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Joe Santoro: College athletics as we know it is dead

University of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong against Utah State on Nov.5, 2020, in Reno. With new rules concerning college athletes earning money, we could be seeing Strong’s likeness all over Northern Nevada, Joe Santoro writes. (Photo: Lance Iversen/AP, file)

University of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong against Utah State on Nov.5, 2020, in Reno. With new rules concerning college athletes earning money, we could be seeing Strong’s likeness all over Northern Nevada, Joe Santoro writes. (Photo: Lance Iversen/AP, file)

 Carson Strong’s likeness on a billboard selling cars for the Dolan Auto Group. Romeo Doubs’ smiling face in a television ad promoting Scheels’ line of athletic wear. Toa Taua in a Speedo on the beach promoting a Lake Tahoe resort. Warren Washington selling memberships for a Northern Nevada athletic club. Grant Sherfield doing an ad for his favorite Reno-area restaurant.
Get ready, Nevada Wolf Pack fans. It’s coming. Your favorite Wolf Pack athletes can now sell their name, image and likeness and earn big money from local businesses. Forget a beautiful campus, friendly cheerleaders and a top-flight education. It will be boosters and their deep pockets that are now, more than ever, the most important recruiting tool a coach can use to lure athletes to town.
College sports are no longer wholesome and innocent. Athletes no longer are going to play simply for the love of competition, their school and a free education. Coaches no longer have total control over their athletes. You don’t, after all, want to anger a rich booster who is giving your star quarterback thousands of dollars a month to appear in his ads, now do you? Jealousies will be created among teammates. College sports has changed forever.
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Giving a college athlete thousands of dollars or more can’t be dangerous, could it? What could possibly go wrong? The athletes won’t use the money for evil, right? After all, what danger could a young athlete with thousands of dollars get into when all their time is spent studying and going to practice, right?
And, of course, everyone knows that a 19-year-old or 20-year-old can’t possibly spend money on something in the state of Nevada that could get them in trouble.
The athletes, no doubt, will just put all of that money safely in the bank or invest it in the stock market or help mom and dad pay the bills back home. Heck, they might even give some of it to their favorite charity or cause. What could possibly go wrong by making teen-aged athletes rich? We will find out.
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This upcoming Wolf Pack football season might have a 2009 and 2011 feel to it. In 2009 the Pack lost its first three games (Notre Dame, Colorado State, Missouri) before winning eight in a row and finishing 8-5. The 2011 team lost three of its first four and ended up 7-6. The Pack went to bowl games in both 2009 and 2011 so, don’t worry, coach Chris Ault still got a little something extra in his final paycheck those years.
But the slow starts in both seasons put a damper on the whole year. The same thing could happen this year if the Pack doesn’t learn from its past. This year’s Pack has to play at California, Kansas State and Boise State in the first four weeks to go along with a glorified scrimmage win against Idaho State at home.
A 1-3 start won’t kill the entire season. The Pack can still win its division and go to and win the league title game. But a 1-3 start will taint the year just the same, just like the slow starts of 2009 and 2011. Imagine the endorsements the Pack players will get if they start 4-0.
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It appears we are headed to the crowning of one of the worst NBA champions in history. Which one of the three remaining teams (Phoenix, Milwaukee, Atlanta) would have frightened the champion Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors? What about any LeBron James title team?
The NBA has lost its greatness. We haven’t seen a true great NBA champion since the Warriors in 2018. In 2019 it was the forgettable Toronto Raptors. Last year it was the fake season in a bubble. And this year the champion will be a team that wouldn’t have gotten out of the second round in the 1980s and 1990s.
We are stuck in a mediocre and forgettable NBA era similar to the one we had in the late 1970s, before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird saved the league, when good-but-not-great teams like Washington, Seattle, Portland and Golden State won titles.
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Why can’t NBA stars stay healthy anymore in the postseason?
Is it because teams baby them too much in the regular season and they aren’t prepared for the rigors of the playoffs? Is it because they don’t really care about the playoffs? Is it because they are selfish and pampered and only care about their long-term paychecks? Is it because nobody, not even the fans, puts pressure on them to play?
Can you imagine the Suns in the Finals against a Hawks’ team missing Trae Young or a Bucks team missing Giannis Antekounmpo? Well, that’s what we might get. That’s how you get an aging point guard like Chris Paul, who couldn’t sniff the Finals when he was young, leading two wet-behind-the-ears stars like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to a NBA title.
Anthony Davis’ injury destroyed the Los Angeles Lakers. Kawhi Leonard’s injury drained the Los Angeles Clippers. The Brooklyn Nets lost Kyrie Irving and had a hobbled James Harden and couldn’t overcome it. Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul had more credibility than these NBA playoffs. It’s just a bunch of guys who can’t punch hard but somebody has to win in the end.
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Sports Illustrated recently came out with a silly 2022 NFL mock draft that had Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong taken with the No. 10 pick in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta would be a good spot for Strong to end up. He could sit on the bench for a year or two and learn behind veteran Matt Ryan. And, odds are, Ryan wouldn’t be as much of an insecure jerk to Strong as Aaron Rodgers has been to Jordan Love in Green Bay.
Is Strong ready for the NFL? It was just 20 months or so ago, don’t forget, that we weren’t sure he was ready for the Mountain West. Pack coach Jay Norvell benched him for three weeks in a row in the 2019 season for none other than Cristian Solano and Malik Henry. Here we are, less than two years later, and Strong is considered a possible first-round NFL draft pick. And it won’t be long before he just might be driving around town in a new Dolan Auto Group Toyota.

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