The final buzzer signaling the end to this year’s March Madness left me staring at the TV screen in disgust.  I had hoped that both the Kentucky Wildcats and the UConn Huskies would somehow lose!   A highly unlikely fantasy, I know.  Full disclosure, I earned both my Masters and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin so rooted for the Badgers in their loss to Kentucky in the semi-finals.

Before dismissing my reaction to the title game as the whining of a disappointed Wisconsin alumnus, hear me out.  I absolutely love intercollegiate athletics!  However, Kentucky and Connecticut reflect several things that are very wrong with NCAA Division I basketball.

Coach John Calipari has raised the “one-and-done” model to an art form at the University of Kentucky.  All five of his freshmen starters could end up in this year’s NBA draft and playing professionally by fall.  They join a growing number of other underclassmen that are leaving college for a shot at the pros.  A number will neither make it in the NBA nor earn degrees, thereby placing themselves at an enormous disadvantage.  Calipari didn’t make the rules; that’s on the NBA, but the NCAA is a willing partner.  A blog in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education describes how colleges have allowed themselves to become the minor leagues of professional basketball and football.  This saves the NBA and NFL both money and the trouble involved in building a developmental league:

In his post-game comments, the tournament’s MVP, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, shone a light on another problem when he crowed, “…this is what happens when you banned us.”  The “hungry Huskies” were not innocent victims of the NCAA.  They had been banned from postseason play last year because the team had failed to meet the NCAA’s minimum academic requirements. UConn earned what they got.

It’s long past time for the NCAA to seriously examine the relationship between big-time athletics and academics.  Pretending that a year of college for the “one-and-dones” is anything more than an NBA tryout gives lie to the academic purpose of higher education.   When athletes whine about their team’s year in tournament exile, it doesn’t sound as if the players learned the right lessons.  And they won’t until the NCAA acts to restore the academic core in the life of student athletes. Thank you Kentucky and UConn for shining a light on the problem!


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