Tuesday, April 03, 2007

You Can't Fix A System Designed To Be Broken, Part III.

Read the prior fisking of Jason Whitlock's first two installments of columns on fixing college basketball and football before this one; here's Part I, and here's Part II.

In Part III, Whitlock lays out his plan to improve the education of the big-time collegiate athlete for us. I feel like I should state that I think he means well (others may disagree), but the road to hell is re-paved on an hourly basis with good intentions. Let's get cracking. He has six parts of the basic position; to save space and your eyes, I will only re-post the ones in full with questionable assumptions.

1. True, especially considering the NCAA's mouthing of "academic integrity" and the integrity of amateur status. No major quibble there; if you're going to dump money into a TV sport and profess integrity, you're going to have to pay to ensure it, if you have any interest in doing so (and that's probably where we run into issues.)

2. I don't think anyone can argue with this one.

3. Football and basketball are dependant [sic] upon predominantly black, American-born athletes. A large percentage of these athletes are from impoverished, no-father-in-the-home backgrounds. Black youth culture has been corrupted by hip-hop/prison culture, which is hostile, self-destructive and anti-education.

First part, yes -- second, not so much. I made the same point in Part II: hip hop culture is not intertwined with prison culture, you cannot write or speak of them as if they were intertwined. Hip-hop culture, like most subcultures entwined and borne from a form of music, is about speaking an alternative truth. The truth of the war on drugs and the war on the poor is that black men, many non-violent offenders, are cycled through the prison/industrial complex to serve a machine of mindless prohibition. I don't think it's so much anti-education as a distrust of what's being taught, because history is written by the victors, and for centuries, black folk have been subjugated. We try to modify these faults as the years pass, but that doesn't mean they're still not there. Distrust of an education system didn't start with hip-hop culture.

Also, who's your copy editor?

4. That's probably safe to say -- if you were part of massive profits for your school, yet couldn't even take a stipend from an on-campus job, you'd be pissed too.

5. Poorly educated, hostile and resentful professional football and basketball players are creating a public-relations nightmare (potential loss of TV ratings) for the NBA and NFL by breaking the law off the field and projecting a hip-hop/prison image that makes their fans uncomfortable. These same athletes are contributing to an unhealthy image of American blacks at home and across the globe.

OK, so we take into account the Bengals, Pac-Man Jones, Ron Artest, and they're supposed to represent the majority of the image of players, including folks like Allen Iverson, who've been good citizens? Why are fans uncomfortable? Is it because media tends to overhype the bad actors (especially minority bad actors) in society to arouse fear, and since the media is controlled by the few, that image is the one that gets portrayed around the world?

6. The NFL and NBA are trying to crackdown on these athletes with dress codes and other get-tough policies. The new rules are necessary but will fail if not supported by an improved educational system for athletes.

Oy. Last column you wrote that these rules were as useful as the failed war on drugs and the war on the poor. Pick one. Either they're necessary or designed to fail.

The key to correcting what is wrong with football and basketball is education and tying the financial interest of the athlete to education. It is a mistake to give young people what they want. A wise parent and/or society gives young people what they need.

Ah, here's the thesis; interesting, but flawed, because actual athletic skill has fuck-all to do with education. I'll elaborate in a bit. The second sentence here seems innocuous enough, except you realize that we are talking about and dealing with 18-year olds. You can't force them any more.

The NFL and NBA need to go into partnership with the NCAA on its two television sports. The NFL, NBA and NCAA would all financially benefit from developing well-educated athletes...I'm against an age limit for entering the draft. I'm in favor of gigantic financial incentives for athletes entering the league after completing their college degrees and/or five years of college. A 22-year-old college graduate has far more to offer the NBA than a 19-year-old who spent one semester pretending to be a college student. The American college graduate also has far more to offer the NBA than a 19-year-old foreigner who American fans are unfamiliar with.

Not a terrible idea at first sight, but the problem is that the NCAA is so much more than Division I-A -- there are thousands of member schools to be concerned with, so many of them that will never send a player to a professional sports leagues, and they will be left out of this subsidy and crying foul. I've never liked the age limit either, but do you have any proof of the back half of that statement? Ultimately, no pro league or scout will be judging based on how long that athlete has spent in college. The question is always, "Are they ready to play at the next level?" Thinking it could be anything else is delusion, regardless of how smart it is overall. I'm pretty damn sure a 22-year old who's played all four years in college probably has more to offer, but I can't assert that.

As for the 19-year old foreigner: wouldn't these be the same 19-year old foreigners that Whitlock believes play at a higher level than our own ballers?

So my step one would be for the NBA and NFL to institute a salary structure that paid college graduates and/or five-year college players significantly more than early entrants. Isn't this the way it works in most professions? The more educated you are the more money you earn as an entry-level employee...You could stagger the money non-graduates are paid based on the number of years they spent in college. The rule might entice foreign basketball players to enroll in American universities.

Professional sports are not most professions. Again, the problem is that the level of formal education is not important in the overall scheme of professional sports. The reason many white-collar jobs (including mine) rely on measures of formal education is because our jobs require a certain amount of it. Playing basketball or football for a living requires smarts and intelligence that aren't necessary directly linked to your skill with say, history. Formal education might improve your skill as an athlete (it will most likely help you get around a playbook more easily), but it won't ensure you have the talent to survive a physically demanding lifestyle.

With regard to foreign players: again, these are players whom Whitlock has said are already better skilled, so why put in a rule that's unfair to them? Also note that folks like Andrea Bargnani are the exception -- many foreign players these days come into the leagues in their early 20s, Manu Ginobili was in his mid 20s in his rookie year; Jorge Garbajosa is in his late 20s. Dirk Nowitzki was 20; that'll probably be less common. So why force them to go to American universities to earn what they're worth?

Step No. 2 would be for the NBA and NFL to recognize that college football and basketball are developmental leagues and that the NBA and NFL need to financially subsidize college football and basketball.

OK...don't mind that too much....

This subsidy is necessary because my other central belief is that the NCAA needs to get involved academically with its potential football and basketball players as they enter ninth grade, and the NCAA is going to have to offer modest financial rewards for its poor athletes who achieve academically and stay in college.

Oh, HELL NO. I have enough of a problem with high school sports being professionalized enough as is, and the NCAA should be getting involved with 14-year old kids? You can say academically all you want -- knowing the NCAA, it's not going to happen that way.

The NCAA needs to measure and reward academic effort. A formula needs to be devised that takes into account academic effort and achievement in high school and economic background and provides a freshman college athlete a stipend ($2,000 to $3,500 per semester). This stipend would only be available to the poor. And the stipend would increase each year based on the student's effort (attendance) and achievement (grade point average).

OK, so this stipend would only be available to the poor, and the well-off athletes who are barred from taking a part-time job or earning most forms of money while on scholarship are going to have to lean on Mommy and Daddy? There are middle-class athletes on scholarship whose parents are feeling the pinch, too; they might be able to squeeze sending in some money, but don't pretend that they couldn't use it either.

To replace AAU basketball, NCAA schools need to host their own four-to-five-week summer football and basketball camps that would be a mix of athletics and academics for potential recruits who are incoming high school freshmen to seniors. This would be expensive. It's also very necessary...You bring the recruits up during the time frame that the coaches are hosting their money-generating camps for rich kids with little real talent. The money from those camps is split up among the coaching staff and (in basketball) payoffs/speaking engagements to AAU coaches. I'd take all the profits from those camps (along with money from the shoe companies, which will have less interest in lining the pockets of AAU coaches) and spend it on academically, socially and physically nurturing 25 basketball and 50 football recruits for a month each summer.

It's a fascinating concept. I shudder to think what the NCAA would do if left in charge of it; they'd likely run it just like AAU is run right now. Basically, you're just consolidating, removing the middleman. Putting the NCAA in charge of anything involving an athletic camp and hoping that they will mix academics in is a mistake. There's no incentive to do that.

To ensure the integrity of a college athlete's academic progress, universities need to hire academic-athletic directors who report directly and only to the school president or chancellor. Their only concern would be the academic success of athletes. If academic fraud was uncovered, the academic-athletic director and the school's president would take the hit -- not a coach or athletic director.

Another needless level of bureaucracy. Keep the athletic director responsible for this. The problem is that the NCAA is made up of the presidents and ADs -- they aren't going to police themselves very well; the problems with the system are a feature, not a bug. We don't blame ADs enough as is for bad performance on and off the field or court, and now they should be let off the hook?

Money is driving football and basketball. We need to financially reward high-profile athletes for embracing education, and we need to financially penalize high-profile athletes who reject education. We should not deny the uneducated an opportunity to be professional athletes. Denial creates hostility.

Ever known anyone who just wasn't suited for university, just wasn't one of those people? I have, and this is a system that creates de facto denial. This essentially creates a new age limit by tying salaries to a concept that doesn't have as much to do with the primary function of a professional athlete.

I realize that Title IX and other factors (cries of racism by shakedown artists such as Jesse Jackson) stand in the way of implementing the solutions I suggest. I'll address all of that.

Nice to see the slam of someone who has actually gone out of his way to try and see that some of the gains made in the civil rights area were actually preserved instead of stripped by those in charge of the government. Can't wait for the next one.

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