On the heels of GPA-gate 2010, Dana O’Neil has a piece on ESPN.com about the academic problems plaguing college athletics. At the forefront of both the article and the controversy, is the idea that recruitment of one-and-dones under the current NCAA policy is making the “student” in “student-athlete” irrelevant. O’Neil attempts to assign blame for the academic failures of the major sports (most specifically basketball, the academically lowest rated of the bunch). She seems to put most of that blame on the environment and policy within the organization, which in some ways encourages students to blow off class.
Of course, discussions and articles like this inevitably turn to what new, arbitrary rules the NCAA can put in place to encourage kids to go to class. Should they evaluate grades mid-second semester (March) to rule kids eligible? Should they make penalties stiffer for teams not meeting requirements? Or attempt to squash these NBA combines that make it difficult for draft prospects to make it to spring semester classes? Ummm…how about “none of the above?”
Having just recently graduated from an institution of higher learning, and having grown up in a household where I was encouraged to make good grades and go to a decent college, I can definitively say that being a student was very important to me. But let’s say I’m given the following scenario:
December of my freshmen year, some guy in a suit (not Samuel L. Jackson unfortunately), comes to me and says “Hey we think you’re pretty awesome at being awesome and we don’t’ care if you have a degree. You have to wait till June comes around, but then you’re going to get lots of money and we don’t care what your grades are for the spring semester.”
Would I continue to go to class, even knowing how important being a student was to me? Probably not. I’m in my late teens and I’m about to earn millions of dollars doing what I love (I love being awesome, after all). Why would I work hard at getting a couple of credits that will mean nothing to me in 6 months? And would I feel like I had to pay my college back for that free ride I got those semesters I was in school? Heck no. I went to college so I could get a good job, and I got a good job. Thank you XX University!
Now, as a twenty-something I realize that those credits don’t mean nothing-and that’s where the problem lies. Very few of these kids realize how quickly they can go from the top of the world to the bottom of it. Ask Ed O’Bannon and Chris Washburn about that. At 18 you may be invincible, but at 30 with bad knees and a crappy accountant you’re broke, uneducated, and washed-up. That’s why I want these kids to get an education-not to make the “student-athlete” moniker legitimate or to justify their scholarships. But because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them down the line.
So my solution to the education problem? Education. Have Antoine Walker and Jason Caffey and Scottie Pippen talk to these kids about what happens when the bottom falls out. Make it perfectly clear to them how short their careers may be and how they’ll wish someday that they could have those scholarships back. Make sure they know that 60% of NBA players are broke within 5 years of retirement. And then let them do what they want. It’s time to stop the rule-making and start letting people make their own mistakes.