April 6, 2012

Editorial: College sports vs. opportunity


---- — Much has been made lately of a tendency of highly skilled athletes to attend college for the required one year and then depart to become millionaire superstars in the National Basketball Association instead of completing their four years of undergraduate study.

Can somebody please explain how four years of undergraduate study paves the way for a happy and fulfilling life more effectively than becoming the darling of the sports world with more money than could ever be spent in a lifetime?

John Calipari, the coach of the national champion University of Kentucky men's basketball team, has been absorbing criticism all season for recruiting athletes to his program who are so talented that they're almost certain to qualify for NBA stardom after their first year of college.

The NBA now forbids teams to draft players until after their first year of collegiate eligibility, whether they attend college or not. Why the NBA has such a rule is something of a mystery, especially in view of such notable icons as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, who were so sublimely gifted that they took their skills straight from high school into the pros without so much as a dunk in college.

The NBA is probably bowing to pressure from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which runs the college game and, incidentally, provides the pro game with the most effective feeder program in sports.

But any pressure to herd the athletes into college presupposes that every 18-year-old is cut out for more schooling and, in fact, that the schooling is worth more than the riches awaiting them in the pros.

It is indisputable that not every kid belongs in college. Some are simply not students. Syracuse University's star center on this year's team, Fab Melo, skewed the entire NCAA Tournament by being declared academically ineligible on the eve of the opening game. This, in spite of universities' historic commitment to seeing to it that star athletes are "taken care of" as students.

A college education is said to promise a student a certain amount of money in a lifetime more than a non-graduate — a million dollars, say. For most kids, that would be a significant inducement to try college. But an NBA star will make that much in a couple of weeks on the team.

Sure, the college experience is a prize in itself. But someone rich and famous can work a degree into his plans later, if that seems a worthwhile endeavor.

The biggest reason to pass up college for NBA riches is that the opportunity could evaporate with the slip of a sneaker.

What if, in a game for "the Ol' Crimson and Gold," a star suffers a career-ending injury before he even gets to sign a contract? That million-dollar education is going to seem pretty shallow next to the oceans of lost money.

College sports are great for the fans and for most — but not all — of the players. Don't blame Calipari for that.