The Criminals in College Sports Debate

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

College football coaches are always on the lookout for the next possible gridiron superstar.

Each coach’s wish list is different, but the criteria is almost always the same – speed, smarts, and size usually rule the day.

So where does an intangible like character come into play?

Every program would love to have a guy like Tim Tebow in their locker room. He was a good player with a solid moral foundation to back it up. He was a leader on the field and off, and became the poster child for the ‘good guy’ in college football.

But while Tebow was hoisted up as the pristine face of the Florida Gators, the rest of their football program were certainly no Eagle Scouts. Since 2005, 25 different players from the Gators have been arrested, including 12 charges of felonies or violent misdemeanors.

Florida is not the only program to deal with criminal activity from its players, either.

Every year we hear more reports about college athletes who find themselves involved in illegal matters that can make Ohio State’s tattoos and Brigham Young’s honor code violations sound like a church bake sale.

As further evidence of this growing problem in college sports, a recent study has uncovered that there is an alarming number of student athletes with criminal records, specifically among the ranks of the top programs.

Because these athletes become high profile representatives of high profile schools, does it make sense for those universities to dig even further into the respective pasts of their prospective recruits?

Should Universities in the NCAA examine the juvenile records of those students they intend to recruit?

Our resident Loyal Homer believes that universities absolutely should begin examining those juvenile records, while Sports Geek feels that they should not.

Is this a viable way to clean up the game and its programs? We are about to find out…

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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 Criminals in College Sports Debate… Eliminate The Bad Seeds Early

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

It’s really unfortunate that we even have to have this type of debate. But it is 2011, and it’s sad to say that many of today’s student athletes have a checkered past – to say the least. It’s becoming very disturbing to turn on the local sportscast and see that “______ of _______ University has been arrested for _______ crime.”

A deeper investigation, spearheaded by Sports Illustrated and CBS News, uncovers the cold hard facts about the criminals that played for members of the SI’s pre-season top 25 in college football. I’m one who wants to see the best overall product on the field, but I also get tired of reading about the off the field sketchiness going on at nearly every major collegiate program. There’s no realistic way to totally eliminate those problems, but I believe there is a way to somewhat clean it up. Why not allow the programs to start looking into the juvenile records of the recruits?

I understand that we are all guilty of doing some stupid things as juveniles, and some of us may have skeletons that we wouldn’t want schools like Auburn, USC, and Ohio State to find. Maybe you stole a pack of baseball cards from the local Wal-Mart as a 14-year-old boy and got busted and put in county lockup. Maybe you got in a fight one Saturday night in town and you got escorted to the county jail in the local patrol car. Or maybe something bigger happened. Unfortunately, these are patterns of behavior that have to be looked at and evaluated. During the recruiting process, of course the recruit can explain what happened and hopefully clear up any questions and misgivings the coaching staff has regarding the recruit.

To me, this is no different than having to go through a background check when interviewing for a job. In fact, it is the EXACT same thing. In essence, you are applying for a job at said university. Your past is part of who you are and the university that you may be representing every fall for the next four falls has every right to check you out full TSA style!

Now, let’s say that Player A has something on his juvenile record that concerns a coach of the school that is recruiting him. It would be up to the coach to make a judgment call on whether to offer that particular young man a scholarship after reviewing each individual situation on a case-by-case basis. Maybe the guy has changed and deserves a second chance. But if that same guy has run-ins with the law while in college, it falls at the hands of the head coach. Hopefully, this would extremely lessen the chances of reading stories like the one Bleacher Fan wrote about in the intro, where the Florida Gators had a plethora of arrests in the past five years. The goal would be to rid the programs of the multiple offenders.

I know the ultimate goal is to win the game. But in the process, the goal should be to clean the game up. I for one am tired of getting up every morning and reading about another college football player having a run in with the law. A simple way to eliminate of lot of these issues is to allow coaches access to juvenile records of the players they are recruiting. It’s a simple solution.

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The New York Influence Debate… An Irrelevant Big Apple Is Okay

March 7, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

When we first got assigned this topic, I was thrilled. I thought this would be relatively easy to argue. But then that Sunday night happened. If you missed it – and I didn’t because I watched much of the game (because this year’s Academy Awards bored me) – but the New York Knicks, in Carmelo Anthony’s third game wearing a Knicks uniform, upset the Miami Heat. I admit it made my argument maybe a tad more difficult. But hey, that was just one game, and just one game earlier those same Knicks did lose to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. Other than getting Spike Lee (Knicks), Rudy Guliani (Yankees), or whatever famous New York sports fan more face time on the tube, I don’t think it really matters what the teams in New York do. After all, we’re still going to talk about them!

It’s pointless to say we are going to ignore the teams in the Big Apple because that is just not realistic at all. Bristol, Connecticut (the location of ESPN’s headquarters) is about 100 miles away from downtown New York City, so there’s just no escaping the teams… even if we wanted to forget about them and throw them into obscurity with the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies, Kansas City Royals, and other somewhat “forgotten” teams. New York City is the country’s largest market, so it would be ignorant of me to ignore that.

Each league doesn’t NEED New York to have a successful franchise. Until the past couple of seasons, how long has it been since the New York Jets have been relevant? Sure, they’ve made the playoffs a few times here and there, but did you know the Jets have only won more than ten regular season games once in the past 25 years before this past year? I think the NFL has done just fine without hearing about Rex Ryan’s foot fetishes and Mark Sanchez’s social life.

The New York Knicks haven’t been relevant since Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in 2000 (how many of you remember that Ewing played for the Sonics, by the way?). Despite the efforts of the much maligned Isiah Thomas (who belongs in our future “Who Not to Hire to Run Your Team” debate), and Hall of Fame coaches Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkens, the Knicks have been unable to put a worthy product on the court for New Yorkers for a decade. But that’s alright, because we have spent that decade laughing at the Knicks and the NBA has still grown. We’ve wondered how much Spike Lee is throwing away on watching a 30-win team play courtside every season. We’ve wondered how many times Isiah Thomas is going to keep resurfacing. Thank you New York Knicks. Even when you aren’t good, the league still flourishes because it gets to laugh at you as its whipping boy.

The Mets, when they aren’t borrowing money from Major League Baseball, have, with the exception of one year (2006), been out of the playoffs since the Subway Series. The Mets have become known more for blowing big division leads in the last month of the season, changing managers, and having members of its front office threatening reporters. Yet, still, MLB has flourished.

If you are a fan of a rival team of a New York team, then I’m sorry, but those teams aren’t going away. They can be stuck in mediocrity until kingdom come and they are still going to get possible more media coverage than your team. But, the leagues don’t need the teams in the New York markets to be successful. They are going to get the coverage anyway.

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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 High School to College Jump Debate… Righting the Ship

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The NBA may be peaking in terms of popularity right now, but make no mistakes – it is an organization in very serious trouble.

The league has been hijacked by players, it is hemorrhaging money, and now the limited population of truly talented athletes in the league have all decided to migrate east, creating what is sure to be an extremely top-heavy NBA.

The league is enjoying a spike in popularity, but how long can that popularity be sustained? There are only so many superstars that are worth the media attention lavished on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade during this past off-season. Now that Carmelo Anthony has signed on with the Knicks, the only thing left for the talking heads in the sports world to talk about is, “Where will Chris Paul sign?

Things just aren’t like they used to be.

Comparisons to the “good ol’ days” often point to the fact that the league’s biggest stars from back in the day would have never teamed up to play on the same team. The notion that Magic would have taken his talents to Boston to team up with Byrd, or that Jordan would ever put on a Knicks uniform to share the same court with Ewing is just absurd. These were hyper-competitive athletes who wanted to share none of the glory.

There has clearly been a change in mentality between the stars of yesterday, and those of today. It has completely altered the climate of professional basketball.

That change has been the talent level of the B and C class talent.

Superstar talent may be comparable to the golden days, but supporting casts in the NBA are a shell of what they once were.

NBA Lite

Thanks to the miracle of NBA expansion, the league has officially reached its saturation point. The league has outgrown the boundaries that would have allowed it to remain competitive, and the limited pool of real NBA-worthy talent is not enough to stock the ocean that is the current NBA.

Talent is watered down to such a point now that the current NBA draft format (which is only two rounds to begin with) is completely irrelevant. With the exception of a small handful of lottery players, most of the draft class from each new season spends the first two to three years of their professional careers either in the D-league, or playing foreign ball. It is not until after some REAL development has taken place that a player (no matter how promising they might be) will actually get an opportunity to test their mettle in the big leagues.

Where in previous years a team might have three or four role players with genuine talent, the teams of today are lucky if they have one guy who can truly hold his own in helping to hoist the elite up.

So who can blame the athletes with REAL talent from wanting to team up?

Guys like LeBron James are no longer expected just to be great players, they are expected to act as mentors and trainers who must take on the responsibility of developing those players around them. They cannot focus solely on their game, because they have to make everyone else better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets are the perfect example of this fact. Before their superstar saviors came to town, they were the bottom-feeders of the league. While those superstar saviors were in town, they realized elevated levels of success, but nothing truly satisfying. Now that those superstar saviors are gone, they have sunk back into the depths of irrelevance.

They enjoyed a boost in winning percentages because they had a difference-maker on the court, but that boost was short-lived because those difference-makers didn’t want to have to do everything. While they want to be the best guy on the court, they don’t want to be the ONLY guy on the court. So they have sacrificed their shot at EXCLUSIVE glory so they can at least have a shot at glory.

Fixing the problem

The good news for NBA fans is that the upcoming CBA expiration provides the perfect opportunity to fix the league’s problems. Who would have thought that inspiration for that fix would come from the same organization blamed for the overhyped condition of sports in America today – ESPN?

Last weekend, analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis, following one of their broadcasts, discussed a recommendation that was so well received that Michigan State’s head coach, Tom Izzo, has decided to propose it to the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The recommendation was that the NBA should implement an ultimatum of sorts to prospective NBA draft entrants. For those who feel they are truly ready to make the immediate leap from high school into the pros, they deserve that opportunity. The one-year waiting period will be waived, and they can follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and several others who have gone on to superstardom.

For those who are not ready, though, they will have to commit to a THREE-year (as opposed to one) stint in college.

This is actually a brilliant proposal that would boost the level of play, not only for the NBA, but also for college basketball (although the benefits for the NCAA are irrelevant to the topic at hand today).

For starters, this would actually not be an unprecedented policy. In fact, it is exactly the same policy held by the MLB. Although the NFL does not offer an immediate entry into their ranks, they still require a three-year wait.

The greatest benefit that the NBA would realize is that it would no longer have to assume the responsibility of developing athletes who are SUPPOSED to be NBA-caliber talent. As evidenced by the current state of talent in the league, it is obvious that the league stinks at developing talent anyway. Why not let players grow-up in college, at someone else’s expense, so that when they DO join the professional ranks they do so as matured athletes who are ready to hit the ground running.

This elevation in entry-level talent coming into the league would help boost the level of competition across the board. Teams would be able to populate their rosters with a better class of athlete, and the support-starved stars of the game today will feel less pressure to take on the role of team savior.

The end result is that all of the teams in the league would get better. The depth of talent from the five starters to the pine-riders and the D-leaguers would make the game more competitive, and stars of the league might be more compelled to resume the competitive nature of their predecessors, staying put and striving for individual glory, rather than a shared piece of the ultimate prize.

This proposal, which is now being championed by one of the most respected coaches in basketball today, is one that will benefit the entire game of basketball. It will make the players better, and it will make the league better.

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