Freshman ineligibility would be good for basketball

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AUSTN — Future NCAA basketball squads that rely mostly on freshmen, like this year’s No. 1 Kentucky team coached by John Calipari, may be in jeopardy.

According to an article by CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon, both Big 12 and Pac-12 commissioners support restoring the freshmen ineligibility rule in college basketball.   A rule that has not been in place since 1972.

Larry Scott of the Pac-12 said he is pushing for this change, and Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12 said freshman ineligibility “would have a profoundly positive effect” on football as well as basketball.

John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, endorsed the freshman-ineligibility proposal, saying, “Everybody is trying to get a hold of the student-athlete experience, and a recommitment, if you will, to balance academics and athletics.”

Kentucky, which leads the national polls with 25 wins and zero losses, has four freshmen on the roster who average at least 20 minutes of play per game, equivalent to one half of a regulation college basketball game.

Why are the heads of three of the five major conferences talking about preventing this sort of freshman excellence in the future?   I believe it’s because of the drain we’ve seen on college basketball talent in recent years – the one-and-done route from college to the pros.

The National Football League requires that a player must be out of high school for a minimum of three years to be eligible for the draft.  In the National Basketball Association, the minimum age is 19, two years earlier than the NFL considering the average high school graduate is 18 years of age.

So talents like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, LeBron James (who skipped college altogether) and more recently Anthony Davis have slipped into the NBA without making their mark in the annals of college basketball history. 

It truly is a shame to see such a widespread loss of talent departing for the NBA at the end of every college basketball season, and that is precisely what has given rise to this idea to sit incoming freshmen for one season.

Yes, there are advantages to this policy other than keeping college talent on the court.  An extra year of education would be gained along with another year of college coaching.  Let’s not forget, no matter how many D-Leagues and Continental and European leagues you have, the NCAA is still the farm system of the NBA.

Giving athletes more time in college has the added benefits of assimilating them into the campus lifestyle and culture that the more talented players generally miss out on.

Education aside, it simply makes the transaction of college basketball much less business-like. College athletics are meant to be played without the influence or allure of professional contracts and pressure to make unfathomable financial decisions.

Give the kids a year without having to be a celebrated athlete.

For their own good.

As well as for mine, being — full disclosure — a college student (UT-Austin) who would like to see better college basketball.

If you look at what Scott is proposing, it’s more about athletics and revenue than academics.   The college game will be more appealing, the television contracts bigger, if the next Kevin Durant plays as a sophomore, not as a freshman.

Traditionally, the college campus is where amateurism and purity of the game can thrive, even if the purity gets diluted from time to time.  In recent years, college sports increasingly have become a media circus and a feeding frenzy for major conferences and programs.

Duke, Kentucky, Kansas are among the programs that consistently recruit the nation’s most highly touted talent.  The contract struck between the school and the athlete is much more than an exchange of free education for performance on the court, which is what these programs would have you believe.

For the players, the contract is more about media attention and nationwide exposure that these programs provide.  In exchange, the programs receive premier talent to compete for college sports’ most prestigious – and lucrative — playoff.

It’s a mercenary process that is underhanded and fundamentally against what the NCAA is trying to preserve.

Delaying the departure of college hoops’ finest talent and hindering this process would in every sense be in the best interest of the sport.  It would move college basketball back towards being a game where championships are not won in coaches’ offices or players’ living rooms, but on the court.


Click here for Jon Solomon’s Article


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