NCAA: Hurting The Tournament?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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There’s a common saying in college athletics that education is the most important thing for all the student-athletes. While that statement contains a lot of truth, it doesn’t account for the fact there are exceptions. In men’s basketball specifically there are many exceptions, perhaps more than any other collegiate sport.
The implementing of an age limit in 2007 by the NBA requiring prospects to be at least one year removed from high school in order to be draft-eligible did nothing to increase student-athletes with pro potential incentive to prioritize getting a degree over trying to improve their stock. Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, who starred at Kentucky for one year before becoming the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, took home $5 million this past season just on his contract with the Wizards alone. An endorsement deal with Reebok netted him another $5 million. Even if the Wizards don’t exercise their team option on him in 2013, which they certainly will, he has a guaranteed $30 million heading his way over the next five years. Even the most successful college graduates won’t come close to guaranteeing themselves $40 million in their first year on the job; Wall putting his studies ahead of his game would have been a ludicrous and pricey decision.
While it goes against the foundation of college athletics, there’s no denying that in men’s college basketball there is more for these players to gain from working as hard as they can on their game, having a big year and going pro than there is from staying four years and getting their degree.
The NCAA has a metric called the Academic Progress Rate, tracking the academic achievement of teams each academic term. The purpose of the metric is to ensure individual athletic institutions are held accountable for their graduation rate. It’s calculated on a point system, with every scholarship player earning a point for staying in school and being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s APR score. Institutions are subject to punishment if their APR falls below 925.
Recently NCAA President Mark Emmert revealed that a proposal has been made to the board of directors that would place a minimum APR score of 900 requirement in order for teams to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament starting in 2013. If that was in place this past year, the national champion UConn Huskies would have been ineligible and we would have had a different champion.
As a whole college basketball is far from perfect. There are plenty of ways it can be improved, but this is definitely not one of them. There are far too many cases in the game’s history where players are forced to pay an unfair price for violations they had nothing to do with and all this proposal would do is increase those instances.
Players are already required to maintain a 1.0 GPA without failing any classes to maintain academic eligibility. Every player who played in last year’s tournament earned their possible two APR points by virtue of being eligible and obviously still in school.
To take the biggest tournament of the year away from players because of poor APR scores is simply outrageous to even propose. It’s what teams work towards all year, and for prospects on the NBA radar it’s when they are watch most heavily. Why the NCAA feels the need to increase their APR-related punishment when they already regularly dock institutions of scholarships for poor performance is hard to understand.
Being an NCAA student-athlete isn’t exactly ideal. Convicts straight out of prison have less rules they have to follow to stay out of jail than student-athletes do to stay eligible. If they break any of them the NCAA won’t hesitate to suspend them or go as far as making them permanently ineligible. Athletes are also limited as to how much time they can spend working with their coaches while also being forced to take a full-time load of classes. Yet they feel the NCAA feels the need to make life even harder on them.
If this indeed becomes the case, the NCAA needs to fine-tune the formula behind the APR and eliminate the point reduction for players who go pro, whether it be in the NBA, NBDL or overseas because all are legitimate reasons to leave.
North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has the preseason favorite to win it all this year. He’s also likely to lose at least four, maybe even more, underclassmen to the 2012 NBA Draft. He can’t win without recruiting players capable of making that leap, but he can’t recruit them without being penalized? If that’s not a broken system then there is no such thing. Williams would be doing these kids a disservice if he tried to convince them to stay and pass up on the opportunity to be a first-round pick.
What the NCAA needs to realize is they’re lucky to have players like former Texas Longhorn Kevin Durant and former Memphis Tiger Derrick Rose even if it is just for a year. They already get more out of them in that year than the NBA owners would get from their players in a single year if they got the most one-sided Collective Bargaining Agreement they possibly could.
The only way they’re ever going to see the Walls, Durants and Roses of the world consistently stick around for multiple seasons is if the NBA imposes a higher age limit in the new CBA than the one currently in place. There’s been some talk the NBA may want to increase it, but there are also some rumblings they could go back to the way it was with high schoolers being allowed to make the jump if they desire.
Either way, the NCAA can’t kid themselves about why these players are a part of their organization in the first place. It’s purely because they provide the best platform in the United States for them to showcase their skills and receive great coaching. But, make no mistake about it, their duties in the classroom are secondary and really just something they have to do in order to play and because of that there’s no legitimate reason to increase their current standards.