Say that you're a hyper-talented high-school running back. Congratulations! In the near future you could be worshipped by millions, raking in national championships, and cruising through two years of college en route to a lucrative NFL gig. Or you could snap your ACL on your next down and condemn yourself to a life of pumping gas. Someone—an agent, a recruiter, someone connected with the most storied college football program in the country—offers you more money than you've ever seen in your life. Suitcases of money. Money that you've earned through being one of the best in the world at what you do. It's also money that could act as insurance against the whole ACL-tear gas-pumping scenario. You feel you deserve it. After all, the country's best 18-year-old actor of singer gets to cash in. So why not the country's best 18-year-old running back?
One wonders what moron among us wouldn't do the exact thing that forced former University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush to give up his Heisman trophy yesterday. The NCAA's stringent recruitment rules punishes players for making perfectly logical decisions about their own financial futures, and then punishes completely innocent players by penalizing entire football programs. They are also fundamentally socialistic: after all, not every school can afford to systematically bribe its recruits the way USC can, and the draconian lengths to which the NCAA will go in order to keep money out of the college game helps maintain a certain level of parity (i.e. nine different programs won a national championship this past decade).
But the NCAA shouldn't impugn the integrity of its most talented players—or punish its most successful programs—in the name of artificial competitive purity. The unpleasant truth is that cheating pays in college football. Cheating made millions for USC (for its football program and for its students), as well as for Bush, who now has a Superbowl ring, and for former USC coach Pete Carroll, who now coaches the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. It's completely worth it! In fact, the NCAA's recruitment rules are so absurd that the agent for the most famous football player in America is calling for radical libertarian reform.