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Yesterday, Jalen Johnson decided to opt out from playing the rest of the season at Duke, and with the decision came the predictable firestorm on social media.
Every time a player decides to do something in his or her own best interests, you see this. On one side are the people demanding players get paid. Words like “exploited” are thrown around like snowballs in Texas these days, as they almost froth at the mouth insisting the school is making millions while not giving the player a single red cent.
On the other side are those who proclaim that the player is indeed getting just compensation, documenting the value of the tuition, room and board, books, etc., usually adding how big a burden they are experiencing providing that same benefit for their own child.
Both sides have points that deserve merit, both sides make points that don’t.
I’m somewhere in the middle because I think both sides miss the point of where the true value is in this equation.
As an old marketing man, I see it as this: No product has any real value if people don’t see it. When you go to the grocery store, the products at eye level sell more than the ones near the floor. You may be a great writer, but if your stories appear on a local website versus a publication with millions of followers, nobody’s going to know it.
Exposure builds your value in the marketplace. Get enough of it, you will become a celebrity where companies want you to use their products and give you money to endorse them. Perception, I used to say when it comes to marketing, is every bit as important as reality. Sit two products side by side, and I’ve learned consumers will pay as much as 20 to 30 percent more for one product just because they’ve heard of the brand.
I was once at a furniture company that grew its sales significantly because of this phenomenon. The fact they heard of the brand because it was given away as a prize on Wheel Of Fortune didn’t matter. People had heard of the brand, so by God, it must be better than the other guy’s.
This is what college basketball does for young athletes. It gives them a stage that enhances their value, and the benefit it provides isn’t something like the cost of tuition. It’s far more than that.
Imagine, if you will, someone like Zion Williamson. If he thought he was “exploited” and wasn’t getting what he perceived he was worth, he could have gone to the developmental G League the NBA has. He could have gone to Europe for a year. All athletes have that choice, waiting for the one year to go by to make them eligible.
But Zion wouldn’t have been a household name. He wouldn’t be on “Zion Cam” like he was during a Virginia Tech basketball game last year, where he wasn’t even playing, but ESPN gave him half the screen while the Hokies and Blue Devils muddled through a game on the other side. Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and endless others wouldn’t be screaming his name as the greatest thing since, well, the player five minutes ago they were screaming about night after night.
Without all that exposure, he’s probably not the No. 1 pick in the draft. Like back in the days when the NBA allowed players to go straight from high school, he’d be good. But there would be a “let’s wait and see how he does” attitude toward him, and he’d have lost that year of having ESPN and other networks be his hype man.
It would have cost him some money because of it. More than the value of tuition and books, too.
This is what the NCAA brings to the table. They’re a business, and a hugely successful one at that. They can set the rules, do whatever they want, and compensate as much or as little as they so choose.
Because they own the stage.
As for Johnson’s decision to opt out now, I don’t have a problem with it because it’s his decision. It may have ramifications for him down the road, but he has to live with them. If he’s OK with that, it’s his life.
I just know if it was me, team sports would be different from comparing it to a workplace decision. When you play on a team, you work together, you celebrate together, you hurt together and you watch each other’s backs. They become your friends and your family, so to walk away from a group like that with only three weeks left in the season would be tough.
I mean, if you can’t put up with a group of people you love and respect for three weeks, here’s some advice: don’t get married and have kids.
They try your patience for a lot more than three weeks. 😊
Then there was Petersburg, Virginia's Moses "Mailman" Malone who elected to go straight from high school to the Show.
Supposedly he was given a summer job (like many were back in those days) to guard the gym, then got offered a nice sum of money to play for the Utah Stars of the ABA. Would have been interesting to see Moses in the ACC....