There's been a lot of conversation, here and
elsewhere, about the state of the college game. We've written a number of people
and asked them to give us their thoughts for what we're calling, for lack of a
better term, an On-line Symposium. As the participants send their stuff in,
we'll post their submissions and link them so that you can bounce around and see
what various people think. Our lead off is Jay Bilas, who has seen the game as a
player, coach, and commentator. Additionally, he's also an attorney. His
perspective is, we think, pretty unique. Incidentally, this isn't what we talked about the other day. That comes soon too, though. And we should also mention that we're always interested in what you guys think, so please send in your comments and opinions, ok?
My View of the State of the College Game: Jay Bilas
For a long time now, alarmists have been sounding the death knell for
big-time college athletics, including college basketball. Commentators were
heard to say that the game was heading down a slippery slope toward its eventual
ruination. Over the years, there have been many changes in the college
basketball landscape, and there is cause for concern. However, before that is
taken the wrong way, there has been cause for concern since the inception of the
grant-in-aid. I believe that the game is healthy overall, and that there is no
cause for great alarm. On the whole, the game will continue to thrive, but
college basketball needs appropriate leadership in place, and significant
changes in the governance of the game.
There are several areas of concern in college basketball, including
recruiting, graduation rates, and proposals to pay players. However, no issue is
more pressing on the minds of those who follow the game than underclassmen
giving up their eligibility to join the professional ranks. Is it disturbing to
see a freshman or sophomore leave school early to go pro? Of course it is. But
why? To me, it is not because I think that youngsters are throwing away the best
years of their lives, or missing out on a valuable education. It is far more
selfish on my part than that. The truth is, I donÂt like to see kids leave
early because it deprives me of the chance to see them play as juniors and
seniors, and to see them put up numbers and records that I have come to admire
over the years.
Early defections dilute the gameÂs talent base, and thatÂs the sole
reason I donÂt particularly care for them. It has become more of a challenge
to keep up with the gameÂs players and teams because of rapid player turnover,
and that is one big reason that there has been such an unhealthy focus by fans
on the recruiting process. My apologies to those recently honored, but being
named All-ACC does not mean what it once did. The All-ACC team is loaded with
underclassmen that would not have made the team but for the fact that so many
Âtrue All-ACCÂ performers left early. As a fan of the game, thatÂs
disheartening. The ACC, and several other leagues, have suffered because of
players leaving early. The quality of play, while still excellent, is clearly
not what it once was. It could be that it is just a cycle, but my sense is that
it is more than that. Time will tell.
Whenever I hear someone complain about a kid leaving early for the NBA, I
wonder if they feel the same about baseball players who forego eligibility to
play in the minor leagues with only a slight chance of making it. Nobody seems
to speak out about the evils of youngsters playing pro sports in golf, tennis,
or baseball because early defections do not affect the product we follow. Our
collective outcry for the importance of education and the best years of a kidÂs
life seems to go awkwardly silent.
To me, it borders on ludicrous to make the facile argument that a kid leaving
early is Âthrowing away his educationÂ and his Âonly chance to be a kid in
a college environmentÂ. Who among us would turn down an opportunity to sign a
multi-year contract for millions of dollars, that is guaranteed! What
other profession offers guaranteed money? Can you look yourself in the
mirror and say that, if some company offered you a multi-year, multi-million
dollar, guaranteed contract to come out of school early, you wouldnÂt take it?
I canÂt. My sense is, most of us would take the offer of guaranteed money. The
only downside is, if you are somewhat careful in the investment of the money,
you may never have to work again.
By the way, after reading and listening to several fansÂ opinions, I have a
question. Exactly what factor makes one kidÂs decision to go pro a Âno-brainerÂ
and another kidÂs decision ÂwrongÂ? ArenÂt both Âthrowing awayÂ
educational opportunities that, as the argument goes, can never be recaptured?
ArenÂt both giving up the chance to improve their game and maturity level.
Therefore, the no-brainer guy must be more prepared to be an impact player right
away, or he must be making significantly more money on his first contract.
Therefore, its really not about education, but about money, and how much is
enough to make it a Âgood decisionÂ to leave early. WhoÂs to say how much
is enough? IsnÂt that a far different analysis than whether to give up an
What does Âthrowing away an educationÂ mean, anyway? Does one throw away
an education if a decision is made not to pursue a postgraduate degree? My
response is that the decision to leave early for the pros is an individual one
that needs to be evaluated differently for each player. What is the Âright
decisionÂ for one kid may not be the right decision for another kid.
So, what does the game do to stop kids from turning pro early? My answer
would be: Nothing, except to help each kid gather as much reliable information
as possible so that he and his advisors can make an informed decision. As
long as a kid has the proper information available to him, the decision is his
and his alone, and should not be impeded by some blanket rule put in place by
those who think they know what is best. If a kid is not ready to be a pro, or is
not good enough to come out early, then he should be drafted accordingly.
Clearly, kids coming out early can compete and compete successfully on the pro
level, and the pros can choose not to select a kid that is not good enough. That
has been proven. Let the market work.
Kids leaving early will not kill the game, it will only require an adjustment
in how fans view the game. In my opinion, the long term health of the game
depends upon the governance of the sport. With over 300 schools in Division I,
and the goal of an Âeven playing fieldÂ, it has become cumbersome for the
game to be governed by the NCAA in its current structure. College basketball is
a unique sport with unique problems, and it needs its own set of rules that are
specifically tailored for the good of the game. That means that college
basketball needs its own governing body that can act quickly and authoritatively
when there is a problem requiring immediate attention. Perhaps more importantly,
college basketball needs a governing body that can be far more proactive in
order to avoid problems by addressing issues early. Unless and until such a
governing body is implemented, we will see no major changes in the game.
To me, there is no greater game in the world than college basketball. Long
live the game.