Monday, April 3, 2006

Thoughts on a new IU coach and the NCAA Tournament

Well, there is a lot going on for college basketball fans. It was confirmed last week that Indiana University has a new basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson. On Tuesday's AM 1370 Afternoon Edition, Don Moore repeatedly criticized Kelvin Sampson (who apparently will be the next IU Basketball coach) for not sticking by his "commitment" to Oklahoma. I think Moore's criticism represents an idealized vision of college basketball which does not represent the reality of the game. His bitter remark about Sampson coming to IU "until something better comes along" is unprofessional and unbecoming of a radio talk show host, in my opinion.

College basketball is big business, and in many ways is as much of a professional sport as the National Basketball Association. The main difference is that players are not paid, unless you count a free college education. Coaches go to the best situation for them as driven by the market.

In any case, why should coaches be loyal to schools when they cannot expect loyalty in return? We heard a cascade of voices demanding that Mike Davis be fired over a sub par win/loss record and he finally resigned before he could be fired. A coach is popular as long as he delivers the W's, but if for some reason the team does not do well, people are calling for his head.

College Basketball's status as big business was highlighted on the front page of the April 1 Indianapolis Star. College Basketball brings in a large amount of money for universities, While college basketball players are compensated with scholarships, are they getting a fair deal given the profits generated by their universities?

There has been a lot of concern about young men leaving college basketball early for the National Basketball Association. There is concern about the effect this has on both the college and professional games, and starting in the mid 1990's the pool of professional talent began to get younger as an increasing number of young men skipped college altogether and jumped directly to the NBA. These names include Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire.

It is easy to see that the connection between the concern over whether players are getting a fair share of the big money in college basketball and the number of young men who are going directly to the professional ranks. If you are going to be generating millions of dollars in revenue for your team or program, why should you not cash in on that now by going professional?

It is true, on some level, that it is not the players who bring in the big bucks for their universities. College basketball has a "brand loyalty" that for the most part overshadows individual players. Basketball teams at Indiana, Duke and Kansas are considered to be elite programs year after year even though their star players will be there for at most four years. However, without the players, college basketball does not exist and that fact cannot be overlooked.

No, college basketball is not the NBA and college players cannot be treated the same as professional players, but it the NCAA needs to stop pretending that college basketball is a purely amateur sport. It has not been a true amateur sport for a long time and will likely never be again. I do not think it is unreasonable to reconsider what college athletes get in exchange for the obscene profits they generate. While virtually no one thinks college athletes should be paid NBA-level salaries, a small stipend to go along with scholarships is not unreasonable. If nothing else, it would take some of the hypocrisy out of the game.

Of course, I was rooting for George Mason University because one of my favorite syndicated columnists is a professor there. I first became familiar with Walter Williams when he was guest hosting the Rush Limbaugh program. Radley Balko gave us another good reason to root for GMU in his Fox News column: the man the school was named for. Unfortunately GMU fans will have to wait until next year's Big Dance for their team to win a naitonal title.