By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
By the time this column goes to print, the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball champion will have been crowned, topping off another successful college basketball playoff, known affectionately as March Madness.
Odds are the winner will be Kentucky, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas pulls off the “upset.” Either way, I don’t really care.
I haven’t watched a single game this year, and although I might catch some of the championship game, college basketball hasn’t really interested me in years. This could be partly because I am horrendous at filling out brackets (I had Missouri going to whole way. Yeah, the same Missouri team that lost in the Round of 64). It could also have something to do with the fact that my favorite Division I team and my parents’ alma mater, Texas A&M, didn’t make the tournament this year.
But the main reason I can’t get interested in college basketball is the tremendous amount of turnover, both is star players and coaches, that occurs on a yearly basis.
I know that collegiate sports are changing more and more to mirror the professional world. Athletes are being recruited and scrutinized at younger and younger ages, and college basketball players are making a successful transition to the NBA and all of the money and fame that surrounds it after only one year of college ball. Recent examples include Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Washington’s John Wall and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest and Austin Rivers are just a few of the players who will be forgoing their college career for the spotlight of the pros. The problem? These extremely talented players are only with these schools for one year. There is not time for them to establish any kind of reputation, lead their team to multiple tournament births and develop their own legend. Their in and out in a blink of an eye, and another bumper crop comes right after them.
I’ve never been a huge college basketball fan, but I remember tuning in to Aggie games to watch Acie Law play. His overtime heroics were legendary for Texas A&M fans, and I had a connection with the team through Law and other consistent starters. Now, it seems like top programs are simply a revolving door of faces and names.
I think that the NBA should make a rule that would require players who graduated from high school to complete at least two, if not three years of college. Doing this would accomplish multiple goals.
First, it would allow fans to develop a connection and relationship with their team’s star players, much like University of North Carolina fans did with Tyler Hansbrough. Secondly, it would allow players to develop, both physically and mentally, to compete at a pro level. No one would argue that Law, Derrick Rose, and Irving weren’t NBA ready coming out of their freshman year. But another year or two of playing college ball would have honed their skills and bodies so that they wouldn’t have to deal with trying to learn on the fly (Wall) or nagging injuries (Rose). Thirdly, this would allow team to recruit not just star players, but players that can fill important roles so that these college teams would develop into perennial powerhouses, rather than one-year-wonders.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it would encourage college players to complete a college degree. Rivers has already said that he hopes to complete a degree at Duke taking summer classes, but how much easier would it be for him if he finished three years of school? For every success story, their are dozens of players who have limited playing careers and have no degree to fall back on. Having a college degree is a good fallback in case bad luck, poor production or injuries cut back a promising career.
Will anything like this be implemented? Well, the NBA already said that players have to complete one year of college, which is the only reason guys like Durant and Wall played in college to begin with. So the precedent is there. But as long as one-and-done players are reaching high levels of success in the NBA, there won’t be any outcry to change the rules.
Which is a real shame. Such a rule would make college basketball more fun to watch and improve both the collegiate and professional game, as well as have a positive overall effect on the players’ lives.