Here is a link to my Thursday column about college hoops. The full text runs below:

Mark Cuban came up with a great idea. He said young men bound for the NBA should not go to college if all they care about is a professional career. They should play in the NBA’s D-League — the NBA’s minor league.

I don’t know Mark Cuban and he’s outspoken and some people consider him a kook. I always considered him an original thinker with great ideas, and I love this idea. Instead of going to college, pro prospects who don’t care about getting an education would get drafted into the D-League and learn their craft there. Basketball craft is what they care about, not the history of the English sonnet.

Listen to Cuban on how a college basketball player doesn’t get the benefit of college: “Because he’s not going to class, he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball.”

Listen to Cuban on the phoniness of college ball: “A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete. It’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie.”

Linger over the Big Lie Theory. You know it’s a big lie. You know it because so many top players leave college after one year. One and done. Kevin Durant was one and done. What did he care about the Survey of World History? He cared about learning better rebounding position. His prerogative.

Let me state here college basketball is the most corrupt sport I know of. It is even more corrupt than college football. A large number of college basketball players do not care about academics. They are forced to pretend they care. They live a lie. We allow them to live a lie because we like college hoops and love the NCAA Tournament. And because these players entertain us, we accept the lie.

Which means we’re all implicated in the lies.

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, now at SMU, disagreed with Cuban, vehemently disagreed. Look at the nature of Brown’s disagreement. “They don’t teach guys how to play” in the D-League.

OK, fair enough. The NBA would need to upgrade the D-League to make it attractive to college players who don’t care about academics and are really professionals in amateurs’ clothing.

And then Brown, whom I respect, expressed the heart of his argument. “(College basketball) is the greatest minor-league system in the world.”

Slow down, Larry. Greatest minor-league system in the world? Why is college supposed to be a minor league for pro sports, and when did you become so comfortable espousing this rotten idea?

When I went to Lafayette College in 1962, my dad didn’t say, “I’m so proud you’re going to a minor-league system, son.” He told me to get good grades or he’d yank me out of school and send me to Brooklyn College.

When I went to Stanford in 1966, the head of the English Department didn’t say, “Welcome to the minor leagues.” Hardly. Stanford was and is major league. And I’m not talking about sports. I’m talking academics and research and learning and thinking and writing and producing.

American universities, even Stanford and Cal to a certain extent — have allowed themselves to become minor-league organizations for the NBA and NFL, athletic feeder systems. I absolve Lafayette because it does not award athletic scholarships — God love the Lafayette Leopards.

It is not the role of an academic institution to turn out professional athletes. It is not the role of an academic institution to make students pretend to learn, pretend to attend class, pretend to care. It is not the role of an academic institution to support students who never intend to graduate and who leave after a year or two for the pros.

If the NBA and NFL want to be decent about things, they should establish their own minor-league systems just like Major League Baseball which has a wonderful and fair system. The NBA and NFL should pay for a minor-league system. They have the money. And if a young man doesn’t care about college — and that’s his business — let him join the minor league, in the NBA’s case a revamped D-League.

What happens to real student-athletes, to young men who want to graduate from college, young men who also want to play basketball in school? Please, admit them to college. Admit them if they meet entrance requirements and if they can learn and want to learn. Let basketball — or whatever sport — be part of their college experience, but not the entirety of it.

This currently is the case with college baseball players. They really want to attend college and they study. If they don’t want this, they can go to the minor leagues. Two paths are open to them. One path is not better than the other. And each path is honest.

Of course, what I’m writing is ridiculous. Mark Cuban is ridiculous. The college basketball system never will change. America wants, loves and needs the fake arrangement we now have. America wants the illusion most college basketball players are student-athletes. It makes America feel virtuous.

And, besides, there’s too much money involved to clean up the system, money for Stanford and Cal and the Pac-12 and every other athletic conference and the NCAA.

Bunch of hypocrites.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.


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  1. Johnc

    I agree with most of what you said. I think student athletes on scholarship should not be allowed to leave for the pros before graduating or flunking out.
    As for Lafayette college…well it seems they are breaking with tradition and awarding athletic scholarships (football) for the first time.

    March 5th, 2014 10:13 pm

  2. CohnZohn

    johnc, This breaks my heart.

    March 5th, 2014 10:29 pm

  3. MJ

    Fact of the matter is that any, ANY, player who is 18 can try out for the D-League as it stands now, there is no 1 year wait period/must be 19 years old rule that is in place with the NBA, so Mr. Cuban is a bit ill informed in some respects. If the NBA ever fully engulfed the D-League and turned it into a minor system, much like the MLB has, that would be the death of college basketball. Thats a problem, and here’s why….the money. The money that the colleges make from their football and basketball programs not only pay for those programs but also the other college athletic programs, the scholarships for those players, coaches salaries, etc, across the board, both male and female athletes. If basketball goes, so do almost every female sport.

    In 2008, the University of Alabama made ~125 million off of athletics (mostly football and basketball) and of that 125 million, only about 35 million went into the athletic department for things such as athletes tuition, coaches, recruiting, paying visiting schools, and other expenses. Now where does that other 90 million go? One would have to assume that the money is reinvested into the school for things such as salaries, scholarships of non-athletes, buildings, who knows. If the one and done’rs don’t go to these schools you lose that income so do you lose a lot of the extra benefits it provides.

    And lastly, how many students, non-athletes, go to Duke, UNC, UK, UCLA, etc because of their fandom of the basketball team? How many go to USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, because of their football teams? Those schools might suffer a great deal by the loss of their athletic teams and the star players that go there.

    March 5th, 2014 11:25 pm

  4. Brett

    MJ – your point justifies Lowells argument. It’s all about money not education. In a perfect world lowell is ecactly right. However it is not.

    March 6th, 2014 8:13 am

  5. Brett

    I knew a guy once that was headed to UCLA to play football. He blew his knee out his senior year in High School and had to settle for rehab and play for a JC close to home. All he cared about was the game not education. College was just the platform to continue what he loved. Somehow he managed to get a degree….by accident. Thank goodness because his football carrer was over.

    March 6th, 2014 8:19 am

  6. Dennis

    The problem is more easily solved by turning the college system into what is really is- the minor leagues. We can do this and get rid of the pretense by paying the players. Have them all sign contracts and make going to school optional.

    March 6th, 2014 8:42 am

  7. Steven R

    So because a minuscule amount of basketball players actually make it to the NBA, men’s college basketball is corrupt? That’s hilarious.

    March 6th, 2014 8:55 am

  8. Tom T Thompson III Phd

    Did you ever read The Hundred Yard Lie, by Rick Telander? He came up with some excellent ideas that, were they to be implemented, would put an end to the hypocrisy and corruption of college football while retaining college football itself. The same principles could be applied to college basketball. I would suggest anyone with an interest in this topic give it a read. It came out in 1989 and nothing I’ve read or encountered since can hold a candle to it.

    March 6th, 2014 9:14 am

  9. MJ


    Yes, college sports are a huge money maker, but you know what, high school sports make a nice little chunk of change for their schools, and even little leagues make money for the cities they are in (it aint cheap to play LL baseball or pop warner). So just because something makes money doesn’t mean it doesn’t also provide other benefits.

    And my real point about the money was that the money made by the schools doesn’t just help out the teams, it goes else where, it gives the students who play an opportunity to get a degree, and for about 95% of college athletes, that is what happens, its the very small percentage that use the schools as stepping stones to the pros. Duke basketball, one of the greatest bball schools in the country for the last 30 years, had a 100% graduation rate of its players, and many of those do play in the pros. It can go both ways, its just up to the player to make that commitment.

    And not that we need to help others, but I think the idea of making kids have to go to school to play pros is a good idea since there are probably 10 to 15 thousand seniors each year with dreams and aspirations of going to the NBA when in reality only about 5 to 10 will make it. By requiring them to attend college you are atleast making it so they have an opportunity to not end up working at McDonalds and playing basketball at Ruckers Park, being a blacktop legend but having never used that talent to better themselves.

    March 6th, 2014 10:44 am

  10. NeverWrong

    College is on too high a pedestal. The problem with the entire system, sports and no sports, is that high school gets short shrift. All the building blocks and a lot of the details of a good education ought to be obtained by the time someone is through high school (that’s 13 years of school accrued, not counting pre-school) and it’s up to colleges to further that, not begin it. Cuban is correct. Adults should have the right to work. College ought to be for dedicated students, great athletes welcome but not forced in.

    March 6th, 2014 11:31 am

  11. Streetglide

    NCAA is totally corrupt. Ya just figuring that out? ;- ) (There’s your semi-colon right there…)

    March 6th, 2014 12:20 pm

  12. Neal

    More corrupt than boxing? Lowell, between the Kaepernick article and this, the marble bag has a hole in it. Time for a vacation.

    March 6th, 2014 1:09 pm

  13. Rike


    Your making it sound like Colleges only make money from sports. News flash Colleges makes money from many other areas. You think a school like M.I.T. is one of the best and richest schools in the country because of its Athletics? How many NCAA Basketball Titles have they won?

    Colleges will not die if there sports teams no longer sellout games. Please do some some research when you make ridiculous claims like that. The only thing it will affect is that the people who owns the school’s won’t have a much bigger house that they are used to.

    In fact I think this might help Colleges. Since instead of focusing of Sports. They will actual shift the focus back on Education. Like how it used to be. Before TV or Cable deals screwed it all up.

    July 27th, 2014 8:39 pm

  14. stu orvik

    When, oh when, are we going to end the discrimination against white ballplayers simply because they can’t jump as high as the black players? And what of the newer practice of going to African countries and recruiting even taller players, many who can’t speak English, simply to sell more tickets, make more money?

    October 21st, 2015 9:57 pm

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