The Criminals in College Sports Debate… Character Matters More Than Oversight

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

At times we have an inclination as a culture to abdicate responsibility for things rather than commit to being accountable. Sure, we could take the lead on that project at work, but it would be visible to management and it’s easier to play it safe. Yes, I could run down that dude that just stole that old lady’s purse, but it’s safer to stay put and hope things work out for her. Being accountable – having a true sense of responsibility – is often hard to come by as our culture evolves. But it is an absolutely essential trait to having good character – and winning in sports.

You may be wondering what the heck I am writing about. Fair. I am reminding everyone of a simple principle it seems all too easy to forget – that character matters in sports.

Reality dictates that not everyone is perfect. Translation? People screw up! No single demographic group screws up more in life than high schoolers. They have nearly adult bodies, and a poor understanding of how to properly use them. That means poor choices are made. Sometimes poor choices put a kid in jail, giving them a juvenile record. Should that juvenile record prevent a kid from being recruited as a college player? Absolutely not.

If character is important and must be measured, then this is one area where the world can do with a bit less oversight and regulation, and bit more people owning up to their actions.

I concede that young kids, especially high schoolers, are dangerous ones to invest the future of a high profile athletic program in. Just ask Jim Tressel what his most recent opinions on the subject are.

But, if a kid is going to commit a crime, knowing about an existing juvenile record isn’t necessarily a key indicator that they are sure to commit of committing another crime. America is a country of second chances, remember? If everyone that ever made a mistake was not given a second chance, we would be missing out on an awful of great businesses, and I’m sure a few important personal relationships, too.

It’s worth repeating – young kids make mistakes, mistakes that even put them in jail. In fact, they are entitled to make mistakes. Yes, that’s right – entitled. Mistakes are often how a youngster gains experience – some better than others. Some experience is gained easier than others

But that does not necessarily mean high schoolers with a juvenile record are broken human beings, or unworthy of competing in athletic competition. More than anything, college sports coaches are leaders that try to instill values in their players in addition to winning ballgames. Leaders need young men to lead, those who can benefit from their influence. Athletes who have made past mistakes need leaders willing to “take a chance” on them. Leaders willing to invest in their character.

Character has to matter in college athletics. A recruit should never be in a situation where a records search dictates whether or not a player is offered a scholarship. It should never come to a records search. If it does, then the recruit is hiding something or trying to fool the coach, and it is wise to stop pursuit.

It is true that these kids are important representatives of their respective universities. A kid a recruiting coach meets as young junior in high school could one day blossom into the face of an athletic program, and the brand of an entire university. Such is the case with college sports today. That potential evolution of a recruit to college superstar further solidifies the importance of character.

During the recruiting process, coaches should carefully inquire about important matters such as a juvenile record. And kids should readily admit mistakes what they learned. If the coach does not have a good feeling that the youngster has learned from the mistakes, then they probably will not be very coachable either. In other words, they are a bad recruit. But that determination is made through conversation, not through a end around background check.

It is fair for additional oversight to be added – if anywhere – within these college programs themselves. To force a head coach to always know where every player is at all times and what they are doing just isn’t realistic. Ensure that collegiate institutions are doing what they are supposed to be doing in protecting the youngsters they give responsibility and scholarship to, but let their lessons learned be part of their admitted character – not a sneaky way to prohibit to a second chance.

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The High School to College Jump Debate Verdict

March 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

I get teased for this a lot, but I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Michigan State head basketball coach institution Tom Izzo. He is a rare coach in college basketball, having taken six of his past 12 teams to the Final Four. He is also known as a coach who cares a great deal about graduating players. He is disciplined and tough, he doesn’t let players get away with stuff they should not. More than anything, he is fair. His players know his rules and standards, and they know the consequences of not living up to them (see Izzo dismissing two starts from this year’s team mid-season).

So when Tom Izzo stands up and says something is a good idea, it’s worth a listen. However, I had reservations about the idea of forcing high school kids to choose the NBA or three years of college at such a young age. It is a decision that has lasting impact and millions of dollars on the line… but it is made by a 17 or 18-year-old kid. Pressure anyone?

It is true that some of those kids do make good decisions. But, some don’t.

I understand the point Babe Ruthless is making about some of the most talented players in basketball being straight out of high school. But, just because a player is talented does not mean a player is great. There is a distinction. Many of the talented high school players the Babe lists off have taken years to evolve in the game because at the professional level a player needs beyond raw talent. They also, for example, must fully understand how to play effective basketball. They must be smart, and they must be good teammates to consistently win championships.

My point? For every Kobe Bryant there are 10 players like Darius Miles. Is that really good for the league? In reality, the NBA had to invent an entire developmental league – and even TITLE it as such – simply because the caliber of player that was entering the league was not ready to play basketball on a professional level. That proves there are a whole lot more players like Miles that need more seasoning to have a chance to cut it playing professional basketball.

The proposal on the table also isn’t quite as black and white and Babe Ruthless paints it. Players may choose when they are being recruited if they wish to enter the college ranks or attempt to make it in the NBA. But, if they choose college it is a three-year commitment. To me, this is not only prudent, but eminently reasonable.

Bleacher Fan wins this debate because he is sadly correct that supporting casts provide as much support as a 25-year-old bra. The overall quality of the talent in the NBA is down. Part of that is because of the expansion of the league over time diluting the talent pool. But a counteraction to that dilemma is to improve the quality of the players in the league. The NBA Development League has not, to this point, improved the overall quality of the NBA product. The reality is that college basketball is a better proving ground for great basketball talent, and the NBA is smart to back any proposal that feeds the league better players.

Given this construct, it is important to note that an obvious benefit is an overall improvement to the college game. These benefits are not the focus of this debate, as Bleacher Fan rightly states, but they are impossible to ignore.

Many of the college basketball teams that many of us have taken notice of at this stage of the season are playing well, in part, because their rosters are comprised of seniors. You bracketologists know that St. John’s, Purdue, Wisconsin, San Diego State, and many other schools have risen to the top of our minds because they have experienced players. A rule like the one Izzo is backing would promote the idea that more programs would have upperclassman, raising the overall quality of the college game AND improving the caliber of player in the professional game.

The proposal does not limit a player’s ability to earn money, as Babe Ruthless intimates. It gives them freedom – options – to choose which path they want. That doesn’t mean that pressure is non-existent. If a high school player wants to play professional ball, then pressure is part of the overall package – and if they are going to cut it, they can’t shy away.

Bottom line, Bleacher Fan has convinced me that this proposal is good for college basketball, and good for professional basketball – not to mention the players themselves. It’s a win-win.

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The High School to College Jump Debate

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

The rule proposal is simple enough to understand. College basketball recruits would either have to commit to playing three seasons of college basketball, or they could just immediately to the NBA.

On the surface, this rule seems like a no brainer. Coaches like the idea, players seem to be okay with it, and legendary coach Tom Izzo is the one pushing this potential rule change up through the ranks. Done deal, right? Not so fast.

What kind of fair rule states a player – who has the physical ability to player professional basketball – cannot earn a living that way? A similar rule like this exists for college football and the NFL. But football and basketball are very different games. The counter argument is legit. Let’s find out exactly HOW legit.

Should college basketball recruits be forced to choose between playing three years of college ball or going straight to the professional ranks?

Babe Ruthless will argue the choice should be up to the player whenever they want to turn professional while Bleacher Fan believes the rules makes sense for all parties involved.

I get to judge. While I am a Tom Izzo fanboy, he is not a perfect human being, and this proposal has some serious questions marks in it. Convince me – is this potential rule fair?

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The Freshman on the Pre-Season All-American Team Debate Verdict

November 10, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

While I completely agree with Optimist Prime’s main point that these types of pre-season honors do not really matter, it became clear to the editorial staff here at TSD that a great many fans do in fact care deeply about a freshman being allowed to appear on a pre-season All-American team.

Before diving into the arguments I do want to call attention to one point from Optimist Prime that I vehemently oppose. The notion that basketball is an individual game is flat wrong. It is true that the individual nature of the reward we’re debating today is inescapable, but the irony lies in the fact that the sport – especially at the collegiate level – relies heavily on team achievement, and much less on the abilities of a single player. Team’s have a hierarchy of talent, but college basketball isn’t great because each team is just a disjointed conglomeration of individual talent. Successful teams work together flawlessly, and the vast majority of championship teams prove that out.

As Optimist points out, in total fairness, the freshman did not appoint himself to the team. Rather, a membership group of sports media elite did that. That is not the player’s fault. It is, however, proof that the “award” is ridiculous. Fair point, Optimist Prime.

But, regardless of the award’s fairness from a media standpoint, it is counter-intuitive – and it should be counter-culture – to lavish anyone with awards and esteem who has done nothing to earn it. Barnes may become a great college player, but it’s impossible to agree that he would then, retroactively, deserve the pre-season All-American team honors as a freshman. Freshmen have not proven anything on the court in a college atmosphere, a fair and acknowledged point from Loyal Homer.

If the purpose of the award is to give the nod to players who show tremendous potential, then have a freshmen All-American team (which does exist). But, and the winning arguer Loyal Homer so succinctly stated, to include a freshman in the overall pre-season All-American cheapens the entire team.

Sure, I understand the game of college basketball has evolved. Freshman now rule the roost in part because an early departure for the elite players is now standard practice. But NBA draft prospects are completely different that All-American honors. There was a simpler time when professional prospect didn’t influence a college player’s perception at all. The All-American award harkens a simpler, more pure time in sports, and giving a freshman the nod for is a deep and irreversible stain.

Maybe this Sports Geek is old school, but whatever happened to earning an award? With respect to Optimist’s argument that Barnes has been evaluated at countless camps in the off-season and AAU environments over the course of his prep career, Barnes hasn’t won a game with a last minute shot in Cameron Indoor. He hasn’t gone on the road in Little John Arena and beaten a pesky Clemson club in conference with a tough road game. He hasn’t proven his mettle in a conference tournament or propelled his team to a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He may appear to have the pedigree to accomplish those feats, but let’s ease up on the praise and awards until he proves worthy. It might be old fashioned, but it’s also the right thing.

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The Freshman on the Pre-Season All-American Team Debate

November 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

It is always an honor for a team and an individual player to be named to the pre-season All-American team. This pre-season is no different, as four veteran college basketball players have earned their way on to the high profile and well respected pre-season All-American team.

This season’s team consists of the following players:

  • Kyle Singler, Duke, C/F, Senior
  • Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, G, Senior
  • Jimmer Fridette, BYU, G, Senior
  • JuJaun Johnson, Purdue, C/F, Senior
  • Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, F/G, Freshman

The team is chosen by a panel consisting of 65 national media personalities. One player in particular sticks out of the lineup. Barnes is a true freshman for North Carolina. He has never once bounced a round orange call on the hard wood in a college game atmosphere. Yet, the 65 national media personalities that chose the players for this team honored him with All-American status.

Did the panel get it right? Do freshman deserve to be included on the Pre-Season All-American team?

Optimist Prime believes that a freshman like Barnes should be allowed to be named to the team while Loyal Homer will argue that a freshman has not yet earned the right to be called All-American, even on a pre-season team.

Convince a pragmatist a freshman belongs on the team. Good luck.

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The Best League of 2009 Debate – What Happened to all the Drama?

December 28, 2009

Read the arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer about which sports league had the best 2009.

This year, 2009, was the year of non-surprises in sports.

Think about the most popular sports league organizations in the United States – the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football. A key factor in what makes each of these organizations so entertaining to watch is the idea of competition and parity, something that has been HORRIBLY lacking in each of those organizations in 2009.

In the NFL and MLB, the vast majority of the playoff races (should they even have been called ‘races’?) were decided WEEKS before the season ended, providing almost no drama at all to the close of their respective seasons.

In college football, SIX different programs reached championship week as undefeated teams, and FIVE are entering bowl games still undefeated. Why? Because those teams did not play anybody good. The most dominant programs in the country were provided very weak competition, which completely stripped the fun out of watching late season college football. In all seriousness, I am BEGGING someone to tell me why Florida and Alabama, two of the PREMIER programs in the nation in 2009, both scheduled non-conference games against Florida International and Chattanooga, respectively, on November 21st. Ironically it was the Pac-10, which has traditionally been the LEAST interesting conference to watch because of Southern Cal’s dominance, that provided the most drama and excitement.

Nowhere was the separation of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ more evident than in college basketball. The 2009 March Madness tournament (note that even the name of the tournament implies that a spectator should EXPECT excitement and drama) provided almost none of the ‘Madness’ we have come to expect. In fact, out of all the teams reaching the Sweet 16, only ONE of them was seeded higher than fifth in the bracket (Arizona). Now compare 2009 to the 2008 tournament when four teams seeded higher than fifth reached the Sweet 16. Not that it would have mattered if any other ‘Cinderella’ teams HAD reached the Sweet 16. From the opening tip-off of the tournament it was clear that the entire 65-team event was nothing more than a prelude to North Carolina and Tyler Hansbrough cutting down the nets. During the entire duration of the tournament, no team even came CLOSE to stopping the Tar Heels, a dominant team that would go on to win each of its tournament games by AT LEAST 12 points.

Simply put, 2009 was a year lacking any real excitement or mystery in sports.

Why, then, should the NBA be considered the best league of 2009? The Los Angeles Lakers were CLEARLY destined for the Finals out of the Western Conference. In the East, the only question was whether it would be the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Orlando Magic playing in the league championship. With the remaining 26 teams in the league simply providing fodder for the top four teams to feast on until the Finals rolled around, it seemed as though the 2008-2009 season was merely a formality that must be endured before a champion could be crowned.

Despite that seemingly pre-determined conclusion to the season, the NBA still managed to make the expected into something UN-expected, and it happened in the Eastern Conference Finals. The unexpected came when the Orlando Magic, behind Dwight Howard’s defensive presence and can’t-miss three-point shooting by players like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers TWICE in Cleveland (the Cavs were practically invincible at home during the regular season) en route to a six-game upset of Cleveland.

That excitement, though, was not nearly enough to make the NBA the best league of 2009. The REAL reason that the NBA was the best league of 2009, despite the lack of parity that it shared with its athletic brethren, can be summed up in two words – LeBron James.

James singlehandedly provided some of the most exciting and interesting story-lines of the entire year. First was the drama of the MVP race. “LeBron versus Kobe” was talked about at every water-cooler in corporate America. This race was such a heated topic that it actually became the basis for two MAJOR advertising campaigns (Nike and Vitamin Water), and many hoped that the media battle would ultimately play out on the court of the NBA Finals.

After the Orlando Magic stunned the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, speculation began to swirl about whether or not LeBron, whose is due to become a free agent at the close of the 2009-2010 season, would remain in Cleveland – and the courtship of LeBron officially began.

Where LeBron ends up after the 2009-2010 season will ultimately shape the NBA for the next 5-10 years, and everyone will be watching very closely as the season plays out. For their part, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a ‘huge’ offseason move by bringing Shaquille O’Neal into the team as “Witness Protection.” Al the while, teams around the league are clearing space on the roster (and on the payroll) in the hopes of wooing James away from Cleveland.

In a year where very little excitement happened ON the court or field in sports, it was off-field drama that provided the most interesting story-lines of 2009. No league matches the intrigue and suspense that LeBron James is providing for the NBA.

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