The recent issues at Penn State (along with Ohio State, USC, and a litany of others) have shown that college sports is more or less at a rotted crossroads; while there are a lot of good school that play by the rules, it's not a coincidence that some of the most successful schools, sports-wise, are also some of the most corrupt, in some form or another.
(Before we go much farther, obviously what happened at Penn State is much worse by comparison than selling memorabilia and handing cash to students, and that breaking NCAA rules aren't against the law, but I'll be using the common "illegal" parlance jsut to make things easier. But what happened at Penn State does tie in with this--had someone in the coaching staff sounded the alarm, there is no doubt it would have contributed detrimentally to Paterno's recruiting efforts, it would have been a huge distraction and staff turnover, and would have reflected the general success of the team. I'm also focusing on football, but the same applies to basketball as well.)
Still, I've always thought that college sports was kind of a joke. I can certainly understand people's devotion to a team--that's what sports fealty is for--but this quasi-indentured servitude system built around the sham framework of education has got to end.
First off, read this article from The Atlantic by Taylor Branch. It does a pretty good job of describing exactly how these athletes--sorry, "student athletes"--are treated. Most are willing to do so because it is the gateway to stardom, and there are certainly good things that come of it. And I am not a complete philistine--I think that sports can certainly contribute to a well-rounded education at the collegiate level.
That said, college football (and, to a lesser extent, basketball) has become a beast onto its own. They make a lot of money, which goes to subsidize the other, non-profitable sports, and in most cases the university itself. This has always been one of the most common defenses of the NCAA--it provides money for the universities, and provides kids with scholarships who may not otherwise go to college. And yet is that what we want? Kids unprepared for the rigorous academics, who once the 99% of them who don't go pro won't have an athletic department pulling strings to make them successful? And shouldn't the academics of a university stand on its own?
Personally, I think the entire system should be scrapped; basically, universities, who should be focusing on academics, have more or less provided the NFL with a minor league. Since that is what it's become, why not just make it a minor league? We all know people would still watch, and a case can be made to affiliate them with the colleges and universities that house them now (but kept as a separate legal entity, and actually paying players without the pretense of providing them with a fake education).
I am often at odds with professional sports traditionalists, where their sport of choice should not change from that magical moment when they were 12 and everything was perfect. OSU and Penn State and USC and LSU and FSU fans will whine and cry about destroying "cherished traditions" that have lasted for decades. These are the same individuals who do not realize that they are destroying them right now.