You shouldn't confuse the University of Kentucky team that rolled through the NCAA tournament with a college organization made up of student athletes. It was a group of players of advanced ability recruited carefully from around the nation to wear the school colors for one year, and if the professional league rules allowed, the nucleus of the unit would have gone directly there.
One got the impression that the whoops and hollers and back slapping these players engaged in after thrashing the Kansas squad was not as much an expression of exuberance for the old school but for their own prospects for a long life as multimillionaires. Who can blame them? Onward and upward fully six of them will go unencumbered by any need for education and with the blessing of NCAA officials who will grumble about it all the way to the bank.
Meanwhile, there already is speculation that the wizard of this kind of legalized sleight-of-hand, Coach John Calipari, having won his first college championship, will head for the NBA's green pastures, perhaps once again one step ahead of the NCAA police. If that basketball shoe should drop it would be the third time it has happened to a Calipari-led team, inexplicably without visible harm to him or his reputation. He is a good coach, by the way. But with the kind of talent he finds, it is difficult to say how good.
Do the presidents of the schools who actually run the NCAA prostitute themselves by buying into a system that permits the "hiring" of a new batch of young men every year or two at the most to fill their arenas-- making certain by slickly managing their curriculum that they can stay eligible for what amounts to just a few months? Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Well, of course they do but then the price is right. A little "one and done" is not such a bad thing.
The hypocrisy is monumental and makes a mockery out of the NCAA's silly claims about academics first. This is an association that refuses to pay any kind of stipend to its athletes other than room, board, tuition and books. That's how it maintains its claims of purity. What a hoot. Meanwhile, the greedy owners of the playground game now passing for professional basketball use the colleges as their farm clubs, thereby saving them millions of dollars they would have to spend by creating a minor league.
This alliance is just a teeny bit unholy to say the least. As for Kentucky, there is a reputation.
I grew up admiring the "true" Kentucky teams of Alex Groza, Ralph Beard and Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones. But even then only Jones escaped the stigma of the point shaving scandals. At my high school basketball banquet we were treated to a lecture by Groza, then a professional, about the integrity of the game and what it had done for him. He was indicted in New York along with fellow teammates only a few weeks later for taking bribes from gamblers while playing with Kentucky in Madison Square Garden. Imagine our disillusionment.
I'm not sure anyone has an answer to the current situation, what with its constitutional questions about denying participation in the pros even for a year. But the colleges have a right to dictate certain conditions including the requirement of core subjects and class attendance. In fairness, a number of institutions try to base some of their recruiting on higher standards than the NCAA requires. Obviously, some don't, promising that a semester and a half is a gateway to unimagined wealth for the underprivileged kid. Those who control the Division One program obviously need to figure this out.
When my friend, the late Dr. Ken Haggerty, returned from World War II, he chose a college and became its basketball captain. While visiting with a potential recruit and his mother, the mother asked only, "Do they go to chapel at your school?" Ken replied, "Every morning, ma'am." The mother turned to the son and said emphatically, "That's where you're going, Bobby." That's how the great Bob Cousy got to Holly Cross.
It is a story worth remembering.
(Dan Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard News Service.)