Despite the exciting NCAA tournament and the successful Tech season, it is obvious to me that the state of college basketball is at a low point. It has descended into a pseudo minor league system for the NBA and one that states the importance of education and integrity while negotiating multi billion dollar contracts and turning a blind eye to many indiscretions.
The coaches have shifted away from clean programs to one that only emphasize results. Bobby Knight, NCAA Division I’s winningest coach, was revered because he tried to run teams with high academic standards and forced prospective players to tell him why they wanted to go to his program, not the other way around. And yet now, most schools are uninterested in him and he has to cite his own interest to put his name in coaching jobs.
Now, coaches like John Calipari are considered the hot products. Calipari has produced outstanding results everywhere he has coached at the college level, leading both Massachusetts and Memphis to Final Four runs. After he left both programs for what he believed to be a more lucrative job, the NCAA came down on both for major infractions and vacated wins. Yet, he was welcomed with open arms by Kentucky last year, one of the most storied programs in history. At the top schools, results trump everything else.
College coaches are often forced to go after the best talent so to stay on the same competitive level as many of the other programs. Some programs will do anything they can to secure the coveted five-star prospect. Former USC Head Coach Tim Floyd went so far as to pay his former player O.J. Mayo and their “handlers” to keep Mayo happy. He resigned from his position at USC and to the surprise of no one was just rehired at UTEP. They had assurances from the NCAA that there would not be more punishments handed out to Floyd.
Furthermore, the college game has benefited off of the NBA’s arbitrary age rule and sees nothing wrong with it. The NBA forces players to wait one year after high school graduation before they can play in the NBA. For many, the logical plan is just to go to college for one year and then drop out. While Brandon Jennings and others have deviated by going abroad or even dropping out of high school to go into professional leagues in Europe, most still think the only solution is to go to a random campus for one year. The NCAA is complicit in providing the professional leagues with a minor league system so that they can earn billions of dollars. They make a farce of the concept of “education.”
One of the reasons I suspect the college teams really do this is because they believe the product is “better” and more entertaining when they allow these phenoms to go to school for at least one year. Imagine LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant playing for some college team. The assumption is that allowing these one-and-dones in would be more exciting and attract more viewers, leading to more money and increased interest in games. While this might be true, I also think that one of the best parts of the college basketball experience is the relative parity in the tournament. Everyone roots for the upsets and loves to see the underdog make it to the Final Four. I do not think adding these kids aids what many hold to be the best part of college basketball.
I also wonder why these kids can’t do what they want. If they graduate high school, a team drafts them and they sign the contract, shouldn’t they be allowed to go? I realize that this may seem like exploitation by the NBA, but it is in a team’s vested interest to see their draft picks succeed.
Some players defend these rules by saying that the NBA forces these kids to mature and that these kids are given an education they otherwise would not have ever pursued. I would answer that many only go to school for a semester and a quarter, dropping out during the second semester. If the kids are not mature enough, the one year in college will likely not solve the problems.
I think the solution is to create a separate minor league system where players are paid to play and have to work their way up, similar to what professional baseball has in its current system. These players whose sole focus is the NBA could go and play basketball.
Much of the blame is to be placed on the fans. We want teams to succeed at any cost. If that means making a mockery of education and college basketball, so be it. As long as it is entertaining, even for just one year.