Every time ESPN analyst Jay Bilas opens his mouth, it’s easy to picture NCAA officials quaking like Don Knotts searching his shirt pocket for that moldy bullet and cringing like Larry David’s wife in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Better idea: Those same officials ought to lean forward in their chairs and hang on his every syllable. His criticism is constructive, and if the NCAA went to school on Bilas it could save itself from itself. As it is, the organization is on a collision course with extinction.
During Thursday night’s entertaining, informative, provocative evening of roundtable discussion for the benefit of Bill Self’s Assists Foundation at Crown Automotive, Bilas returned a few times to the message that the NCAA needs to become proactive in dealing with the NBA. Instead, image takes precedence, as evidenced by such things as the insistence on referring to basketball players as “student-athletes.” There is no such thing as a student-athlete, Bilas said.
“When they are in the classroom, they are students,” Bilas said. “And when they are on the court, they are athletes. And there is nothing wrong with that.”
Chimed in Self: “If they want them to be student-athletes, then treat them like students. No other kid at Sigma Chi has restrictions that athletes have.”
An English major, one of the panelists pointed out, can write a book and sell it. A basketball player can’t capitalize on his skills, which help universities to make millions. Bilas called such a double-standard “immoral.”
The most fascinating concept cited as an example of a way the NCAA could become more proactive with the NBA: Set up a system wherein a basketball player could be drafted by an NBA team and “parked” at the school he attends until the NBA decides he’s ready to join the roster. Guidelines easily could be set in place so that it wouldn’t disrupt the colleges. For example, within 24 hours of the completion of the NCAA Tournament, an NBA team that held the rights to a player could inform the college coach it either is calling him up for the next season, or extending the parking agreement for another year. He gets paid by the NBA franchise during the apprenticeship.
Take the case of Julian Wright. He could have been chosen as a lottery pick after his sophomore season, as he was, and played four seasons at Kansas, by which time he would have had a much more advanced game than he ever will develop. Now playing in Israel, Wright averaged 3.9 points per game in four NBA seasons and received the benefits of two years of a Kansas education, instead of four.
As the system stands now — Kansas receives $21 million for being a member of the Big 12, and athletes receive room, board, tuition, books, etc. — by attempting to legislate morality, which never works, the NCAA has enabled dual hypocrisies for both sides of the “student-athlete” responsibilities. Thanks to the rules, the school’s motivation becomes for the student not to learn, rather to stay on course toward graduation. Thanks to the one-and-done rule, the athlete’s goal is not to maximize his potential as a basketball player with a great career, rather to maximize earning potential.
If a school was left to educate all its students in the way it sees fit and the NBA could leave its young players in the best training ground as it sees fit, the education of athletes would be more productive and honest, the college game would have far more talent and more mature players and so would the NBA. The athletes, by staying in a college atmosphere longer, would become better educated for dealing with the complexities of life.
So by exploring and implementing just one proactive step, athletes would receive a better education, and the NCAA and NBA would deliver better products to the public.
Very important stuff was discussed at the roundtable, which with any luck will become an annual event that one day could an include a representative of the NCAA and/or a college president/chancellor.