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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bob Knight Speaks/Should Freshmen Be Eligible?

The saying that usually makes the rounds in successful athletic programs with tough coaches is attributed to the upperclassmen, who frequently tell the frosh and sophs, "Remember, listen to what he says, not how he says it." I'm sure that this has been said about many a coach, including the head hoops coach at Texas Tech, Bob Knight.

Bob Knight is right about a lot of things, and I think he's right on this topic too. In making his comments about the NBA's rule that compels high school players to do something else for a year (read: play in college) before entering the league, Knight calls out the NBA. Basically, what he's saying is that the NBA is compromising the integrity of college hoops and making its problems the problems of college programs.

And he's dead right.

If the NBA doesn't want "diaper dandies" playing in its league straight out of high school (and Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard have really stunk up NBA joints, haven't they?), they shouldn't make the problems the NCAA's. The NBA has decried the lack of preparedness of high schoolers, the fact that they'll bring undesirable friends with them, the fact that they aren't ready for all of the excitement, living alone, etc. as reasons for its rule. I blogged before that I thought the NBA was making a bad decision by excluding HS seniors, because baseball and hockey bring in youngsters and so does tennis (and golf does too). I really didn't see the difference then, and I don't see it now. Why keep budding stars from competing at the highest level?

Here's the kicker: the colleges can fight back and beat the NBA.

Big time.

And, in the process, they'll totally undo the harm that guys like Bob Knight think the NBA has caused.

All the colleges need to do is to make freshmen ineligible to play.

They did it before, and they can do it again.

How many college coaches have been quoted as saying that freshmen shouldn't be eligible in the revenue sports because it's so hard for freshmen to adjust to college, period, let alone if they're playing football or basketball? Many (including men like Bob Knight and Dean Smith). (Now, football self-regulates a bit, because many freshmen get red-shirted and don't play, and the elite players try to (and do) graduate early and matriculate in the spring semester at the college of their choice to adjust to college and participate in spring drills -- there's no such equivalent in college hoops).

So what's the best remedy?

Have them sit for a year. Get them to play a good freshman schedule (with not too much travel -- and there would be no March Madness equivalent for freshman teams), get the players adjusted to college life, and, in so doing, you'll separate the guys who are there to play from the guys who don't belong in college. Because the latter group won't go if they can't play against the elite competition (read: upperclassmen) for fear of seeing their skills atrophy, and, if they're excellent players whose NBA futures are all but assured, they'll want better competition than playing a frosh schedule. Which means that the NBA would have to make a move, or else risk reducing a further diluted American talent pool, because kid who comes out after playing a year on a freshman team (which he'd have to do under the NBA's current rules) won't be nearly as ready to play in the big leagues as the kid who was eligible for the varsity as a freshman. Which means that the NBA will have to create a meaningful farm system where they can place kids whom they draft out of high school and develop them properly.

That would make the final result NCAA by technical knockout.

My guess is that if the NCAA schools were to prohibit frosh from playing on the varsity, the NBA would change its rule and get the very best of the HS kids into its orbit the most quickly (another reason -- other than potential skill set atrophy, is that the NBA would lose the free publicity that all NCAA men's hoops TV contracts provide it by showing the best college stars, many of whom will become NBA stars, frequently. The best here is that the stars of frosh teams won't get nearly the type of publicity they would generate were they eligible for the varsity). At the same time, instead of foisting its problems onto the colleges, the NBA actually would be doing them a favor. After all, college should be for student-athletes who want to be there for the overall experience, and not just to play ball.

Ah, but then there's the money, you argue. Would the networks still be willing to pay the huge bucks for March Madness if there is freshman ineligiblity and guys like Kevin Durrant don't go to college? Sure, they would. The tournament transcends any one individual and comes up with great reality TV every single year, mega-HS wonders or not. Finances shouldn't be a huge driver here (because I'd argue, in econ parlance, that they're inelastic), but I'm sure that some network types would love to get the mega-stars, even if for only a year. My view: if great HS player #1A doesn't go to college, there are many others to take his place and provide great stories.

So let's see if the NCAA takes Bob Knight's contention and goes one step further. Make freshmen ineligible, and then tell the NBA that the ball is in their court.

And then see if the NBA can make a fundamentally sound decision.

But then again, it's not like the NBA has been great at fundamentals in recent years, has it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary. For once I agree with Bobby Knight, and I guess I usually agree with you, anyway. The NCAA seems to keep forgetting that this is supposed to be an activity for students (and the top 50 programs have long since stopped caring about having their basketball players learn anything, unless they're smart enough to be able to do it without much effort ...)

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Steve Bzomowski said...

If Knight is right, and I think he is, why doesn't the NCAA simply mandate that schools enforce a rule (which must already exist) that requires student/athletes academically prove themselves worthy to represent the institution the second semester. I mean, where is the accountability? If a player isn't going to class and, indeed, never intended to go to class, how can that university/program maintain its eligibility in the eyes of the NCAA?

I like the ballsiness of your freshmen ineligible rule, but think it would be regarded as stepping back into the dark ages and only hurt the players who, like most student/atheletes at most schools, are fully capable of successfully integrating themselves into the full spectrum of the collegiate experience.

BTW, can someone fill me in on what really happened to Princeton this year and what is being said down there and what, if any, the ramifications will be?

9:12 PM  

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