The news that O.J. Mayo was taking cash and other goods/services while in high school and college should come with no shock to any college sports fan. This goes on way more often than it should and way more than we hear about it. There is too much money involved in the professional sports business now and increased competition among agents that is only going to motivate these types of arrangements more going forward. The added barriers of age-limit restrictions also produces more college athletes (specifically basketball) who are the likely targets of these money games.
With a sport such as football, I completely understand the thought behind age restrictions. League management needs to look out for the health and safety of their rookie athletes in such a physically-demanding sport. I do not agree with an age limit on basketball, a sport that an 18-year-old, if good enough, can play on the same court as 30-year-olds without any increased risk of injury or dilution of game play. Soccer players overseas can be signed as mid-teenagers when team talent scouts believe it is a worthwhile investment. Obviously, even with regulations in place, that scouting is happening in the U.S. with high school players (and sometimes younger) anyways. Controlled markets often can lead to rule and law breaking, especially when incentives are as high as landing a top client is to sports agencies.
That said, I personally do not think there is really an easy answer to solve this problem. Even with no age restrictions, top high school players will be bombarded by prospective agents and other individuals looking out for their own interests rather than the kid's.
Pay the "student-athletes"? Yes, some get free educations and other benefits but I do think in the bigger sports programs this option does make some sense seeing that the athletes are basically employees of multi-million dollar businesses. However, this still is not going to eliminate the wandering eyes and ears of the top athletes and the offers that will be thrown at them.
The NCAA could spend millions every year investigating athletes like Mayo and trying to uncover rule-breakers but that is like asking Bud Selig to investigate steroids users in baseball.
As said before, the incentives are too high (and only increasing) for anyone to expect it to be completely squelched. The sad part is that incredibly talented, young men like Mayo think that $30K is worth all the risk they take on and in turn, bring to their college sports program. In a few months, Mayo will be making millions. He will be able to write $30,000 checks like it's nothing. Unfortunately, without the positive support of protective family and friends, these coddled athletes will continue to make heedless short-term decisions that make little sense over the long-term.