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 firstname.lastname@example.org.