Universities are in place for one reason only: to educate, nothing more. Often that is lost when reading the sports section of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, the Athens Banner-Herald, or even Between the Hedges. It seems that often, we forget that the real reason that a student is at a university is to learn.
Some universities strive to make certain that academics are a healthy part of a student-athlete's experience in college. Athletic scholarships are not offered in the Ivy League or at any of the United State's Service Academies. While the athletic caliber of the student is not as high at these institutions, it is made clear at these institutions of higher learning that an education the most vital thing at a university.
Not only should regulations be put in place that mandate that graduation rates for athletes climb higher, as the Knight Commission suggested earlier today, but also programs and universities should be held accountable for their graduation rates. These new rates should not be artificially inflated either, they should be an accurate representation of a program and the university's willingness to promote education to its most visible students.
For the most part football has come a long way in regards to scholastic aptitude; basketball on the other hand has developed into a crisis. Cincinnati is the worst example of an athletic program in America, easily. The Bearcats consistently rank at the bottom of the Division I rankings for graduation rates. This is because for many seasons Bob Huggins' program has graduated no players.
In a situation like Cincinnati, the players (because they are certainly not students) are either willingly or unknowingly ignoring academics. How can an institution of higher learning allow a graduation rate of zero? If an academic program has graduation rates like Cincinnati, the department would cease to exist.
One of the main reasons that basketball programs throughout the country are neglecting academics is the lure of the NBA. With the current salary structure (from the late 1990s collective bargaining agreement) in the NBA, the earlier that a young man gets into the league, the earlier that he gets the big pay day that he is due. This also means that he has more years in his career to earn more money. There is a mandatory salary structure that is involved in the NBA that restricts the amount of dollars that a young player can make. The thinking among talented players it to take their game to the college level for one, at the most two seasons, and then get their money in the league. The earlier that a young man gets into the league the more money that he can make.
Shenard Long, former Georgia State star and probable draftee in the 2001 NBA Draft, sees the NBA in a different way than most. "I have one semester left at State, I am going to get my degree. You never know what might happen to you in the league. Not many guys realize that."
The truth about college sports today is that even with new restrictions placed on graduation rates, the current situation will not change until both the universities and the professional leagues make clear what the propose of each is. "We are not the minor leagues for pro sports," added the naive Chairman of the Knight Commission. In order to make that statement factual the NCAA and the professional leagues must make changes, drastic changes.
First off, the NBA needs to explore a possible farm system for talented "not ready for prime time" players. In this case, the NBA would fund the "minor league" system that would be developed with talented high school and foreign players in mind. Instead of going to college for one semester and leaving after one year of playing ball, the professional athlete could leave the college game up to student-athletes. The NCAA and NBA could make the college more respectable by thwarting any attempt of a student-athlete that is yet competed in his sophomore season from entering the NBA Draft or free agency. This might not be popular to groups that promote "freedom" but it is a necessary step to correct this growing problem.
Secondly, football programs and their conferences should be forced to comply with at least a 55% graduation rate for their student-athletes. In order for this to be taken seriously the NCAA or in this case, the BCS should restrict or prevent bowl invitations to teams that do not meet the NCAA, BCS, or conference standard. If you want to get something done with the NCAA and its members, the fastest way to get their attention is to throw a few greens around, and I am not talking about the greens that you eat.
Finally, the presidents and athletic directors should make an effort to clean up the state of collegiate athletics. Situations like Cincinnati are revolting; players are simply prostituting themselves on the floor in order to get a shot at the NBA. There is no apology from their administration and that alone is reason enough to command change now before the pastime known as intercollegiate athletics dwindles into more of a meat market for professional sports than it already is.