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Miscellany

Jim Litke Lives in a College Basketball Fairy Tale That Was Ruined When Kentucky's Future Pros Won the Title

“Everyone knows that Kentucky doesn’t stand alone as the great and lonely sinner. There are dozens of others, many dozens, almost as bad when it comes to out-and-out professional football or professional basketball, played as amateur games.”

That above quote? It was not written by Jim Litke of the Associated Press. It strangely enough, was not written today or yesterday – we’ll get to that in a minute. No, Jim Litke wrote a piece entitled, “College team? Not. Calipari’s NBA development academy flourishing at Kentucky.” He starts with the following sentence:

It’s time to bury the term “student-athlete.” It died at 11:42 p.m. Monday, just about the time the confetti falling from the roof of the Superdome landed on coach John Calipari’s hair and the players from Kentucky’s NBA development academy gathered at a far corner of the court to collect a trophy many of them will need a campus map to find next year.

I find it quite humorous and completely lacking in any perspective to claim that last night killed the term “student-athlete,” a term promoted by Walter Byers of the NCAA to combat worker’s compensation claims of athletes. Jim Litke must live in a world where, until the clock struck almost midnight last night and Calipari turned the orange basketball into his own morally decayed carriage, college athletic championships at the highest level were not about money, or rosters full of NBA players, or mercenary coaches moving on for the quickest buck.

That opening quote, bemoaning Kentucky and others operating as professional teams under the guise of amateurism, was written almost fifty years ago, by Grantland Rice, following the gambling scandals at Kentucky. Or how about this one from seven years earlier, by U.S. Representative Donald O’Toole of Brooklyn as the gambling scandals in big arenas like Madison Square Garden were seeping in:”If they’re going to play for professionals, pay the boy’s salaries. It’s a temptation to kids when they see big crowds paying big prices for games staged by professional promoters.”

Let’s not pretend that last night did anything to college basketball. Last night was the last straw? Really? How did the true nature not reveal itself when they started playing games in big domed stadiums to make even more money at the expense of the game, when they put basketball courts up on stages and had people in “good seats” sitting so far away that they couldn’t hit the court if they tried? They’ve been playing games in domes for well over 20 years now, showing what really matters.

Or perhaps it was when big stars started getting paid money under the table or by boosters, except that has been going on forever. Or perhaps it was when these money grubbing coaches began moving around from job to job, never showing loyalty. Except that is a myth and these coaches are just carrying on the sport’s grand tradition from its earliest days. “In the early twentieth century, coaches were like carpetbaggers, moving from one job to the next, rarely staying long. . . . Rarely did a coach establish roots in the community.” (from Michael Atchison, True Sons: A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball, about numerous coaching changes before World War I).

Players have been going pro at the earliest opportunity, it’s just that the earliest opportunity has changed at various times. When colleges and the NBA had agreements, there were no early entries. When the ABA came along, that changed. In recent years, we’ve seen various versions of eligibility rules from the NBA, seen some players go straight into the NBA with more frequency, then leading to the current one-year rule. The poor NCAA! Litke writes that NCAA President Mark Emmert is “powerless to stop it now as he was in 2005.” Ha. The NCAA can choose to define eligibility however they want–they want the top athletes for a year because college basketball is, was, and always will be a business. John Calipari, as he pointed out, didn’t develop this rule. He just adapts to it.

Kentucky’s championship isn’t the death of some mythical idealistic college basketball where everyone participated for the love of the sport and had no aspirations of money or professional basketball. It’s the continuation of college basketball’s grand tradition, set in the climate and rules of 2012.

[Photo via US Presswire]

 

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