Following the conclusion of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, a friend of mine, who I respect, made a statement that I couldn’t understand or agree with. He said that, following the University of Connecticut’s victory over the University of Kentucky, “now, all is right with ‘collegiate’ sports.”
I knew that statement was meant to single out and degrade UK Men’s basketball program. You know, the “one and done” program. The program with the coach who, as Bobby Knight proclaims, is lacking “integrity.” The program that ultimately represents all that’s bad in college athletics.
I immediately responded to his statement, not to defend the program at UK (disclaimer: I live in Lexington, KY and am a UK fan), but to point out the current state of major college athletics. I responded to his statement because I don’t like the singling out of someone when there is a problem that is diffuse. And all is not right in collegiate athletics (the major sports of football and basketball) right now.
Look no further than the winner of that above mentioned basketball game. Last year, their men’s basketball team was on probation for poor academic performance (mainly for continued low graduation rates in their program) over a 5 years span. Another institution, one that is highly prestigious and considered a top 20 public university, is in the middle of a NCAA investigation for academic reasons (allegedly having fake classes for members of the football and basketball teams). Does this sound like these schools have a “collegiate” environment for these athletes?
The men’s basketball program at UK, on the other hand, is not under any academic investigation right now. So, what’s the complaints of their program? They, like all of the “blue blooded” programs, recruit the best of the best high school players. Once the players develop and the NBA teams call, many of them leave school early (without obtaining a degree) for professional basketball.
This, I think, is what does not sit well with many of us. Many of us (including me) like the idea of “student athletes” that obtain a college degree before going professional. Before professional athletes got paid millions of dollars (which was not until Nolan Ryan signed to get $4 million over 4 years in 1979), athletes almost always stayed in college for 4 years to get their degree. Now, with the significant rise in salaries of professional athletes, players are leaving school earlier to sign one of those contracts. Watch the NBA draft, there is only a handful of seniors getting drafted because most are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors.
I do not like the feel of that, where college football and basketball are in a sense like “minor league” sports. However, they have turned into major industries, where each generate billions upon billions of dollars. This is the direction they have been heading for more than 25 years. This is reducing (or often removing) the “student” part of the “student athlete” in these sports, which is not good for the schools or its athletes.
So, to my friend’s statement, I would disagree. All is not right with collegiate athletics (the major sports of football and basketball). Many of these athletes are getting by with little focus on the education part, either by leaving school early or by cutting corners in the classroom. This is the case. No matter which team cut down the nets on Monday night.