Monday, May 18, 2009

Farm Teams

Bull Durham (20th Anniversary Edition)(Sorry, regular readers. Further notes on newspapers - which was promised on Friday - will have to await another post.)
Professional baseball has farm teams. Promising players can be drafted out of high school and sent to the minor leagues to hone their talents and become the emotionally mature adults that living away from home on $23/day while surrounded by tobacco chewing and spitting equally mature young adults will make them. More academically inclined (and, perhaps, less physically talented) high school seniors would go on to Arizona or USC or Stanford or LSU or Texas and graduate before being drafted and sent to the minor leagues where they could continue to hone their talents while being the emotionally mature adults that spending 4 years on a college campus as a pampered National Champion had made them.

(If I've gotten this far without your wondering where the Bull Durham link is lurking, then you're probably not going to be a regular reader......... are you?)

Professional basketball used to have the NCAA, until boys decided that they were ready to play with men and kids started going from high school straight to the pros. Some did better than others, and one is named LeBron, but listening to Patrick Ewing say that Dwight Howard had "to use his head in the second half" made me wonder why a professional had to be reminded to think. Maybe college would've taught him that particular skill.

High schoolers are now going to Europe to play professional ball. Being "1-and-done" - as perfected by Carmelo Anthony who led Syracuse to the NCAA Championship and then left after his freshman year - is no longer an anomaly. Although I've finally stopped feeling deserted by professionals jumping from team to team and have recognized the fact that I am, in fact, cheering for laundry, I liked watching college kids and teams grow together over several seasons. I liked watching the kids mature over 4 years, and I'm sorry that things have changed.

And I'm also sorry that our colleges and universities are being used as farm teams by the NBA. The revenues are huge and hugely out of proportion - and don't tell me that these wildly successful basketball programs are self-funding and that spill off from their revenue helps to fund other campus athletic priorities. When Jim Calhoun is the highest paid public employee in the state of Connecticut I don't care how many epees the UConn fencing team can buy with basketball excess. There's something seriously awry.

This has been a recurring theme for me, hasn't it. I'm not complaining - I'm trying not to become a crotchety old woman who knows that everything was better back in the day. In fact, I have a solution to propose. I know that some scholar/athletes are truly in school (Stanford basketball players are always studying for some exam or other on ESPN) but for most players in elite programs, academics must be a secondary concern. Travel schedules alone make it extraordinarily difficult for all but the most dedicated to graduate with their class, and the allure of an NBA salary or the exhaustion of their scholarship funds sends most others away from academia. Why not end the hypocrisy? Let coaches recruit high school kids who want to play on their teams. Let them have access to the classroom, but not require it of them. Don't call it a scholarship; call it a fellowship. For that's really what the athlete on campus is doing - he's creating a sense of community, a well-spring of fellow-feeling that is a big part of any campus that can create a big time sports program.

It's nice when those BMOC's can grow into the role over time. It's good for the student body, it's good for the school's tradition, and it's good for the kids themselves. Too bad........

"I just hope I can help the team......"

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