IN MY OPINION...
GAINESVILLE -- About a month ago, I asked Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan a serious question, "Is Nick Calathes hijacking Florida's recruiting process?"
The answer came today. Yes.
High school point guard Eric Bledsoe of Birmingham, Ala., committed to coach John Calipari and Kentucky on Wednesday after a long courtship by several schools, including Florida. Bledsoe was leaning towards signing with Florida until the final few weeks of his recruiting process. Instead, Calipari swooped in and stole one of Donovan's recruits at the 11th hour.
How did this happen? I know what you're thinking, but you can use the Bledsoe-couldn't-qualify-for-UF excuse on someone else. When Florida admitted John Brown and Torrey Davis, the university proved it was willing to contort its rules into a pretzel for potential athletic stars who could make UAA a little cash. (OK, a lot of cash.)
No, grades had nothing to do with this. Calathes did.
Point guards are staying away from Florida as long as there is a possibility that Calathes might return to UF. Of course, Bledsoe's choice on Wednesday becomes moot if Calathes returns to school. Then again, if Calathes leaves, Florida could be left with just one point guard for next season. (I just checked the UF roster. Yep, Erving Walker still can't ride Space Mountain at Disney World. He's that short.)
Last month, when I asked Donovan the "hijacking" question, the coach deftly tip-toed around the subject by explaining that the NCAA is to blame by allowing college players to announce their intentions to enter the NBA Draft immediately after April's Final Four. As Donovan put it, NBA teams wait until June to do most of their scouting and individual workouts. This slow process coincides with college basketball's late-signing period and adds further confusion to something that is already absurdly flawed.
All that might be true, but the fact remains: Calathes' flirtation with the NBA is handcuffing UF during the late-signing period. In not hiring an agent, Calathes is essentially saving his starting spot at Florida at the expense of the team's development. Hiring an agent would compromise Calathes' status as an amateur athlete in the eyes of the NCAA. Not hiring an agent allows Calathes to return to school for one more year if he isn't drafted or isn't drafted high enough for his liking (the first round). You can't really blame Calathes for this. He's just taking advantage of a system that needs a major overhaul.
MEANDERING RANT IN 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
OK, we're about to go waaaaay off topic here. (It's the offseason, of course. I got time.)
The NCAA needs to grow a backbone and win back some of the power it has relinquished to the NBA. Players should have two options -- either go pro out of high school or go to college for three years. It's that simple. The original intent of collegiate athletics -- you know, the part about scholastic achievement, self awareness, personal growth, apple pie and all that big-picture stuff -- becomes farcical when players like Calathes have the option every year to enter the NBA Draft and then return to school.
I realize this is just a small part of a bigger problem (money has corrupted the NCAA and its member institutions) but it's a problem nonetheless. Requiring basketball players to stay in school for three years would be a small step in fixing the bigger crisis, but every little bit helps.
THE BIGGER CRISIS...
Here's the de facto mission statement of the NCAA, according to its website: "The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a voluntary organization through which the nation's colleges and universities govern their athletics programs. It is comprised of institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals committed to the best interests, education and athletics participation of student-athletes."
Now, when it comes to football and basketball, we all know that's a joke, right? Can we all agree on that, if nothing else?
Here's the reality of the NCAA's mission statement when it comes to football and basketball: The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a voluntary organization through which the nation's colleges and universities can manipulate their athletics programs and admission standards to make money. It is comprised of institutions, conferences, organizations and individuals committed to fooling themselves by creating smokescreens like the NCAA Clearinghouse when everyone knows the best interests, education and athletics participation of student-athletes takes a backseat to the almighty dollar.
That's probably a little bit over the top -- too cynical -- but it's a better assessment of the current situation than the nonsense the NCAA is spoon-feeding itself.
On a micro level, the current system hurts the game of collegiate basketball. College coaches can't fill out their rosters and team cohesion suffers. Most people agree that college basketball has regressed in recent years thanks to the trickle-down effect of the NBA. But that's not the real problem, is it?
THE REAL PROBLEM ...
On a macro level, the idea of one-and-done players (or two-and-done players) has made a mockery of the educational system (Among other things, of course. Like, for example, coaches' salaries, stretch limousines for recruiting in Alabama, Urban Meyer's new Twitter account, World Wide Wes and absurd TV contracts). The current system flies in the face of any university's mission statement, stunts the development of student-athletes and, to some extent, is detrimental to society as a whole. (False dreams, skewed perspectives on life and what's really important, all that jazz.)
Some people still care about the unimportant stuff ... like, for example, that the athletically gifted youth of this country can actually still learn something in college other than: Oh, no. I learned I might have to play out of position next year, so I'm going to transfer schools to help me get into the league.
Now, it's not all bad, of course. Most of what is done by the NCAA and the athletic arms of its member institutions is good. But it could be so much better. That's the point I'm trying to make here.
Take for example Florida. UF's athletics department (the UAA) gives plenty of its surpluses to the university. This year, the UAA gave $6 million dollars to the university. That's great -- amazing, really -- and I'm sure that money will be put to good use, but why can't the UAA give, say, $1 million each to the boards of education in Orange, Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties?
Earmark the donations for educational use only. Foster growth in the classroom at the grassroots level. Universities can't pay its players for obvious reasons but those same universities that are making millions thanks to this state's wonderful athletes can most certainly give back some of the wealth. Recycle the money on the back end. Make this whole thing circular.
Instead of spending millions on recruiting 40 times and vertical leaps, spend millions on after-school learning centers in our state's inner cities. Coaches like to say that players are born with speed. Well, the 40 times aren't going to change but neither is anything else unless someone starts thinking outside of the box.
Is this idea too preposterous? Sure, anyone who reads this can make a lengthy list of its flawed logic. But perhaps more preposterous is the Southeastern Conference getting rich on the backs of amateur athletes who are admitted to universities despite sub-standard academic qualifications. The SEC recently signed deals with ESPN and CBS guaranteeing each member institution $20 million a year over the life of two 15-year deals. Giving some of that wealth back to the communities that helped make the SEC rich isn't such a bad idea. It actually might do more good in the long run besides just making the SEC even more money.
As it stands now, college basketball and football at many universities only serve as moneymakers and farm systems for professional athletics. Some players succeed in the farm systems and make it to the pros. Some players graduate. Many more people -- some who never even make it to college -- are marginalized and, in the end, handicapped intellectually from a childhood molded by a false reality that is, to some degree, incubated by the greed of universities. It doesn't have to be that way.