So-called “prep schools” for elite young athletes make sense

I read this Sports Illustrated article about Findlay Prep, the "school" set up by a UNLV booster for top young players. They live together in a house with plasma-screen TV's, equipment, food and furniture all paid for by the booster. Spoiling young athletes seems ridiculous at first glance, because it seems like it's circumventing the rules that everyone else plays by, but the spoiling is a consequence of a system where the players are not allowed to be paid directly until they graduate or leave college. It's silly that we force top athletes to go through the farce of high school and college classes, with the idea that they are "students first," as all those silly NCAA commercials remind us, who happen to be extremely talented at sports. In sports the normal economic relationship between Europe and the USA is reversed; European players enjoy contractual freedom, while the American system limits players freedom to earn market wages and play for the teams that they want to. In Europe, the best young players live full time at sports academies, where they take some classes but spend most of their time training and practicing. Top clubs often sign and recruit players at young ages; compensation and contract length for players under the age of 16 is limited. Manchester United recently made headlines for signing a 9-year old, but it's pretty common practice in England - the United spokesman said "the club signs about 40 players of Davis's age every year and, as is standard, will decide annually whether to renew his contract or release him." Furthermore, there's no such thing as a draft - players sign contracts with teams. Contracts can be bought or sold but player trades are rare (I've wondered why this system hasn't caught on in the US - paying cash for players means you can express their value more directly, rather than through the players on your team). Universities field teams, but their players are drawn from the student body - "recruiting" is a little outdated when pro teams can and do pay wages to players directly. But instead of actually compensating young players for their current and future value to the teams they play for, colleges go through an elaborate courting process, recruiting, and pro teams gather every June to take turns drafting players - for the first time they'll be able to earn money playing basketball, but they get no say in where they can play. So I believe the academy system makes more sense - top players can focus on basketball, and universities can admit more qualified students.

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