Remember back when professional athletes were banned from the Olympics because the Olympics was for amateurs? People said that if the Olympics were opened to professional athletes it would ruin the spirit of the games.

But the Olympics was opened to professional athletes and the spirit seems to be much the same. Back when professional athletes were supposedly barred, it meant that many Olympic athletes had to pretend that they were amateurs. Sometimes athletes would get caught and that caused big scandals, but many athletes took payments of some kind under the table and everyone pretended that they were amateurs with no visible means of support. Some countries provided government jobs for athletes that allowed them as much time as they needed to train, but technically they had government jobs so that was acceptable.

People said that allowing professional athletes to compete would ruin the Olympics but in fact admitting that many athletes were professionals made the Olympics better because people weren’t forced to lie or hide their incomes. It also allowed the athletes to benefit financially from their years of training.

That is what should be done with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Many players in the revenue producing sports get paid – not openly, but they still get paid. Why not admit these players are professionals and be done with the pretense?

It didn’t ruin the Olympics for professional athletes to participate. It made the vast Olympic bureaucracy a little bit more honest. As it turned out, not honest enough but at least the athletes didn’t have to pretend that they could train 12 hours a day, 365 days a year and work a full-time job.

Let athletes playing in the NCAA get paid. The second part of the whole process the NCAA has already done, in its own underhanded, inimitable style. There is no reason why the professional athletes playing on college teams should be required to attend classes.

The NCAA ruled in the case involving UNC-Chapel Hill that athletes didn’t have to attend class or do academic work to be eligible to play. The NCAA found nothing wrong with Carolina enrolling its athletes for years in classes that didn’t exist. The football and basketball players presumably got A’s if they were playing well and the benchwarmers most likely received B’s, and that appeared to be the bottom of the grading scale for athletes.

No classes were ever held and the papers weren’t graded by a professor but by a department secretary. The key to getting a good grade in the class was turning in some kind of paper. There was no reason to believe that anyone read the papers.

The NCAA said this was fine with them, so there is no reason for other schools to have to find professors who are willing to give their student athletes a break on the student part. Other schools can simply follow the lead of Carolina and have classes that don’t meet, because having to take time out of a busy practice schedule and going to class is tough for some athletes.

The Olympics benefitted from being honest about the status of the athletes competing. It would appear the NCAA would also benefit from being honest about the athletes in revenue producing sports.

Look at the current status of big time college basketball. The best players at the top schools such as Duke play one year and then officially turn professional and sign multimillion dollar contracts. Are these players ever really students at the university? They are certainly not on campus for the same reason as other students who are there to earn four-year degrees and then get a job or attend graduate school. Most non-athletes are planning on attending college for at least four years and many for seven, eight or 12 years.

If these are typical students, what is someone who attends college planning on staying one year called?

The truth is that the colleges and universities make millions of dollars on these student athletes. These are professional athletes in everything except the being openly paid part. Why not allow the athletes to partake of the millions of dollars they are bringing in for their schools?

Instead of Duke, UNC, State and other Division 1 schools pretending that they have students on their teams, the teams could still be associated with the schools but could be farm teams for the National Basketball Association and National Football League teams. The pretense of having students play would not be there. If a player decided they wanted to go to school, of course the classes would be free, but there would be no incentive to create classes that never meet for athletes because the athletes wouldn’t be expected to attend class. Being a real student would be an option.

NC State is moving closer to this with a luxury dorm for revenue producing-sport athletes. If these are simply students who play a sport, why do they rate a luxury dorm? At a university, shouldn’t the luxury dorm be for the top students, not the top athletes? But of course a student with a high grade point average isn’t bringing money into the school.

There is another option. The Ivy League option, where athletic scholarships are not allowed. Let the teams be truly teams made up of students who aren’t recruited or given any special treatment.

Either solution would be more honest than what is happening these days with college athletics.