Okay, call it sour grapes. I stand vulnerable. I cheered mightily for Kansas University Monday night when the Jayhawks took on the “one and done” Kentucky Wildcats. We watched the game in our home with our neighbors, a couple, both KU grads. My colleagueTom Roberts’ son, James, is another successful KU grad. We live some 30 miles from Lawrence, a very livable town graced by the KU campus.
So, yes, we had reasons to be disappointed when the KU basketball team did not win the 2012 national collegiate basketball championship.
But the biggest reason we were rooting for KU was because my wife and I were very much rooting against Kentucky, home of minor league professional basketball.
So today, I was pleased to read this point well taken, to have the Kentucky “façade” basketball program called out, in a front page New York Times article.
For those who don’t follow collegiate basketball or, perhaps, sports, for that matter, you might not know that money increasingly drives college football and basketball. Surpise!
You might also think college athletes go to college to get educated. And here you would be right. In most instances. But strikingly, not in all. Most college athletes work incredibly hard to combine academics with their collegiate sports. It’s not easy. (Disclosure here: I entered Stanford University on a football scholarship.)
Back to the KU/Kentucky basketball game.
KU, under basketball coach Bill Self, generally tries to recruit student athletes. Most KU basketball players attend the university all four years, graduating with degrees. But, under coach John Calipari, Kentucky has a far different program. Calipari, through his basketball career, has gone after high school basketball players, the best in the country, to assembly them on his teams for as little as one year, before they go professional. Thus, “one and done.”
The starting five Kentucky Wildcats are all expected to leave Kentucky to enter the pros next year. So much for academics. Kentucky University is nothing more than a holdings station, featuring a seven-month program for young men to sharpen their basketball skills, before sending them on with their real careers.
And you know what? You cannot blame the young men. Or begrudge them from going after the millions of dollars, which await them as 20-year-olds. They’re not the problem. The system is. It is a system crafted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
But you can ask yourself if N.C.A.A. March Madness is really, in the final analysis, about college basketball. You can also lament that the N.C.A.A. Basketball is simply not fair. And that those programs that stress education will likely not win, the tournament, that is.
Something needs to be done. I admit this is unlikely because increasingly money, Big Money, Television Money, calls the shots in college football and basketball. All evidence reveals the N.C.A.A. is more concerned about revenues than about students, educations, or issues of fairness in college competition.
One day, maybe, our university presidents, among them our Catholic university presidents, will make a greater fuss. But they, too, are caught up in a failed system fueled by Big Money -- and graduates blinded by our collective national sports adulation.
So say good-bye to the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. I wish each of the freshmen basketball graduates well.
And congratulations to coach Calipari for playing the system well.
But let’s recognize it for what it is unfair and corrupted.
If we don’t get it, shame on us.