Mitch Daniels— rethink this.
A few days ago, the president of a Big Ten institution spouted some of the most anti-student athlete nonsense I’ve heard to date.
In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels wrote an open letter to Condoleezza Rice filled with some unsolicited advice on how to “fix” college basketball, a task Rice has recently taken on after being selected to chair the NCAA’s creatively-named “Commission on College Basketball.”
Daniels opens his letter with the tired “old man yells at cloud” bit where he complains about AAU teams, one-and-dones, and the NBA before starting in on how he would fix it. Let’s go line by line:
As for solutions, one can start by observing that almost no change could make things worse. I don’t pretend to know the single best answer, but it’s not hard to list a number of possibilities.
Actually, Mitch, there are several changes that could make things worse. Hell, you’ve got a couple of them coming up. And, you’re right, it’s not hard to list a number of possibilities. There’s no question that you have listed possibilities here.
We could require a “year of readiness,” meaning that freshmen could practice but not play while they became acclimated to college life. This was the NCAA rule for many decades, and it makes great sense unless a “student” really has no intention of pursuing a real education.
There’s no quicker way to give yourself away than starting in with the “IT WAS BETTER BACK IN MY DAY” argument. Just because we used to do something a certain way does not make that certain way superior or even reasonable. We used to not let women vote! We used to treat diabetes with leeches! We used to do all sorts of dumb things! You can’t just say “we used to do this” and think that you’ve presented a workable argument.
And to take a swipe at the student-athlete by inferring they either would support this rule or have no intention of pursuing a real education is gross. It’s just incredibly gross. How dare you assume to know what a student-athlete intends to do? To say nothing of the fact that scholarships, at the vast majority of institutions, remain a series of renewable one-year contracts. The school itself only commits to a player one year at a time, yet Mr. Daniels demands more than that from the student-athlete, someone who has been stripped of almost all their bargaining power as it is.
What if a kid wants to donate a year of his earning power to Purdue University, then go to the NBA, and then get his degree during or after his NBA career? Why does the recipient of his services get to dictate exactly how he sequences his career goals? Pro athletes are, first and foremost, in a race against time. It’s bad enough that we prevent many who could head into the NBA straight out of high school from participating in the market that will pay for their services, and now you want to take another year away?
Or the NCAA could simply use the rule already in effect for baseball, which gives young aspirants a choice between going professional straight from high school or entering college and staying a minimum of three years. Either of these approaches separates those seriously interested in higher education from those forced by the current system to pretend they are.
To your credit, you’ve got this answer half-right. Players should be allowed to go professional straight from high school, but they should also be allowed to go professional at any point in their collegiate career. It’s the exact same option every other student at Purdue University and around the world have.
Another idea would be to allow players to depart early for the NBA, but the scholarships they received would be required to remain vacant for the balance of their four-year terms. Coaches who want to chase that next championship with full-time players masquerading as students could do so, but the following few seasons might be tough with rosters filled with walk-ons.
Who does this help? This wouldn’t act as a deterrent for the player, as the penalty has zero effect on them. If anything, it acts as a deterrent for a coach to pursue players that are [squints] too talented?
“Well, Romeo Langford, sure would like you to join our squad but that means three years of dead weight that we can’t really afford. So thanks, but no thanks.”
That’s insanity! And if you do take on the kid that intends to commit what is, apparently, the most dastardly crime a kid can commit in the eyes of Mitch Daniels and [gasp!] go to the NBA and get paid to play basketball the program is then deprived of the ability to give another kid the opportunity to play on scholarship! Why?! Why punish the 2019, 2020, and 2021 class for something a 2018 kid did?
And how does the rule work in practice? What if you dig up some diamond-in-the-rough 3-star who you anticipate will stay with the program for all 4 years, only to blow up as a freshman and leave to be a lottery pick. That should be a great moment for the player, the coach, and the program! Instead, it’s a three-year scholarship limitation.
After that list of terrible ideas, Mitch Daniels goes on to say the quiet part loud:
Doing so would certainly bring more parity and fairness to the college game. The play would still be amazingly athletic — most of us fans would not be able to tell the difference — and schools with genuine academic and conduct standards would no longer be at such a competitive disadvantage.
“Folks, this is your captain speaking from the flight deck. We’ve reached peak-Purdue. I’ll be dropping the oxygen masks from the console above, please make sure to put your own mask on before assisting others.”
PURDUE CAN’T WIN BECAUSE WE HOLD OURSELVES TO HIGHER ACADEMIC AND CONDUCT STANDARDS is actually a pretty decent blatant lie for Daniels and the Purdue athletic department to have loaded into the chamber at all times. Purdue, you’re a public Big Ten university, might be time to give the ‘haughty dipshit’ routine a rest. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being a public Big Ten university, I happen to have graduated from one that I love with my whole heart and has opened doors both professionally and privately that would have been closed otherwise. Purdue is a great school, but your academic and conduct standards aren’t why they have no basketball championships.
You’re not Yale— sorry to tell you this.
It’s pretty obvious what Daniels is aiming for here and why he’s aiming for it. Purdue has not been a frequent destination for high-level freshman talent and that makes Daniels’ plea pretty transparently pathetic.
If you can’t beat’em, change the rules so they can’t do the things that they beat you with.
If I am a Purdue student, I’m embarrassed that my university’s president is taking this route. It’s dumb on its face and then gets increasingly pathetic once dissected. If I am an athlete already at Purdue or considering becoming a Boilermaker (particularly for basketball), I’m probably a bit worried as to what extent my own university has my back as far as my professional development goes.
That said, Daniels is right— the majority of top talent are funneling to a small group of schools that have proven adept at getting them to the NBA. Daniels correctly states that 58% of all one-and-dones in the last five years have gone to just five schools. But that means there are 346 other schools in division-1 basketball that aren’t loading up on NBA-ready talent.
And 345 that aren’t whining about it in the Washington Post.