US college sports system a rarity across the globe

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Mexico*s top flight soccer teams are allowed to sign youth players to professional contracts regardless of age. The only restriction is that the length of the contract cannot be for more than three years. Most professional squads have their own soccer schools, where kids from 5 to 12 participate.


In Spain, young soccer players can sign professional contracts when they turn 16, the minimum work age stipulated by Spanish law. Before that, children join training academies run by soccer clubs that field youth teams in amateur leagues. The most well-known example in Spain is Barcelona’s “La Masia” academy, where Lionel Messi started training at the age of 13 when his family emigrated from Argentina. While major clubs may entice the families of some high-profile young talents with offers of jobs or even money, most children play for the training academies of their hometown clubs. Spanish law obliges children to stay in school until 16, the same age when players can join the union.

A similar system exists in Spanish basketball. A player under 16 can play for the club’s top team but cannot have a professional contract. This was the rare case for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio, who debuted for Joventut at the age of 14. Families with children under 16 may receive some type of compensation from clubs in the form of payments to cover travel expenses or to help with their children’s studies.


Football and basketball players typically compete in high school, and the best players are scouted by college coaches. Players can attend all-star games and college camps in the offseason. The best athletes sign with colleges for four years, in exchange for a scholarship. The National Football League will not select players until three years after their high school class graduates. The National Basketball Association will not select players until one year after their high school class graduates. College football and men’s basketball generate billions in revenue for the schools and the NCAA.

In baseball, players compete in high school and the best are scouted by college coaches and Major League Baseball teams. Some have the opportunity to play in college for full or partial scholarships, or sign professional contracts after high school. Players start in the minor leagues, playing for a team run by one of the MLB clubs.

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