Tuesday, April 8, 2003

One size doesn't fit all, NCAA

Players earn roundball degrees

NCAA president Myles Brand wants to reform college basketball by making schools more accountable for graduating players. The NCAA has formed something called the Incentive/Disincentive Committee to figure a way to do that. Scholarships could be taken away from schools that don't graduate enough players. Whatever enough is.

Yet Brand acknowledges the NCAA's way of counting graduation rates is silly and misleading. We could get into that, but boredom isn't something we're trying to achieve in this space. Suffice to say, if you do almost anything but start and finish at one school, you don't count as graduating, even if you do.

"We have to hold institutions responsible for making sure that student-athletes are being educated and have the opportunity to graduate,'' Brand said. This is all well and noble. But it sounds like a one-size-fits-all solution. One size doesn't fit all.

Just look at who played in the national championship game Monday. What fits Kirk Hinrich doesn't fit Carmelo Anthony.

Hinrich is the Kansas guard who stayed four years and will graduate in May. Anthony is the Syracuse freshman who likely will leave school for the NBA after one year. Brand would see Hinrich as the student-athlete ideal. He'd see Anthony as something else.

That's neither correct nor fair.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim says he won't tell Anthony to stay in college, not when Anthony would be an NBA lottery pick if he declares for the draft. Most big-time coaches feel the same way. The "college experience'' is valuable to those who value it. Lots of players good enough to make money playing ball can take or leave college.

Kansas coach Roy Williams decided three years ago to stay in Lawrence because he wanted to coach Hinrich and Nick Collison, two freshmen he said had restored his faith in the recruiting process. Hinrich and Collison kept their end of the bargain, staying four years instead of running for the money. On Monday night, they played for the national championship.

Yet Williams acknowledges Hinrich and Collison are exceptions now. They come from stable, middle-class, two-parent families. Both are sons of coaches. About the only thing Kirk Hinrich of Sioux City, Iowa, has in common with Carmelo Anthony of West Baltimore, Md. - and a neighborhood known as The Pharmacy for its drug infestation - is they both play basketball.

Most schools already have in place the means to help any player get a degree who wants one. Perhaps you didn't have tutors, study tables and a small army of academic advisors helping you get through your four years of college. Maybe you didn't have every book and class paid for, either. Those 20 hours a week waiting tables really took their toll when you were studying for mid-terms. Yet you probably never suggested you should be paid for going to school.

Point is, if a basketball player's goal is to graduate, he almost certainly will. As often as not, he doesn't care. He sees college as a stage for his skills. Nothing wrong with that. In some measure, that's what college is for all of us.

What needs to happen, never will. The NCAA needs to ditch the student-athlete hypocrisy and allow its sports stars to major in their games. Give them training in money management, basic accounting and business. Expose them to a little literature, philosophy and sociology. Load them with courses in coaching. Give them an education that's relevant to their career choice, which is basketball.

When they leave early for the pros, or when they simply leave early, wish them well and thank them for their service to the school. If basketball players want to graduate, they can. If they don't, why should anyone be bothered but them?


E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com

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