There is a really good post over at TrueHoop.com by the always insightful Henry Abbott discussing the “loss of innocence” in college basketball. Go check it out. Since I am a little late on this, I figured I would just make a post here instead of trying to opine in his comment section.
There is no doubt the innocence of major program college athletics is gone. I don’t need to rehash the obvious. Everyone makes money through the tournaments, the bowl games, and other assorted college competitions – the television networks, the universities, the booster programs. Like Henry, when I was in school I was convinced we, my fellow students and I, were in this together. They were my classmates who doubled as athletes, and didn’t mind sacrificing their free time to represent my university, which they did, of course, for the love of the game. Playing at the next level was a bonus, a reward for greatness at the amateur level.
Having left college for a few years I realize now that there are a few cases where this is true. There are the third string senior linebackers and the walk-on 12th man on the end of the basketball bench who may play for the love, the camaraderie, or the accolades, but overall, the innocence of big time college sports is the second largest myth endorsed by universities. (The first being that you will change the world upon graduation – good luck with that.)
There is a reason, for example, Florida State University starts its most recent booster email with a story about Spring Football Practice and barely mentions the ongoing men’s basketball season. Football draws more money. The type of money that can buy out old coaches, hire new coaches, and swing recruits, who in turn hopefully elevate the team to national championship prominence. Which, of course, leads to more television time, more donations, and more boosting, which leads to better players, and better coaches, which leads to a better team. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.
However, with all the money circulated through the big time programs, and only the most naive still believing college athletics is a baston of innocence, why are people still so quick to point the finger at athletes when they make decisions based on finances? Is it because their team is worse off, or because their boosting program’s meal ticket is leaving? This weekend, for example, I heard renowned sports journalist Mike Lupica derogatorily list many of the NBA stars who would be playing in this year’s NCAA tournament had they chosen to go to or stay in school. Lupica listed players such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Amare Stoudamire. Interesting, yes. Relevant, no. What right does he have to criticize people for following the dollar when everyone around them has been getting paid? Had Mr. Lupica been writing for no pay for his college newspaper as the paper posted massive profits, and then during his sophomore year was offered the writing job of his dreams, I sure he wouldn’t have turned it down.
College is a great experience for those who wish to make the most of it. For those who don’t, and would rather forgo academic sense for financial dollars, I say more power to them. There is a lot of money out there to be made. Just ask the corporations, the networks, and the university booster programs.