By Mike Bianchi, The Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — As we now head toward the national-championship game of college basketball Monday night, there has been but one pervading thought as I’ve watched the three-week NCAA tournament unfold:
Who are these guys?
And if you’re in the business of college basketball, that is worrisome. Very worrisome.
Every year, it seems, college-basketball players are becoming as nameless and faceless as telemarketers to the vast majority of American sports fans. And you wonder when we will just hang up and tune them out altogether.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The only reason college basketball remains relevant is because of the spectacle, not the sport. It’s more about what’s happening on your bracket than what’s happening on the court. Most casual sports fans couldn’t name you five college basketball players in the entire NCAA Tournament. If you ask them who Anthony Davis, Kentucky’s College Player of the Year, is, they’d likely say, “Didn’t he used to play running back for USC?”
The reason is because Davis is a one-year wonder in college basketball. That’s right, he’s Bertie Higgins, and this college-basketball season has been his “Key Largo.”
Davis is part of the growing trend of one-and-doners just like Winter Park (Fla.) High’s Austin Rivers, who announced a few days ago that he is leaving Duke after only one season. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming the athletes, I’m blaming the NCAA for prostituting itself and the NBA for instituting its asinine 19-year-old age limit back in 2005. This limit has made a mockery of the mission of college sports.
The age limit prohibits high-school superstars from getting drafted immediately and encourages them to enter college for a semester or two, attend a few classes (maybe) and then jump to the pros. College coaches hate the rule. NBA coaches hate the rule. The players hate the rule. The fans hate the rule.
Then why is it a rule?
Nobody has more one-and-doners than Kentucky’s John Calipari, but when I asked him about it a few weeks ago, even he went on an extended rant about how he hates the rule and has lobbied the NBA and NCAA to get rid of it.
“It’s not my rule,” he has told his critics (like me) who often act as if Calipari invented the rule.
When I asked Magic coach Stan Van Gundy about it, he, too, was vehemently opposed to it.
“I don’t understand,” Van Gundy says. “Why can’t a kid go to NBA right out of high school if that’s what he wants to do? If a kid is 18 years old, why doesn’t he have the right to go earn a living? If he can get a job at Publix, why can’t he get a job in our league if he’s good enough? We’re forcing guys to go to college who have absolutely no interest or intention of getting a degree.”
Van Gundy then adds sarcastically: “I don’t know — I have this antiquated notion that college should be about education.”
It’s no wonder everybody snickers when college-basketball coaches and their publicists (see Dick Vitale) refer to the players as “student-athletes.” Whom are we kidding? The one-and-done rule makes “student-athlete” the biggest oxymoron since “political ethics.” Even Duke, the bastion of academic excellence, is now in the business of recruiting players who have no desire to get a degree.
Too often, the one-and-doners rarely even attend classes during their second semester as they play in the NCAA Tournament and get ready for their ultimate jump to the NBA. Then they disappear, and all that is left is an empty chair in an abandoned classroom.
One shameful moment.
The players leave with no real connection to the university, and the fans are left with no real connection to the players. Meanwhile, the college itself is little more than a cheap floozy whose only purpose is to make a little money during this tawdry one-night stand in March.
The one-and-done needs to be none-and-done.
Get rid of the age limit and let high-school players go straight to the NBA where they can attain their goal of higher earning.
Leave colleges for those whose mission truly is to graduate from an institution of higher learning.