1-And-Done Should Be 2-And-Shoo

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 16, 2008
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While neither NBA commissioner David Stern nor his NCAA counterpart Myles Brandt will speak of it publicly by name, the idea of adding a second year to the NBA’s holding period is something both want and need.

Speaking only of a “wide-ranging initiative” for youth basketball at the NCAA finals a week ago, the heads of the world’s two biggest basketball corporations danced around the subject that would save the NBA from its own wasteful economic practices and the NCAA from forsaking any remaining academic credibility.

Neither revelation is likely to occur anytime soon, since the NBA must get the OK from the players union, which has a deal through 2011, and because the NCAA has traditionally cowered to the pressure of the big-time institutions that generate most of the organization’s income.

Since the NBA changed its eligibility rule, college basketball has become nothing more than a way station for high school hot shots with no interest in the academic pursuits the NCAA supposedly mandates from its so-called student athletes. It is the height of hypocrisy to suggest that an athlete can make progress toward a degree when the entire intended commitment lasts no longer than six months, and in which only the least possible academic effort is made for half that time. Yet that’s exactly what the NCAA has allowed to happen.

No sooner had the season finished than the great annual exodus of players resumed its flood away from college campuses with declarations of entering the NBA draft. The departure of O.J. Mayo - who was an obvious one-and-done NCAA rent-a-player while still a senior at Huntington High School - will surely not help USC’s graduation numbers that boasted a 29 percent success rate, according to the most recent NCAA study that tracked graduation rates over a four-year period ending in 2000. Neither shall Texas A&M’s DeAndre Jordan (40 percent), LSU’s Anthony Randolph (38 percent) or Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless, whose institute of higher learning has managed to graduate only 25 percent of its male basketball players even after its head coach, Lute Olsen, years ago publicly denounced such players as not worth the resources spent on recruiting. The numbers for African-American athletes at the tops schools are even more disturbing.

Richard E. Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, reported in Street & Smiths SportsBusiness Journal that “61 percent of the men’s tournament teams graduated 70 percent or more of their white basketball student-athletes, while only 30 percent graduated 70 percent or more of their African-American basketball student athletes.”

Not that any of this had to happen.

While many coaches and athletic directors cowardly claim that participating in such academically irresponsible practices are necessary evils of athletic success, or that these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and that they recruit these players with the idea that they will stick around for a couple of years, the truth is that bowing to ever-demanding boosters and prima donna 18-year-olds lowers the academic credibility of the institution while having little effect on the schools’ ability to win.

Final Four contender North Carolina managed to get 86 percent of its players into caps and gowns. Indiana graduated 78 percent. Mid-major standout and No. 8 Xavier hit 90 percent, Davidson 91, while 2006 and 2007 champion Florida scored a perfect 100.

Recent academic initiatives - which include the Academic Progress Rate program that punishes schools by taking away scholarships - have raised athletic graduation rates as a whole to a number greater than those of the regular student body. But with men’s basketball at an NCAA low 61 percent and some schools such as Florida A&M graduating a pathetic 17 percent of its players, significant work remains.

Unlike the NBA, the NCAA is free to act unilaterally without the approval of other organizations. By requiring a minimum of a two-year commitment, it would be able to better fake academic concern while keeping star players on board for bigger TV ratings and alumni support.

Some concessions by the universities would have to be made. Where currently scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis, schools also would have to commit at least two years to the athlete.

Opponents of such a deal may argue that requiring greater commitments from the athletes would allow the bigger programs to stockpile players while lessening the chances of the mid-majors. But the number of freshman-to-the-NBA types is small, and the four-year deep programs at smaller schools would still allow for tournament success.

Plus the NBA would save millions.

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