On Hoops and Higher Education

Hoops and higher educationBy Bill Henk – Despite very strong urges, I’ve resisted the temptation to blog about basketball for the past two seasons.   Trust me, that level of self-control wasn’t easy for a former player, especially one who sees the acts of coaching and playing directly connected to teaching and learning.  It hasn’t been easy” sitting on the bench.”

Just for the record, here’s a brief listing of only some of what I somewhat painfully chose to “pass” on:

  • Our wonderful and unexpected run to the Elite Eight
  • One player’s ill-advised decision to hire an agent and prematurely declare for the NBA draft
  • The departure of our athletic  director
  • Our extremely disappointing recent season (one where we were ranked in the Top 20 at the beginning of the year and then couldn’t even make the NIT)
  • The former coach’s surprise defection to Virgina Tech and his flaunting of the move on national TV a few days later
  • The hiring of a terrific new young coach with a great pedigree and the values orientation and character we’d want in a Marquette leader

My restraint came from not wanting to be thought of as going to the basketball well too often for posts.  In my first two or three years of blogging, I might have over reached in that respect. Plus, the topics above, interesting as they would have been to address, were probably stretches for an education blog.  So I’ve stuck largely to more standard educational topics.  Until NOW. It’s time to take my “shot.”

Now to preface the rest of this particular post, I should tell you that, as a general rule, it’s bad form for those of us in higher education to criticize other institutions.  Consequently, negative public comments about fellow colleges and universities tend to be rare.  Put differently, although you can think “it” as a university peer, you probably shouldn’t say it.  It would be something of a “technical” foul.

Hatin’ on Hoops

But a certain university with a long history of basketball prowess, uses an approach with its hoops program that bothers me deeply as a higher educator.  And this time I can’t help but speak out.  In sports media circles, it’s a rule referred to as “One and Done,” and in practice it translates to the recruiting of athletes with such decided professional potential that they will almost certainly play only one year and then declare for the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft.  The following year the coach reloads with another crop of elite McDonald’s All-Americans.

Look, even though he’s been very successful, I’ve never been a fan of this coach for an array of reasons.  However, he does claim not to like the model either.  You should read a recent piece he wrote on the topic by clicking here, and judge the merits and sincerity of his arguments for yourself.

one and doneIn short, he blames the NBA for the rule, and says he would prefer the players  stay in school longer.   I’ll somewhat grudgingly give him the benefit of the doubt on this belief, because of what and how he argues for as an alternative.  Then again,’one and done’ is how he’s operated every year at the place, as he pulls down a multimillion dollar salary.  And there’s no end in sight for this approach — unless he jumps to the NBA himself, too, I guess.   He’s paid to win after all, and in fairness, the practice goes on at other big-time basketball schools; it’s just not nearly as prevalent.  At his institution, it’s a way of life.

Anyway I’m not blaming the coach or the players or even those who will benefit financially from the players’ future success.  Neither am I complaining because these teams have enjoyed a literal wealth of success.  No sour hoop grapes here.

But I do blame the institution.

Institutional Blame

Colleges and universities are supposed to be about teaching and learning, not be a farm team for professional sports.  Competitors in higher education sports should be amateur student-athletes, not biding their time until the NBA draft beckons.  The bottom line is that the model cheapens the game, by essentially renting players for a year, and in doing so, it cheapens higher education in my view.  It’s part of the regrettable reality of college athletics as big-time business.  And although Marquette isn’t a subscriber to ‘one and done,’ we’re certainly in the business of basketball, and so I apologize if that makes me seem like a self-righteous hypocrite on the topic.

In any event, college sports fans seem to be split on the model.  Advocates would apparently rather have ‘one and done’ than ‘none and done.’   Likewise, the sports media harbor mixed views.  Some think it’s perfectly fine; others hate it.

integrityI have trouble watching, listening, or reading sentiments from the former camp, because I’m squarely in the latter.  And again, for me, it has almost nothing to do with my beloved college hoops.  Instead it has almost everything to do with my professional life, my career.  I live and work in the supposedly hallowed halls of academia, and have done so for over 35 years.

Frankly, I find ‘one and done’ antithetical to what I believe about the essential purpose and nature of a college education and life experience.  I don’t know if others who work in colleges and universities feel similarly, but I would think, make that hope, that they would.

At the same time, I don’t have easy answers.  Wish I did.  Think of it as “dribbling” aimlessly. There seems to be a sentiment for what I’d call “Two and Through,” and on the surface, that does seem better.  But then it forces players, many or most of whom probably didn’t want to be  in college in the first place, to suspend their extremely lucrative professional careers yet another year.  In some respects they’re already being used and more likely exploited to generate large revenues for their institutions, so where’s the justice in that? — especially if they come from poor  or poverty-stricken backgrounds.

Somehow I’ve got to come to grips with an entity that threatens the integrity of both the game and the educational enterprise I so dearly love.  Honestly, I’m open to some coaching, some strategies, or whatever else can help me “rebound” from this obscene case of bad institutional officiating.  So if you’ve got game on that count, PLEASE bring it here.





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