Yesterday I took a shot at Gary Williams and his program's overall lousy graduation rate. Today, I want to take a look at Williams' argument that the one-year rule just doesn't make sense for college basketball. He's certainly not the only one who thinks this way, and even Dick Vitale has come out against the rule, making the point that the rule blatantly takes away from the student-athlete experience. I agree with Williams on this one for several reasons, but mainly because the rule makes an outright mockery of the idea that athletes should be full members of the colleges they represent.
First, the rule makes a mockery of the college system of student-athletes, mainly because some schools now have very few basketball athletes who want anything to do with the "student" part of that term. Even if one could get beyond the "academic" aspect of college basketball, college players should at least be members of the student body they supposedly represent. If you're not living in dorms with average students, showing up to class, and even participating in a few extra-curricular activities, then you really can't claim to be part of the collegiate community. If this is acceptable, then it seems puzzling as to why NCAA players can't get paid outright, because there is no logical argument left to stand on in terms of the amateur aspect of college sports. Simply put, if the athletes are not part of the college community, and are largely not receiving the benefits of a college education, then there is really no reason to keep college players unpaid besides the charade that NCAA basketball is not professional. I just think that in this respect, one year rule makes the NCAA a professional one-year developmental league for the NBA.
Second, the NCAA does not help athletes by forcefully giving them a year of college. You can't force 18 year old men to go to class, eat vegetables, or make their bed in the morning. At some point college athletes need to want the education. Rather, the rule forces some athletes to take the easiest three or four courses they can get away with at a public school (Matt Leinart too ballroom dancing with a straight face), and then simply enroll in second semester courses (because they will leave by the time exams start anyway). This is a dumb system because the athletes get very little out of the experience and they're also 18 years old and capable of making adult decisions on whether or not they want a serious college education.
Third, I'm tired of the argument that college basketball would be cheapened if some of the best athletes jumped straight from high school to the pros. I know that baseball employs a system of allowing athletes to jump from high school to the pros and that a lot of people blame the unpopularity of college baseball on that fact, but college basketball was just fine when the likes of Kobe Bryant were jumping to the pros straight from college. In fact, that's when college basketball enjoyed some of its best years (instead of the snoozer we watched last night).
Lastly, in Calipari's defense (last time I ever intend to write that phrase), there really isn't much evidence that using 18 year old future lottery picks puts you at a distinct advantage in tournament play. Kentucky was a pretty decent program before Calipari got there, but quite frankly, some of Calipari's Memphis teams had better shots at winning a national championship. The problem with using 18 and 19 year old players almost exclusively, is that there is undeniably a maturity factor involved. You will never make it through the NCAA tournament without getting smacked in the face by an opponent's 10-15 point uncontested run or have two or three starters on the bench at one point because of foul trouble. How your team overcomes those runs and minimizes their impact is often a matter of them not getting flustered or frustrated (see Butler last night...they seemed to fold for a critical five minutes or so). I don't think Kentucky will win a national championship with Calipari because I don't see them ever having the maturity to overcome season-defining moments in the tournament on a consistent basis.
Lastly, while the one-year rule clearly has to go, I'm not necessarily sure that it is even close to the biggest ethical problem that college basketball has right now. The NCAA just gave a national championship to a coach who will be suspended for the first three games of next season. As if his team is going to miss him when they're beating up on D-III schools. The NCAA needs to have the guts to stand up for student athletes, even if that means decreased revenues, and to seriously police their sport, even if that means making a hall-of-fame coach sit on the sidelines for three tournament games (that would make him think twice about recruiting violations).