I thought this Insider column from Bilas was worth posting.
There has been some very good discussion about my take on the Eric Bledsoe matter: that the NCAA should get out of the eligibility business, and that our colleges and universities are fully capable of deciding which students to admit and educate, exactly how to educate them, and which students are fit to represent them in athletic competition.
The reaction has been really interesting, with good and reasonable arguments on both sides.
My view on this matter is somewhat liberal, but it does not mean that I do not value academics. I have an undergraduate degree and a law degree from Duke University, and I managed to play college ball while I pursued my education. I value education and I believe in rules and standards.
However, I also realize that 347 Division I institutions have a wide range of diverse mission statements and standards. The mission statements of Princeton, Memphis, Kentucky, North Carolina Central, Stanford, East Carolina, Idaho State, Notre Dame and Ole Miss are very different, and no reasonable person would argue that they compete on a "level playing field" with regard to admissions, academics and resources.
How could that same reasonable person possibly expect that those same institutions could play basketball on a level playing field?
Some who differ with my position on NCAA minimum eligibility standards -- including our own blogger Eamonn Brennan -- suggest that if institutions were free to admit and play whomever they wish with no minimum standard, it would result in anarchy. I seriously doubt that there would be confusion, chaos and disorder, especially as there is not confusion, chaos and disorder in our colleges and universities outside of athletics.
Another argument is that institutions that are truly dedicated to educating their athletes would be competing on an unlevel playing field with those institutions that do not care about education. They argue that, left to their own devices, the ethical and moral fiber of these institutions would break down and all reasonable standards would be compromised.
There are also some who posited that if both were competing for the same trophy, both should have to meet the same academic standards. In a Thursday follow-up to my piece, CBS Sports columnist Gary Parrish did a nice job countering that argument:
"I don't think anybody is operating under the assumption that Memphis and Stanford have the same academic guidelines. What's OK at one school isn't OK at the other, nor should it be. So why doesn't the NCAA remove itself from the equation and let Memphis and Stanford decide what's good for Memphis and Stanford in terms of academic requirements? It would put eligibility back into the hands of schools, eliminate a lot of the NCAA's biggest headaches, and make much more sense than the current system that has programs getting penalized for playing players they were initially told it was OK to play."
Amen. The counterargument made by so many sounds great in theory, but the two schools don't have to meet the same academic standards. Actually, the academic standards of the two schools are not at all similar.
Neither school has to adhere to its own academic standards when making admissions and eligibility decisions regarding athletes. The only thing each school needs to do is satisfy the NCAA's minimum standard for initial eligibility and satisfactory progress. And because there is only a minimum standard, some schools are allowed to have a steep drop in their standards in admitting and playing athletes.
Consider that Stanford's standards for admission are much higher than those of Memphis. The average high school GPA of incoming freshmen at Memphis is 3.2. By contrast, more than 90 percent of incoming Stanford students have a high school GPA of 3.75 or better. Just 2.3 percent of Stanford students had a high school GPA between 3.0 and 3.49, which is within range of the average GPA at Memphis. Does anyone find that to be a level playing field with regard to admissions?
By that measure, if Memphis admits and plays a prospect with a 2.5 GPA in core courses and Stanford admits and plays a prospect with a 3.0 GPA in core courses, it is Stanford that has lowered its admission standards by the larger margin. By admitting a student-athlete with a 3.0, Stanford would be compromising its standards more than Memphis would if the Tigers had admitted Eric Bledsoe with his 2.3 GPA (without the questioned algebra course).
The truth is, without athletics, a parental legacy or some other compelling non-academic reason for admission, a student with a 3.0 GPA would have no reasonable chance of gaining admission to Stanford. That same student could easily gain admission to Memphis. Stanford and Memphis are different institutions with different missions, and they do not generally compete on a level playing field in anything.
Are we courting anarchy because Stanford can and often does lower its standards by a greater margin than does Memphis in the current system? No. The republic still stands, and the Earth remains on its axis.
You see, the dirty little secret of the most elite institutions in this country is that they are really difficult to get into and, once admitted, it is really difficult to excel and gain the highest academic honors. But it is not all that difficult to graduate from those institutions once admitted.
Why? Those institutions are not used to or conditioned to flunking out their students. At some state schools without the lofty reputations of a Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Notre Dame or Northwestern, they tend to thin the herd more, and it can be more difficult to graduate.
The proponents of initial eligibility believe that their favored institutions should not admit Eric Bledsoe. Well, their favored institutions do not have to. Kentucky chose to admit him and to play him. Memphis, UAB, Rutgers, Ole Miss and Alabama all reportedly offered Bledsoe a scholarship and would have admitted and played him if Kentucky had not.
Is Bledsoe an unreasonable threat to Stanford, Northwestern, Harvard and the rest of Division I with a 2.3 GPA instead of the required 2.5? Is it reasonable to claim that requiring a 2.5 GPA means that you care about education, but allowing a student to compete with a 2.3 GPA means that you are inviting anarchy?
But it is a slippery slope, some will say. If you leave it up to these institutions of higher learning, they will all sink to the lowest common denominator and all of a sudden, nobody playing college sports will be able to read and write. Dogs and cats will be living together, and Memphis and Stanford will be indistinguishable from one another. Please.
No reasonable person would argue that there is a level playing field in college athletics with regard to school size, resources, revenues, academic standards or media exposure, but somehow a 2.5 high school GPA is holding the entire enterprise together and leveling the playing field?
There are a lot of myths in intercollegiate athletics, and they happen to meet at the point of the endeavor's most treasured ideals. Some say the ideal of the "student-athlete" is a myth. Others say the amateur ideal is a myth. But you almost never hear that the level playing field is a myth.
Well, it is. It is as mythical as Bigfoot, dragons, leprechauns and unicorns. It does not exist, and it never has existed. And that is OK.
In the lead-up to Kentucky's Sweet 16 matchup against Cornell in March, UK's DeMarcus Cousins told the media the game wouldn't be decided by "who can read the fastest. â€¦ We're here to play basketball. It's not a spelling bee."
While I did not particularly care for the sentiment expressed, he was absolutely correct. It was just an athletic competition, and it was being played on an uneven playing field. The fact that Cornell and Kentucky were playing basketball against each other did not mean that they were equal or comparable academic institutions. They are not. An initial eligibility requirement of 2.5 does not make it so.
Most games in college basketball are played on an uneven playing field -- and there is nothing wrong with that. It is just basketball. Big schools play against small schools. Rich schools play against poor schools. Elite and exclusive academic schools play against inclusive state schools established to educate the masses.
If you choose to compete on the field of play, you have to accept that the 347 Division I schools are quite diverse, and that they educate quite a diverse population.