Anyone paying attention to what the University of Connecticut just did down in Storrs with their basketball program? Coach Jim Calhoun seized the opportunity to bring highly touted Andre Drummond, the top ranked recruit by ESPN, to campus to play for his basketball program in their efforts to defend last year's national championship. While Drummond had planned on spending a postgraduate year at Wilbraham and Monson Academy where he would entertain thoughts of entering the 2012 NBA Draft or attending college, he changed his mind and recently enrolled in UConn for the fall semester. No problem, just another young man changing his mind.
But wait, UConn didn't have any remaining scholarships to offer Drummond under the NCAA cap for men's basketball. UConn actually only has 10 scholarships available this year -- three fewer than allowed under NCAA rules. Why so few? Because the men's basketball program has consistently treated NCAA rules as recommendations rather than requirements, coupled with the fact that their graduation rate languishes around 30%.
No available scholarship? No problem. Current player, Michael Bradley, a 6'10" backup center, has decided to give up his scholarship so Drummond can join his team. Wait... what? Many across the country are applauding Bradley for exhibiting a selfless dedication to his school so they can bring in another star for Calhoun's program. Don't cry for Bradley; apparently he is going to apply for financial aid and, one can only assume, be taken care of by UConn.
So let me get this straight. Bradley gives up a scholarship worth approximately $40,000 a year -- maybe for just this year, maybe for his entire college career. Coach Calhoun then awards this "vacant" scholarship to one of this year's prized recruits. Bradley applies for financial aid from UConn, a public school, and ostensibly receives a full ride while somewhere in the Nutmeg State a high school valedictorian who had aspirations of attending UConn gets their financial aid package slashed because becoming a doctor or a writer doesn't put fans in Gampel Pavilion on game day.
The problem is that college athletics has evolved to the point where schools do their best to "compete at the highest levels" and treat the NCAA regulations as arcane rules developed by misguided individuals who have lost touch with reality. Maybe so. But maybe the rules have developed to cover loophole after loophole in response to coaches, under pressure from boosters and athletic directors, as they push the boundaries. Furthermore, those working in compliance offices in athletic departments often look the other way until things blow up -- hello the Ohio State University and the University of Miami.
The problem is that no one is truly looking out for the best interests of the student-athlete. There is no student athlete advocacy group. The NCAA was supposed to play that role but has been completely neutered by the shift of power from academics to high profile coaches and their athletic departments. Gone is the concept of amateur college athletics and with it the priority of educating student-athletes.
Under NCAA President Mark Emmert there are talks of "reform." They even passed a rule that places minimum requirements on graduation rates for student-athletes with failure bringing penalties to the school. College student-athletes are prohibited from forming a union because, under cases taken to federal court, they are not defined as employees of their schools. Were he represented by a union, is there any chance they would have allowed Bradley to "give up" a scholarship in this scenario?
In Major League Baseball, Alex Rodriguez tried to give up money under his contract when the Texas Rangers tried to trade him to the Boston Red Sox several years ago. Rodriguez decided that he would get enough value by playing in a bigger market and winning a World Series to compensate a reduction in salary. Even uber-agent Scott Boras agreed. Nope, the union blocked this as it would be unfair to other, less powerful players in the future.
I mean no disrespect to Bradley and take him at his word that he wasn't forced into "taking one for the team." That said, while many across the country are applauding Bradley how come there is a deathly silence in questioning the actions of UConn? It's just how the game is played and we are complicit.
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