at the NCAA of today versus the NCAA of the 1980s and before.
As the Heckler and Bartender Chris pointed out, there really is no point to keeping the amateur status of NCAA athletes if our Olympic teams are stocked full of professional athletes just like the rest of the world, we have the AAU, why not have the AAU be the highest level of amateur competition? It seems like that would work for me. I agree with Heckler that the biggest draw of amateur athletics is watching competitions between athletes that are on the field simply for the love of the game and the desire to compete at a high level. I think that part of the problem lies at the level of the Olympics, allowing professional athletes to compete, taking much of the thrill of victory away from the American athletes. Who cares if the Dream Team wins? Shouldn’t they? The Miracle on Ice actually mattered simply because it was a bunch of amateur hockey players stepping up and punching a very good professional Russian all-star team in the mouth (as well as a very good Finnish one to capture the gold). Or when our collegiate all-stars went nose to nose with the Soviet or East German basketball teams, this mattered! These kids were a bunch of nobodies from nowhere, and this was one of the defining moments of Olympic competition, (it was even immortalized on a stamp in Paraguay) and it epitomized the defining reason we watch sports; at any moment, something totally unexpected and unbelievable can happen. How big a deal would it have been if a team of U.S. born NHL players? It would have been a nice “Eff-you, you pinko commies!” but nowhere close to the monumental moment that it was. Now the Olympics are only a chance for the USA to prove that it is a dominant as we expect it to be, or to disappoint. If they win, they should, if they lose it is a disaster that is talked about on Sports Center for weeks. As it stands now, the most redeeming thing about the Bejing Olympics was Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson going 1-2 in the individual all around. This still had an “us versus them” or “good versus evil” feel to it, it felt good to win, and it wasn’t a relief that we didn’t blow it (see men’s basketball).
In the old NCAA, guys who were borderline professional prospects had a shot to prove themselves on an international stage, giving them a real shot at a professional career, simply because of their performance on an international stage. Mike Eurizone would have never sniffed the NHL if not for his performance in 1980. Jordan cemented his status as a can’t miss guard with his play in the 1984 games, the list goes on and on.
Now, the Olympic teams are stocked with non-committal millionaires (well, the 2008 men’s basketball team actually seemed to care for the first time in a while) and it takes the edge off of the competition for me. Part of the NCAA prestige was founded on the basis that if you competed well, and proved yourself at the NCAA level, you would be rewarded with a shot at international glory on the Olympic stage. Now, the NCAA is simply a platform for movement to professionalism, diluting the talent pool, and weakening the competition by people who are supposedly competing simply for the love of sport.
More to come on this.