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When will players be the change they quietly wish to see?

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
Former Syracuse and NBA player Etan Thomas. (AP)

Bashing and smashing the NCAA over its hypocrisy and perceived banana republic-like ways is far from a contemporary fad. In fact, the organization has had its critics and skeptics since its inception, a circumstance the NCAA shares with so many other enviable American institutions.

But I wonder if we'll see a different, more direct trend develop by the end of this decade. Specifically, will we see more active NCAA athletes criticize the Monolith?

It's happened before, sure, but not on a widespread scale and in very few memorable ways. My impressions in covering the sport for a few years are this: I think it's fair to estimate that a sizable portion of college basketball players have problems with the NCAA in one form or another. Others are just happy to go to school for free. There's a range, surely. Frankly, some are too happy and dumb to be playing the sport in front of thousands to realize what benefits they are or aren't receiving. They are part of a machine and barely acknowledge it. Others quietly know it could still be so much better. Others just accept it and abide.

Vocalizing discontent with the NCAA is something that's hard to do when you're a player. After all, without it, what would your college career look like? Would you even have one? The schools and athletic departments do their best to incubate every athlete's mind and keep them as sterile as possible. (This leads to 90 percent of interviews turning into wastes of time for reporters.) The irony is with this. Say someone fairly well-known -- I'll just pick Ohio State's Aaron Craft -- next season started going after the NCAA. Criticizing it in a fair, measured manner.

You know what wouldn't happen? Any sort of public backlash. If arguments made by Craft were rational, the only ones who would cringe at the public critiques would be those inside NCAA offices and the Ohio State athletic department, who'd be besieged with interview requests from starved reporters wanting more.

This would be annoying for only Ohio State and the NCAA, but the national conversation would benefit. There is so much improvement to be done, I can't help but wonder if an active, nationally prominent basketball or football player isn't the real eventual catalyst to sparking more tweaks to the system.

If it minor revolt does happen some time in the next seven or eight years, it will be guys Etan Thomas who inspire the youth to rise on up. Thomas played at Syracuse in the '90s and spent nearly a decade in the NBA. He was a marginal pro but a pretty good piece while playing for Jim Boeheim. He's also a pretty smart guy. He is aware that without the NCAA and Syracuse, he likely doesn't earn millions playing a game.

Still, now that his playing days are over, Thomas is ready to wax on what's wrong with college sports. (It's nice, but it'd be so much better if we had a 21-year-old willing to do this.) Thomas wrote a column for HoopsHype.com that went up Wednesday, essentially killing the NCAA. It's not the most surgical takedown, but the stance does have impact. I think we're bound to get more stories from athletes that read something like this.

As I watched the NBA draft ... and heard all of the announcers talk about how terrible it is that so many college kids are leaving early, it occurred to me that people actually think the colleges are there for the best interests of the “student-athletes”.

This couldn't be further from the truth. College athletics is nothing more than a corrupt system focused on exploitation and greed. I was introduced to the hypocrisy very quickly at Syracuse University by observing my future wife but then girlfriend Nichole.

Thomas then goes into explaining Nichole's (who is now his wife) endorsement deals that weren't allowed, the injury that ended her career prematurely in college, and the legal threats that had to be made so she wouldn't lose her scholarship. It's certainly enough to taint one's perception of how collegiate athletics can be a dexterous two-sided sword.

Thomas also cites how despicable he found it to be that Jamar Samuels was ruled ineligible minutes before Kansas State's tournament game in March after it was found that he took $200 from his AAU coach so his family could eat.

"The bottom line is your [sic] are not a student-athlete as they love to profess to the world, you are an athlete-student, and you are there for one reason and one reason only," Thomas writes. "You can keep your grades up enough to remain eligible, but then again, that's only so you can be able to play."

He makes broad, accurate points. There's an expected shot at Mark Emmert, and in general the column reads like something any NCAA critic will be familiar with. It's boilerplate, but that's not the point.

Where was Thomas with this five years ago? Ten? And who else shares his views but can't find impetus to promote them? The NCAA isn't opposed to change; it's shown a propensity to do so more in the past three or four years than the preceding 30, really. But a lot of the shifts in the system and rewriting of the rules comes often through public push and constant conversation. Athletes as a whole remain hushful here.

The NCAA does a whole lot of real good for 90 percent, if not more, of the athletes who participate under its logo. But the remaining approximate 10 percent is the heaviest fraction, the ones who have a right to feel exploited, whether it be for money or skill. They are the sect that unveils the guise.

This circles me back to my original point. Thomas is one athlete, and maybe his voice finds its way to a few impressionable minds still in college. But if the young players who share Thomas' view really hope to see tangible change come before they're looking down at another generation of college players, it's going to take more voices, louder criticism. When does that time come? When will the entitled start acting like it and realize their influence?

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