Among the teams you will not see in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament next spring are Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, North Carolina-Wilmington, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, six other teams and the University of Connecticut. All have been banned from the postseason by the NCAA.
All of those schools are ineligible for postseason play for the same reason. Their programs have fallen below the minimum NCAA requirement for academic progress, meaning that some number of their basketball players have not accomplished much as students.Of course UConn sticks out because the men’s teams there have won three national championships, the most recent in 2011.
Some observers will conclude that the lesson of the ban is that fellows playing basketball at places like UConn should remember that they are supposed to be students, too.
And maybe some of them should.
But that would be a silly way for others among coach Jim Calhoun’s recruits and the recruits of a lot of other big-time college basketball coaches to spend their time. Those recruits have made no secret of their intention to use a season in college to showcase their talents for the NBA.
Young basketball players who are inclined to pay attention to academics should be encouraged by coaches sympathetic to that inclination. Such coaches would have to be willing to let those players pick their own courses and work individually with a professor or mentor on a project involving extra time in a laboratory, library or other venue or to spend a semester overseas. Such coaches would have to be willing to schedule practices, meals, meetings, weight room sessions and team-bonding exercises that don’t conflict with academic endeavors, never mind that some alumni would call for the heads of such coaches.
Young basketball players who have no interest in academics shouldn’t have to pretend that they do. They should be regarded as apprentice pros being trained for careers in the NBA or leagues in Italy, Spain, Greece, or wherever. They should be paid for their work, as all apprentices should be. If the university for which they are playing basketball insists on doing something for them along the academic line, said university should give these players vouchers entitling them to come back to the campus as full or part-time students when they’ve finished playing basketball.
This alteration in the business of college basketball wouldn’t help UConn fans feel any better about the present, but it would make for a less hypocritical future at Connecticut and elsewhere.