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Robbing the Cradle -- NABC says "Just say no."

Here is my obligatory post on the NABC Executive Committee's statement yesterday that strongly discourages coaches from offering and accepting verbal scholarship commitments until just after their sophomore year.


The Courier-Journal has this piece this morning on the subject, including this:

Before the NABC reached a decision about a statement, Gillispie said, he had conversations about the subject with former UK coach Tubby Smith, the current president of the NABC, and Jim Haney, the organization's executive director.

"I don't feel like we're being singled out at all," Gillispie said. "Tubby's the president, and we had a discussion about it, and they made sure that I didn't feel that way. We're all in it for the betterment of college basketball and to make sure that we do the best thing for every single player involved."

Well, I guess that puts the whole "Tubby was sticking it to Gillispie" argument I have seen floating around some sites lately.  Nobody with any knowledge of the situation believes that, and neither do I.  'Nuff said about that.

I really don't have that much to say about this issue.  I am fine with what the NABC says, and I am fine with Gillispie's response.  I had the same reaction initially that many coaches still have, which is that recruiting young players isn't good, but after thinking about it for a while, I realized that there is just no downside for the player.  Given that, it just didn't (and still doesn't) seem like a problem.


One thing about all this does bug me, though, which is the idea that kids shouldn't be making decisions like this at 15 years old, or that their academic profile isn't fully developed yet, something that Smith pointed to as a primary reason for the recommendation.  First, kids are making all kinds of difficult life choices at 14 and 15 -- whether or not to try drugs or alcohol, whether or not to have sex, how much effort to put into school -- like it or not, teens make these choices every day, and no reasonable person can suggest that making a college choice is even close to those in significance.

Also, it is pretty easy to know if a kid is going to be an academic risk by the time he is in middle school.  My experience is that kids who perform poorly in middle and high school have often performed relatively poorly all along.  What you have to watch for are kids who do well in grade school, then begin the long, slow decline through high school.  My experience is that decline comes primarily from unhealthy outside influences.

When it comes to elite high school athletes, they tend to be around adult supervision a lot more than non-athletes because they are constantly working on their sport.  AAU ball, summer camps, summer practice, etc. actually tends to give athletes an advantage when it comes to being away from the streets, or other forms of negative experiences.  In my judgment, that is likely to promote better academics in most cases.



Also in cases of early commitment, the athlete knows what he has to do to achieve the reality of college sports.  Once committed, academics must become a cornerstone of the athlete's development, or they have no chance of getting admitted to the college they committed to.  This is, in my opinion, likely to motivate the student to better academic as well as athletic performance, but this is only a theory.  We will apparently never know if it is valid or not.

Another thing that gets me is the hypocrisy of many of us, even college coaches.  We tend to take the position that education is paramount and sports is nothing, but that is simply an untenable argument.  The reason athletes make so much money in professional sports is because we, the public, put money in the pockets of the teams who pay them.  We do this because we enjoy sport in America.  But let someone suggest that they are going to play professional sports for a living, and 80% of adults will insist they get their education first.

Why?  Guilt.  We feel guilty because sports is a notoriously insecure environment, and we want to see them succeed. The whole "What will they do after sports?" is just a silly question.  What do 80+% of Americans do after high school?  They go to work and earn a living.  Exactly why is that a tragedy for an athlete and not the rest of us?

We are also told that an education is more important, but how many college degree programs carry the potential for making tens of millions of dollars shortly after graduation?  Or even in the high five and low six-figures?  Life has changed in the last 20 years, and now excellent high-school athletes who dream about playing sports for a living have many more options than previously -- foreign teams, lesser professional opportunities, etc., which often pay very well.  Sports is as reasonable a life's pursuit as any other trade or profession, and suggesting that athletes ought to give up their dream for a degree in general studies is a logical inconsistency.



College degrees are highly desirable, but most Americans, athletes or not, will never get one, and most will still have happy, productive lives.  My point here is that minimizing the potential value of athletic achievement, as so many educators and even coaches tend to do, is just misguided.  It's time we recognized athletics as a valid career choice.  Yes, it is fraught with many pitfalls, but the current attempt by many in education to minimize and even scoff at those who dream of a life in professional sports is dishonest and harmful, and suggesting that an "academic profile" is too incomplete in the 8th or 9th grade to consider a scholarship, in my opinion, is likely to be incorrect. 

Athletics scholarships only require a minimum academic performance far below what is necessary to maintain an academic scholarship.  It's time educators learned that, and that our current system does nothing to truly foster a complete education in the case of athletes.  It's time to accept reality or change it, and we can do either one.  But that is another post.

So while I am fine with the NABC recommendation, I think their reasoning is just a facade, more visceral reaction than actual cogitation.  It surely won't hurt to limit when scholarships can be offered (at least to the point they have been offered so far), although I am far from convinced it is necessary or even desirable in an objective sense.