Most folks who know me personally would consider me an avid basketball fan. Well, check that. They would consider me a basketball nut. I love coaching my son and daughter and I love watching it. I assist with my daughters high school team, travel all over the east coast coaching my son’s AAU team, and have coached high school boys before I even had children. I am convinced God sponsors a tournament in Heaven every night with perfect officiating yet complete unbiased play. It is simply the best game on the planet. Sue me. I am biased.
Anyway. I obviously follow college basketball fanatically as well. March Madness is perhaps the greatest sports event in the world at this point. Takes a month, produces massive TV ratings, promotes Vegas gambling like the addiction it is, and produces endless hours of drama and simply divine basketball.
So why have I titled this piece the vanishing student athlete. Well, because the student athlete is simply vanishing. During my coming of age in the 80′s, (yea I’m that age), players had to actually attend class and pass said class. Sure, there was some “under the table” grading, but for the most part, athletes had to pass the school’s SAT requirements and at the very least attend classes. Those that couldn’t either didn’t get in or they attended community colleges until they could make admission requirements at the DI level. The great Bobby Knight was a master of making sure his kids where students. When asked back in the day what would save college basketball from the influence of big corrupt money, Knight simply said make schools stick to their education requirements. The legendary, and in my humble opinion, over-rated John Thompson from Georgetown called Knight a racist. How dare you tell young black kids to meet academic requirements. They “need” this chance to learn. Bologne. They needed to be held to the same standards all kids are held to.
Fast forward to today. The players are no better. The games are no more thrilling, and sadly, the competitiveness may be actually going down. This is evidenced by the sheer number of teams with almost 20 losses having chances to make the Big Dance. Sure, athleticism is at an all time high. Kids blow up and down the court at speeds never seen before. Pure basketball has vanished except for perhaps at Butler, Indiana, and Duke. Why has this happened? It all boils down to pushing kids out of the AAU circuit and into college where they are not academically prepared to even pass high school, let alone attend college. That folks, is simply wrong and it is doing a great disservice to these kids. Most, obviously, do not make the NBA. They leave school, with no degree, cast aside by a system that used them for profit, and largely end up in prison or on the street.
Pay the players some folks say. Give me a break. That’s why we have the NBA. Colleges are for students first. College sports are for student athletes second. Legendary coach John Wooden, who is held up as the Gold Standard would have never went for this and the NCAA shouldn’t allow it today.