Jay Bilas, in typical Bilasian fashion, set the college hoops world abuzz today with the article he wrote about eligibility and the NCAA.
Bilas believes, and has argued before, that the NCAA should not have a hand in setting a baseline for determining whether or not a player is eligible to play in college.
The school you support may not choose to admit and educate Bledsoe or any student with his qualifications, but no school or association of schools should tell another autonomous institution who to admit, educate or provide a uniform. ... The NCAA should get out of the eligibility business. Its member institutions are perfectly capable of making admission and eligibility decisions on their own.Essentially, the argument goes like this: each NCAA member institution is capable of policing themselves. If they want to accept a player with a GPA of 1.5 that scored a 500 on their SAT's because the kid is 6'7" with a jump shot and a 38" vertical, they should be allowed to. Many institutions won't stoop that low, and those that do will suffer the embarrassment. If winning basketball games is worth having an illiterate basketball team, than so be it. Its the school that looks bad, not the NCAA.
The reason we end up seeing these academic scandals is because of the baseline the NCAA sets. How many kids shared an test-taker with Derrick Rose? How many students have had their grades changed like Eric Bledsoe allegedly did? How many players spend their senior year in high school -- or a season at prep school -- fluffing up their transcript with A's and B's (eligibility rejuvenation, as one writer called it)? As Bilas says, is Bledsoe's 2.3 GPA without the changed grade really that much worse than the 2.5 GPA he had after the grade was changed?
And if the NCAA stops investigating these academic and eligibility issues, wouldn't it allow for more effort to be put into chasing down agents and coaches that pay players?
It is an interesting theory, but that's all it is and all it ever will be. Schools determining the eligibility of their own athletes will never become a reality for the same reason that the NCAA will never pay their players.
As ridiculous as it seems at times, the NCAA will continue to believe in an ideal, to believe that student-athletes at their member institutions are still students first. That the athletes are there to educate themselves while playing the sport they love. Its the same reason that the NCAA will not allow a high school prospect out of a Letter Of Intent if the previous coach leaves. As far as the NCAA is concerned, players should be choosing where they attend school based on academics, not on athletics.
If the NCAA were to give up the right to have a national standard for eligibility and allow each school at admit by their own standards, there would be institutions that would hold their own standards. But some wouldn't, and the schools that were willing to allow anyone admission would force the rest of the country to either start reducing their qualifications for admittance, or potentially be at a disadvantage athletically.
And, yes, most schools around the country would eventually drop their standards for athletes. Think about how much money a trip to a BCS Bowl is, or the revenue sharing a school gets for making the Elite 8.
More importantly, however, that eventual and unavoidable decline in academic standards would result in an outcome that goes completely against the NCAA's core mission -- to get kids educated through sport.
So while Bilas absolutely made the discussions in my twitter feed a joy to read through, his argument is, unfortunately, a moot point.
Here's what other people were saying:
- John Gasaway, Basketball Prospectus: "The incorrigible necessities of 340 member institutions playing the same sport mandate that all those teams will have to arrive at prior agreement on some procedural covenants, otherwise known as rules. The group that sets and monitors those rules will never be loved. Bilas sees what we all see: a student-athlete conceptual hybrid that at the most elite levels of college basketball is contested, unsteady, and even combustible. At the risk of oversimplification his solution might be said to be to remove the “student” element of that compound entirely. I cannot co-sign there. The exertion of bothersome academic effort to satisfy what in the abstract can be seen as arbitrary standards is doubtless inconvenient for more than one highly-sought high school recruit. That kind of exertion, however, is pretty much the quotidian alpha and omega of life off the court." (Ed. Note: This article was written in response to a previous Bilas article.)
- Gary Parrish, CBSSports: "I don't think anybody is operating under the assumption that Memphis and Stanford have the same academic guidelines. What's OK at one school isn't OK at the other, nor should it be. So why doesn't the NCAA remove itself from the equation and let Memphis and Stanford decide what's good for Memphis and Stanford in terms of academic requirements? It would put eligibility back into the hands of schools, eliminate a lot of the NCAA's biggest headaches, and make much more sense than the current system that has programs getting penalized for playing players they were initially told it was OK to play."
- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN.com: "Anyway, perhaps unfortunately -- but at least realistically -- none of this theoretical noodling matters. The NCAA isn't going to turn eligibility over to schools anytime soon. (Probably never, actually.) Which means we'll have to keep on living with the system we've got. The point is this: Even with its warts, even with its confusion, even with its ongoing "this player is eligible; oops, now he's not" frustrations ... well, things could be a lot worse. Until we can think of a plausible system that's demonstrably better -- and sorry, but allowing schools to admit whomever they please to play sports is not that -- nothing much is going to change. More importantly, it shouldn't."