Lost behind the scenes of college basketball is the constant battle within the NCAA between the business of athletics and the goals of higher education.
Kentucky sending five underclassmen to the pro ranks could intensify the battle between academic elitists and big-business interests in the NCAA.
On display this April has been the business side of college basketball. The men’s basketball tournament, which annually brings the NCAA $771 million in television revenue, was watched on average by almost 10 million viewers. Digital ad dollars rose past 60 million for “March Madness.”
Success has a measurable impact for the participating schools, including: out-of-state applications, bookstore and apparel sales, and alumni contributions. In 2011, VCU’s run to the Final Four brought in $1.3 million in apparel sales, up from less than $60,000 the prior March.
College coaches who orchestrated success receive significant bonuses for tournament success. Bill Self received $350,000 for his successful year, and Kentucky head coach John Calipari took in $650,000 in bonuses. Others, such as new Illinois head coach John Groce, are able to increase a base salary from $355,000 this year at Ohio to $1,400,000 at Illinois. Everyone is cashing in.
The schools and coaches aren’t alone.
In pursuit of their share of financial success, many of the top players in college basketball this season will leave college and enter the NBA draft. Kentucky’s five starters comprised of all freshmen and sophomores will all leave the college system to play professionally. While the business of college basketball has been front and center, the academics within the NCAA have been looking for their share of media attention by passing new reforms that will undoubtedly steal the Division I college basketball dreams of inner-city youth for generations to come.
The higher-ups within the NCAA lowered a one-two punch by raising the graduation requirement on junior college players to a 2.5 on transferable credits to be eligible for Division I basketball (at the end of the 2013 academic year) up from a 2.0. And beginning in 2015, incoming high school freshmen will be required to post a minimum core GPA of a 2.3 (up from a 2.0). This new rule would require an SAT score of 1080 to be eligible to compete.
The last damaging piece is that, prior to the recruit’s senior year, the player must have 10 of 16 core subjects and those grades are locked in. If a student struggled in freshman or sophomore year of high school, which isn’t uncommon, the reality is that they won’t have the ability to save themselves as seniors.
Is this the way the academics fight back from the success of the “one and done?” As former head coach Tom Penders describes it, “legislation passed by the academic elitists have no compassion for the social inequalities that exist”.
“On top of it at all, these barriers do not serve as an indicator for academic success in college,” Penders added.
He’s someone who knows.
Penders amassed 648 wins at several Division I stops, one of which was at Columbia in the 70s prior to the NCAA academic requirements that are currently in place. He remembers several of his former Columbia players who were inner-city kids that flourished and graduated in four years, and at the same time, he saw kids with 1400s on the SAT flunking out.
The NCAA seems to live under the assumption that everyone’s educational opportunity is equal when we all know they are not. Resources are not evenly distributed, and as Michael Mahoney, founder of HS Athletic Solutions & Be The Beast points out, “The infrastructure for this support varies widely from player to player making this proposed change a noble idea but impractical in its implementation."
Is this their answer to a better APR and raising the graduation rates on a whole for the Division I men’s football and basketball players who currently hover around 50 percent - to create a greater barrier of entry for at-risk student athletes?
Is this in response to the criticism they have received regarding the renewable one-year NCAA scholarship that finally echoed loud enough to see the implementation of a four year guaranteed scholarship (while still optional by the school)?
Or is this in response to groups such as the National Collegiate Players Association putting the NCAA on task for exploitation of the athletes in exchange for the “free ride.” The same “free ride” that NCPA points out that must be earned with:
● Year-round strength and conditioning workouts.
● Countless hours per week of mandatory participation in a sport (hours per week greatly increase because “voluntary” activities are performed).
● Injuries and surgeries that are endured throughout an athlete’s career.
● Risk of permanent physical disability and death.
● Generating billions of dollars from TV contracts, ticket sales, etc.
● Giving national exposure to our schools.
The data clearly shows that less than 12 percent of students who start at community college earn their degree within six years compared to a 60 percent graduation rate for those who enter four-year universities. Won’t these rules defeat the very essence of what college basketball should be about? The dream that through basketball, anybody regardless of economics can receive a scholarship and earn a degree, might now limit that very population.
Recent NCAA research shows that the test score requirement disqualifies African American student-athletes at a rate almost 10 times the rate for white students.
The battle between the academic and business warlords within the NCAA will continue to rage on, and the student-athlete, the main stakeholder in this argument, will continue to be powerless in hopes for the day that college can serve him the same way it serves his fellow classmates.
Leigh Klein is the owner of Five-Star Basketball Camps and formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island. Each year at Five-Star, he trains hundreds of future college basketball and NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He will be blogging for 247Sports on college basketball and recruiting.
Follow Leigh Klein on Twitter @leighalanklein and let him know what you think about the blog.