With a convincing 43-16 thrashing of Washington State this weekend, the University of Southern California Trojans vaulted themselves into the second spot in BCS rankings just behind Oklahoma. The only thing standing between them and the Rose Bowl is . well, everything.

The Trojans still face contests against 6-3 Oregon State and state rival UCLA; Arizona will play host to USC two weeks from now, and though they’ll come in with a record no better than 2-8, never underestimate the underdog. The Trojans’ strength of schedule could hurt them in the computer rankings, and both Florida State and Miami are well positioned for a run at the title. All this is to be expected.

The main competition, however, won’t be found on another campus, lifting weights after practice or chugging a protein shake in the student union. Right now, that competition is sitting on the desk of a California senator, already stamped with a seal of approval.

In May, the state senate of California passed a bill that would allow college athletes within the state to be reimbursed for their services to their schools and to hire agents while still playing collegiate sports. As a minor side-effect, the bill would force all of California’s 47 member schools out of the NCAA by violating the fundamental principle of not paying athletes, which the overarching collegiate sports body has stood for since its inception.

The bill has been dubbed the “student-athletes’ bill of rights” and calls for schools to better reward their athletes for the attention they bring to campus; it claims that restrictive NCAA rules take advantage of players, and that scholarships do not cover even their most basic needs.

The effects of such a bill becoming law in any state – much less California, home to some of the NCAA’s most dominant schools – are unthinkable. California schools represent numerous conferences and divisions, all of which stand to lose a total of $40 million in revenues from the NCAA.

The shakeups these conferences would undergo as a result of losing such vital schools would be irrecoverable. Take the PAC-10 as an example: among its members are four schools from California. If you think the Big East rearrangement is news, imagine the extent of restructuring required if the NCAA lost 47 schools. This isn’t one football team being suspended for a couple of seasons; this is every team from nearly four dozen colleges, suspended permanently from participating in intercollegiate sports except among themselves.

And these aren’t just any teams. California teams are some of the best in the nation in nearly every sport. While USC embarks on its title run in football, the Stanford men’s and women’s basketball teams are preparing to open their seasons, both of which will likely end in NCAA Tournament appearances. Stanford’s baseball team is a perennial powerhouse, and UCLA has historically found success in both basketball and football. The men’s crew and water polo teams at U. Cal-Berkeley have met with great success in recent years, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that half of the top 20 volleyball teams in the nation hail from California.

Paying collegiate athletes is absolutely wrong. It diametrically opposes everything the NCAA represents, and Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, has done a great job letting the California schools know that exceptions will not be made for them. Last week he told representatives of the state’s schools that “if they follow state law, they’re immediately out of the NCAA.”

Paying student athletes opens up whole new cans of worms. Does everybody get paid? How much? Do some athletes get paid more than others, and how would that be determined?

Athletes are a vital part of a campus and help foster school spirit. Admittedly, the NCAA has its flaws. Recently the league has been plagued with allegations of players receiving gifts or money from coaches and alumni. Sometimes whole programs are penalized because a coach lent his player a quarter to call home; other times, these rules violations are completely overlooked. The result is that, right now, there are players in the NCAA who are receiving payment for their play.

But you don’t solve drug problems by legalizing the drugs. Colleges, California and the NCAA must not try to solve the problems inherent in an imperfect system by paying amateur athletes.

These arguments overlook the most egregious flaw of the bill. These are amateur athletes – college students – we’re talking about here. There is absolutely no reason to pay them to play. Professional athletes earn their money; their job is to play a sport for a living. The job of a student-athlete is to get an education. Sports are an integral part of the college experience, and the kids that have the skills to play their sport at the Division I level are incredibly lucky. If their skills take them beyond that level and into the ranks of the pros, more power to them – that is, after all, where the money is.

And that’s where it should remain.

Derek Richmond can be reached at richmondthehoya.com. THE W appears every Tuesday.

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