Earlier this week, freshman guard LiAngelo Ball was pulled from UCLA without ever playing a game, since he was suspended indefinitely after shoplifting on a team trip to China. At the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Manhattan today, NCAA President Mark Emmert was asked about Ball, to which he gave a really bad answer:
Update (1:57 p.m.): For context, here’s the full transcript of the question and Emmert’s answer:
Let’s set Ball aside, because I’ve got some bad news for Mark. The only reason anyone who doesn’t go to UCLA even knows that UCLA (or, any school you can name) has a basketball team is because those players are there to prepare to be pros. The only reason TV networks pay the NCAA more than a billion dollars a year to air March Madness is because those players are preparing to be pros. Of course any player who thinks they’re good enough to be a pro is in college in preparation for going pro.
Just about any person who goes to college is preparing to be a professional. I know I was.
Emmert, to his credit, acknowledges that many pro hopefuls are in school because they don’t have any other realistic choice, and heprofesses to think is a problem.
(Does he really want to change that? I’m skeptical. If there were some other effective route to go pro—if every single potential one-and-done just didn’t go to college—that’d be a huge financial hit for the NCAA.)
The one-and-done rule—which, remember, is enforced by the NBA, which gets a free minor league out of the deal—is up for debate again, and was the subject of informal meetings last month between the league, the players’ association, and an NCAA commission. But it’s a strange thing. It benefits the NBA, hurts the players who lose out on a year of their earning primes, and is alternately better and worse for the NCAA than its conceivable alternatives. Emmert sounds like if he had his way, he’d make college basketball a multi-year commitment:
That’s a very weird stance. In what other aspect of college could you force someone to stay in school? That this is even up for speculation is a pretty clear sign that big-time college athletics has so warped from its beginnings that it makes zero sense to even be tied to higher education anymore.
And that’s the big issue here, isn’t it?
Here’s the truth: College sports are two different beasts entirely. There are the non-revenue sports, which feature the vast, vast majority of athletes and administrators. And then there are the revenue sports, which operate entirely differently, which pay for the whole thing, which pay a lot of really wealthy people’s salaries, and which lead universities to forsake their educational missions altogether. These two things should not be under the same umbrella; the NCAA can not capably and ethically handle both.
But what is the alternative? It feels like most people—especially those who have it pretty good right now—would rather wring their hands and live with a broken system than do the work of changing it.