The sad professionalization of college athletics

This weekend brings with it one of the most exciting events in sports: the Final Four.

It also brings with it two teams led by upperclassmen, and two teams led by underclassmen — one of which is the epitome of a scary trend in college athletics.

In basketball, it is the one-and-done player and in football, it is the “free-agent” transfer. The rules apply to all NCAA sports, and stretch beyond just those two. The NCAA has a scary way of telling athletes what is most important is their individual goals and the business that is college sports.

Of the teams in the Final Four, Louisville starts two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman. Kansas’ Josh Selby left for the 2011 NBA Draft after one season, but Bill Self’s team is led by senior Tyshawn Taylor and junior Thomas Robinson. The top six players in the Jayhawks’ rotation are two redshirt juniors, two juniors, a senior and a redshirt senior.

Ohio State starts four sophomores and one senior. Jared Sullinger is just about a lock to

Kentucky? Well, John Calipari starts three freshman and two sophomores.

Terrence Jones, one of the sophomores, said he was entering the 2011 NBA Draft but withdrew his name. Doron Lamb, the other sophomore, was considering someone who could enter the draft last year, but chose not to. Both are probably turning pro after this season.

The three freshman starters include the likely No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft (Anthony Davis) and another player who already has declared for the draft (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). The third member, Marquis Teague, likely will come back for one more year.

Kentucky coach Calipari had a laundry list of players that he coached for just one season in college, also when he was at Memphis.

In 2011, it was point guard Brandon Knight. In 2010, it was a mass exodus from Kentucky to the NBA, with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton all heading for a paycheck after one year on campus.

At Memphis in 2009, it was Tyreke Evans who went pro after his freshman season. In 2008, Derrick Rose decided to forgo his final three years of college eligibility.

Mind you, many of these players are stars in the NBA, and made the right decision for them it seems. It works even better for the NBA, which receives players with big name recognition and great marketability. Derrick Rose is one of the faces of the current NBA. John Wall gets plenty of air time. Others like Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are doing huge things for the NBA in their careers after spending one year on a college campus.

Does it benefit college basketball? No. It does not. It sets a standard for teams to have to compete against Calipari for top-level recruits, and in that, make itself appealing to one-and-done players. That is a dangerous trend for college coaches and programs, but Calipari could care less — he is winning.

It is nice to win games, but let’s be honest, it is little more than a convenient one-year marriage between a player and a coach for their mutual benefit. For that year, games are won, exposure is granted. Both sides advance their careers and futures. Sounds like a very nice business deal, but nothing like a sport played by amateur athletes and coaches who are in a position to mold young minds and develop character.

Enjoy college for a year and try to win a national championship.

On the other end, is the free-agent rule, which allows a player who has graduated from his current school to transfer and play immediately elsewhere while they pursue a master’s degree in a program not offered at their current school.

Yes, Michigan State has had players on both ends of this rule. Former MSU basketball player Tom Herzog went and played one season at Central Florida after graduating from MSU.

Last season, Brandon Wood joined MSU after leaving Valparaiso. Wood, who originally declared for the NBA Draft, ended up transferring to MSU under the same rule. Tom Izzo openly stated he was not a fan of the rule, or the precedent it sets.

While the rule does encourage players to get their degrees and stay solid academically, it rewards players on the field for their accomplishments off the field. Not an awful concept, but at the core it boils down to an opportunity for players to get closer to the professional ranks at a bigger school. Are the student-athletes who transfer actually going to follow through and receive a master’s degree — because if they don’t, it was not about academics anyway. Are the student-athletes transferring out of a bad situation?

Greg Paulus did at Syracuse, where he played football for one season after playing basketball for four years at Duke.

Jeremiah Masoli hasn’t at Ole Miss, where he transferred and was ruled eligible after being kicked off the team at Oregon. He left for the NFL, but claimed he will return to school to get his degree. But, was he ever going to finish his master’s in Parks and Recreation Management after receiving his bachelor’s degree in sociology? How about … no.

Dayne Crist, who transferred from Notre Dame to Kansas this winter, will be eligible right away after getting his degree from Notre Dame. Seemingly unhappy with the lack of playing time coming his way after being a starter prior to numerous injuries, Crist headed to KU to unite with his former coach Charlie Weis.

Wisconsin certainly benefited greatly from the transfer of Russell Wilson from NC State last year, and now appears it will again with the transfer of Danny O’Brien from Maryland — who actually has two years of eligibility remaining.

So Bret Bielema, two years in a row, essentially recruits players from other colleges to come and play in Madison and win some games for him. The player gets to play for a solid football program, and the coach gets out of a sticky situation with his lack of quarterbacks — and basically is rewarded for his inability to recruit and build his program.

The use of transfer quarterbacks works for Bielema to cover up his ineptitude to fix his quarterback situation after a year of Russell Wilson to give him time. Instead, he is caught with his pants down and without a quarterback … again.

And for the quarterback, they get to enjoy a year, or two, of college at a new school with a better chance to win a championship.

So similar to Calipari and his one-year recruits, Bielema and his transfer quarterbacks have a nifty little business deal — all while playing within the NCAA rules.

Oh, and another scenario — spoiler alert: it potentially involves Calipari — Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi might be eligible to play next year at another school. Oriakhi, who was unhappy with playing time last year and clashed with coaches, has been released from his scholarship at UConn. If the NCAA slaps a postseason ban on the Huskies, Oriakhi would be eligible to play immediately because the NCAA grants waivers for student-athletes with remaining eligibility concurrent to the postseason ineligibility of the previous institution.

UConn is likely to receive the postseason ban for not meeting the NCAA requirements for its academic progress rate. Oriakhi reports a 3.6 GPA from last fall semester, but nevertheless, he was on some of the teams whose academic progress rate did not measure up to NCAA standards. Even more, his leaving will hurt the programs academic standing.

Kentucky has contacted Oriakhi, but the SEC does have a rule against players transferring for non-academic reasons if they have less than two years of eligibility remaining.

In the end, Orakhi wants to transfer to play in the postseason.

“Alex will transfer because of the NCAA tournament next year,” Alex Oriakhi Sr. said.

He inevitably will find a school, certainly a national powerhouse, and the two will be another one-year marriage for a coach and a player who will look to win a championship together through a convenient rule.

Three rules. Three different reasons and ways college sports can hardly be called amateur athletics, as little more than business arrangements allow coaches and players to make each other look good.

1. The NBA gets the benefit of players coming from a national state to be marketed and make money, and players get the platform to increase their worth and play for a year in college.

2. The NCAA rewards students who get their degree, but in turn give a loophole to players who are frustrated with a current situation or want to play at a better school.

3. The NCAA allows a student to focus on himself or herself, instead of the team, and transfer to a school where they have the chance to play in the postseason.

All the while, these rules hammer home the concept that true long-standing commitment and unselfishness are not important. It is all about the athlete and the business of college athletics.

You stay classy, NCAA.


Posted on March 28, 2012, in Basketball, Recruiting. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


    Observations on the implications of Kentucky winning it all. Mostly exaggeration (hopefully) but it is a sobering thought that Calipari will probably win and his system will be considered a successful system.

    But hopefully UK chokes again.

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