It’s an ironic question, considering the academic prestige of the Big Ten Conference. However, one incredibly idiotic potential decision could do an immense deal of damage to the conference. It hasn’t been since 1972 that freshmen have been ineligible for varsity college athletics at the Division I level. Now, the Big Ten has circulated documents amongst member universities that would begin a discussion to make freshmen automatically ineligible for football and men’s basketball. Where, oh where, to begin with this ludicrous, remarkably inept concept?
It should be noted that nothing is imminent, that these documents have only been circulated to begin a discussion on the topic. I am usually willing to listen to any argument, whether I agree with it or not. I try to at least understand what the opposing viewpoint is and I try to gain some sort of respect for it. I can’t respect this idea at all, however. It’s a purely senseless concept that does absolutely nothing to help the conference. Everyone knows that academics are incredibly important to the Big Ten, but frankly there are a lot of athletes who just don’t give a damn. Hell, to be blatantly honest with you, a great deal of fans probably don’t give a damn about the academics either.
Universities are institutions of higher learning. Would it be fantastic if every student-athlete wanted to get a quality college education along with the ability to play a sport that they love? Of course, that would be wonderful. The truth is that will never happen. Never. The Big Ten is just as guilty as every other conference in major college sports of letting athletes on to their teams that wouldn’t sniff that university otherwise. Granted, some of these kids are going to take full advantage of that opportunity, receiving an education they otherwise couldn’t have gotten. That’s truly admirable and great for them and for the school. But that isn’t the case for everyone and never will be the case for everyone.
People always make the argument that, due to new research about concussions and other head trauma, football is going to die out. This is often neglecting the fact that a lot of NFL players (and top college players) come from inner cities, broken homes, poor upbringings, etc. A lot of kids don’t care about school, never have and never will. Football or basketball is their greatest skill and it’s a ticket to freedom and a life they’ve never come close to having. The education just isn’t important to a lot of people, it’s that simple. So why does the Big Ten keep recruiting these types of people? If academics are so intrinsically important, why are bad students and troublesome individuals still being recruited?
Some schools make a true effort to recruit better students, whom double as good athletes, such as Northwestern and Wisconsin. But let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that Ohio State is only picking honors students and future Mensa members. They’re recruiting the best athletes and that’s fine. Student-athletes who don’t care about class or grades really aren’t doing much damage to the universities they attend. The elitism of this potential policy is relatively disgusting, an attempt to look down at the rest of the major universities in the US with the justification of some falsified, self-perpetuated superiority. Probably wouldn’t be such a popular idea when the revenue starts to thin out, now would it?
Again, let’s not kid ourselves: college athletics is about money. Universities with major athletics programs make stupid amounts of money annually, money which helps the athletic departments but also the institutions as a whole. Does anyone actually believe that these major universities would approve of losing out on millions of dollars annually? Do you think that the Big Ten’s head dunce, Jim Delaney, would be safe in his job when the money rapidly stops flowing into the pockets of the member schools? In 2013, 7 of the top 20 revenue earning programs in college athletics were Big Ten universities, with the lowest conference member, Purdue, ranking 38th overall out of 230 colleges and universities (Maryland and Rutgers were not yet members of the conference; as a private university, Northwestern’s numbers are not reported).
What do freshmen have to do with the unfathomable amounts of cash that athletic programs bring in on a yearly basis? Star power leads directly to income, and freshmen are often some of the biggest stars in college sports. Who were the biggest stars in college basketball for the 2013-14 season? Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, etc. Freshmen, each one of them. Or how about some other freshmen first round picks, like Zach LaVine from UCLA, a university that certainly has a prestigious academic reputation, or Noah Vonleh, from Indiana (a Big Ten school). Ratings, jersey and t-shirt sales, ticket sales, etc. All forms of income, all helped mightily by star power, brought forward by freshmen. And let’s not ignore football, either. How about Leonard Fournette, one of the best players in the SEC this past season for LSU: freshman. Or fellow SEC running back Nick Chubb of Georgia: freshman. The bottom line is that people tune in to watch big names and star players; who wants to watch a basketball game filled with a bunch of players who won’t make it to the NBA, whose best asset is ball movement, who look less intimidating than a few playground bullies in tank tops? (Although maybe I’m hurting my own point, since I just described the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team).
Over time, people will grow less interested in the teams when there are no big names. People will stop tuning in, they’ll buy less jerseys, they’ll go to less games. Little by little, these programs will take a hit. But what about after their freshman year? The players will have had a year to learn and mature, right? They’ll have a few incredible years after the are forced to essentially redshirt, right?
Well no, actually, because the players will have passed up on the Big Ten universities for more playing time at schools in other conferences (or at smaller schools). There is a miniscule number of kids who will want to completely forfeit a year in which they would likely be playing, in exchange for sitting a year and improving their education, or whatever the bullshit that Delaney is trying to push is. No, these kids will go to other schools in other conferences where they can play. The other major conferences can pitch immediate playing time to recruits, and how many players would really want to pass up that opportunity? The Big Ten can pretty much say goodbye to most high-profile recruits if they think this would be an intelligent plan. No top young players lead to no top upperclassmen on teams; hey, remember that dwindling income we talked about? Do these people think that fans will keep tuning in to watch a bunch of veteran no-names?
This especially rings true for basketball. In football, there really aren’t many alternatives at this point, and it has proven to be challenging to maintain football leagues at either the pro or semipro level in the US. There are countless basketball opportunities outside the NCAA for the year they are required to wait before moving on to the NBA. They could go to the D-League, which would actually make that league not a complete waste of time and money (for the most part, anyway). Hell, there are hundreds of places to play overseas, what’s stopping these best high school players from going to Greece for a year, getting paid as a professional and then heading back to the NBA? Do you think Andrew Wiggins would have gone to school in the US if he knew he would have had to sit a year? He would have been a pro in the Turkish leagues for a year before the NBA Draft.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, according to ESPN, said that there’s “growing interest” in at least discussing the possibility of making freshmen ineligible for football and men’s basketball. Bowlsby has also proven that he’s a jackass who acts like just as big of a moron as Jim Delaney does at times (one true champion, right Bob?), so let’s take his words with a grain of salt. If there is truly growing interest in this, it’s a shame, because college athletics as we know it will cease to exist.
Nothing is in the works yet, formal discussions haven’t begun on the topic, but even having the audacity to think this is a decent idea is insane. There are an infinite amount of variables at this point, and you would have to think that each conference would have to be on board for freshman exclusion for it to become a reality in college sports, unless the Big Ten really is that brainless as an organization. It’s not as though college sports is some bastion of pure competition as things stand today, because it’s a hotbed for corruption, politicking and extortion, to be blunt. That being said, college basketball and football are institutions in the US, and this sort of policy would begin a systematic destruction of what we know as college sports today. There is so much more to get into about this topic (I didn’t even touch on how unfair it is that only football and men’s basketball players would be affected by this, while non-revenue sports apparently are immune), but hopefully this story dies soon and we can go back to hating Jim Delaney for other reasons. What a morbid twist it would be if academic elitism took the nation’s attention away from athletics, the reverse of which has been going on for decades. Then again, it’s not like the Big Ten members are opposed to incessantly reminding you of their academic elitism; this is the conference of the University of Michigan, after all.
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