Athletics has corrupted higher education. We read about colleges admitting unqualified applicants, teachers passing failing students, star athletes getting away with crimes. The larger issue is that the system deflects attention from academics: with the athletes getting all the attention, nobody notices the students. A second problem is that student athletes are frequently shortchanged: they don't get the education they are supposed to get in return for playing. This is due to the athletes being isolated academically (so they can get passing grades in easy courses to maintain eligibility). They frequently don't graduate and don't learn much along the way (except not to trust colleges).
The problems of athletic scholarships has been in the news lately. The unionization drive at Northwestern and Shabazz Napier's complaint about not getting enough to eat attracted a lot of attention. Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, has been on television defending his organization.
Here's the solution. Have the colleges adopt a rule that if a student plays out his eligibility (i.e. he doesn't leave early to turn pro), then he can later return to the college and get four years of tuition, room, and board. He wouldn't be expected to play. In fact, he would be prohibited from playing. If he already had his bachelor's degree, he could work towards an advanced degree, otherwise he could just finish his bachelor's degree (and then maybe do some graduate work). This could be used at any time in his life. So, if he spent a few years in the pros, he could return after he retired. If he never made it to the pros (most don't), he could use it immediately.
The public would accept this. A Seton Hall sports poll showed that nearly half "said athletes should receive free post-graduate education at their university".
This would solve both problems. The student athlete would be assured of getting an education, free from the distractions of athletics. It would also return attention to academics. The academic quality of the school would be a selling point: if the student can return and get a real education, the quality of that education would be important. Suppose you were the mother of a football star being recruited by Ohio State and Notre Dame: which one would you nudge him towards?