Columnists, Sports

A Fan’s Perspective: Forced to stay?

The NCAA enjoys a renowned tradition of helping college athletes develop and improve in order to make the next jump into professional play. Numerous athletes get their start in the NCAA, displaying their talents in showcases such as March Madness, the Frozen Four and the College Football Playoff — some of the most watched sporting events of the year.

However, this publicity has taken the “C” out of NCAA.

What was once an organization that took tremendous pride in helping student athletes pursue degrees has now turned into a showcase that focuses more on skill and ability than it does grades.

Over the past 20 seasons, the NCAA began tracking graduation rates among athletes. Despite a subtle increase in recent years, the graduation rates continue to show disappointment.

While the rates among women athletes are better, the numbers are still startling. Out of last year’s Final Four participants in women’s basketball, only three of the four schools had a graduation rate higher than 80 percent.

University of Notre Dame (100 percent graduation rate) along with the University of Connecticut and Louisville University (92 percent) were ahead of the national graduation average (85 percent). The University California, Berkeley was the only school that dipped under the national average with a frustrating 75 percent.

On the men’s circuit of basketball, the national average dropped from a year ago, down to 72.9 percent. Despite the decrease, it marks the first time in recorded history where the graduation rate has topped 70 percent for two consecutive seasons. Good news for NCAA men’s basketball, but this is a startling statistic. It has taken too long for the graduation rate to reach this level.

Although players are leaving for financial purposes, it would be beneficial for the NCAA if these players stayed for an extended period of time. However, it seems like the only thing on the minds of the media and the NCAA every year is which freshmen will shine the most. The association glorifies these freshmen, players without tenure and experience, often looking past the team aspect of sports.

Had Duke University’s basketball team all stayed until graduation, starters for the 2014-15 season would include Austin Rivers, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky could counter with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle and James Young.

With these eight players still in college, the interest level in the sport and these teams would only increase, with fans excited at the fact that they could see these young talents return every year.

Not only would pursuing a four-year education be extremely beneficial to athletes, but it would also ensure success. In women’s basketball, Baylor University graduate Brittney Griner, despite her skill, height and ability, opted to stay for four seasons to play with the Lady Bears, leading them to an NCAA title in her junior season against Notre Dame.

Griner’s ability has been transferred into her career in the WNBA, helping her to an All-Star nomination in each of her first two seasons. She also led her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, to a league title in September.

Although choosing to play in college all four years may not be the smartest choice financially, it is the wise choice for professional development, along with life after athletics.

While these athletes might have all of the talent in the world, at the end of the day, they are still put at a disadvantage due to the lack of a degree. If an athlete who left school after his or her freshman season suffered a career-ending injury early into their professional careers, life after athletics without a college degree could be tough.

With so many scandals, such as current Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose playing during his freshman season at the University of Memphis in 2008 with an ineligible academic record, along with students barely completing two semesters of classes, the NCAA needs to put their foot down. Although it might not be the most popular decision, student athletes should be required to take and pass a set number of courses to not only leave college, but also to be eligible to play at all.

With a rule like this in effect, the NCAA would return to being the respectable organization it has been in the past, by priding itself once again with scholarly values.

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