March Madness, the much-viewed annual NCAA basketball tournament, has just completed its first weekend, and already the upsets are mounting up. Two number one seeds fell—one to a sixteen seed!—and all of the top four are out in another bracket. I’ll keep rooting for two of the best-coached teams in the tournament, Duke and Gonzaga.
That said, I’d like the whole thing to just go away. Our country’s colleges and universities have no business—add a stress to the world “business”—acting as a minor league, or “developmental” league, to professional sports. None.
Professional baseball began developing its farm system in the 1930s, when Branch Rickey—then the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (he later became G.M. of the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he was responsible for breaking baseball’s “color line”)—recognized the need to assure his team of well-trained, well-prepared younger players.
Today, our institutions of higher learning have been co-opted into providing a steady stream of partly-seasoned athletes, ready to move on to the professional ranks. The only problem is . . . that’s not their calling! Their entire job is two-fold: one, teach kids to acquire and access information; two, teach kids to process that data, to turn that information into a useful format so that employers will pay them for their skill set.
That’s it. Train their minds, not their bodies.
A subset to this problem of disparity of goals is this: my favorite coach, Duke’s “Coach K,” is paid nearly nine million dollars a year to coach basketball in college! Alabama’s football coach is paid more than eleven million! Let that sink in. More than their state’s governor. More than their college’s president. More than our country’s president, for crying out loud! (When Krzyzewski was first hired at Duke, the student newspaper’s sub-headline read, “This is not a misprint.” Ha!)
Last year, the NCAA allowed more than 800 players to transfer schools. Why were these kids transferring? To find a better physics prof? Nope. They were looking for a better, more amenable coach, more playing time, and/or a better platform from which to secure a higher draft pick status (and more money, upon signing a professional contract). There is also the cruel, mean irony that coaches—many of whom routinely skip out of their obligation to a school for another school’s higher salary—equally routinely pooh-pooh or prevent their own players from transferring to a better situation. Never mind the FBI investigations into corruption, payoffs and prostitutes in college sport.
How is any of this relatable to the goals and precepts of higher education? It isn’t. Not at all. Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow recently spoke out against college as a developmental league, suggesting that sport in college return to just that: intramural college sport. “I’m a big believer that people coming in from high school should really focus on learning to be a student, and then developing their athletic ability to a higher level,” he told the Arizona Republic. “We shouldn’t be a place where somehow we’re a semi-pro, half-college this, half-college that. . . . It’s college basketball. There’s a deep fundamental problem that we have to solve.”
Crow pointed to the fact that, out of the more than half million college kids who participate in collegiate athletics, only a few hundred are ever paid to play professional sports. It is not now, nor should it ever be part of an institution’s job description to spend the billions that are currently outlaid to the sole benefit of so very few (especially the one-and-done players, those who play just their freshman year). It is neither economically sound nor is it morally right. Which should be all that you need to know.
©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle