Taking the “Student” Out of Student-Athlete

I don’t give a crap if Kevin Durant’s failing calculus. I don’t care if he attends class. I don’t care if he reads a single book or takes a single test, nor do most of the former and current students of the University of Texas at Austin so long as Kevin drinks a few beers every so often at a campus party and keeps playing like he is right now.

Kevin Durant is the prohibitive favorite to win the Naismith Award. Following this season, Durant will most likely drop out of the University of Texas and enter the NBA Draft. He will do this because he will be one of the top two picks in next year’s draft. When Durant signs his first contract, he will make more money in a year than he will ever be able to spend in his entire lifetime.

Last week, Texas Tech head basketball coach Bobby Knight told the press that he doesn’t think players like Durant and Ohio State’s Greg Oden shouldn’t be allowed to play college basketball if they are simply going to leave after a year because he thinks it “hurts the integrity of the sport of college basketball.”

Coach Knight would be correct if college basketball had any integrity left. We are talking about a sport where University of Michigan players were paid cash for playing basketball merely one decade ago. We are talking about a sport where, at the University of Georgia, players took a class taught by their own assistant coach called “Basketball 101.” One of the questions asked on the final was, “How many points do you get for a three-pointer?” Division I college basketball players at major conference schools practice virtually all season long and play full schedules. During the season, it is not uncommon for players to be away from school for two weeks at a time. Not counting the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament is the most gambled-on and watched sporting event of the year. Countless dollars are spent in March Madness pools and CBS paid an unconscionable amount of money to the NCAA for the right to broadcast tournament games.

Coach Knight may be right to dislike the fact that the best high school players will now be spending one year in college and bolting to the NBA due to the league’s new draft rule. He’s right to be concerned that these players have no real reason to attend class because they will only be spending one year in school. But college basketball is big business now; it has no credibility. Athletic Directors and University Presidents sold college basketball and football’s souls long ago. These men and women continue to pawn off the remnants every year when they lower academic standards while continuing to expect more from the athletes on the court. The money that sports bring in led the universities to try and get their hands on as much of it as they can. The way to do that is to win.

Long gone are the days when student-athletes were really student-athletes. The Kevin Durants of the world are professional athletes in training, and you know what, I don’t mind. I’m happy to see Kevin Durant playing for my Texas Longhorns and I don’t care if he’s failing calculus. I don’t care if Kevin Durant attends a single class during his year at the University of Texas, and neither do the rest of the college basketball fans who will turn on their televisions for three weeks this month and fawn over the spectacular dunks and buzzer-beaters. The Kevin Durant’s of the world grow up fast and education often doesn’t need to play a role in their lives. However, the experience of a year in college, even a year without much class or homework, can be important for the development of young men like Durant. Not to mention he’s pretty fun to watch. So shut up Coach Knight; you’re just bitter Durant got 37 points and 23 boards against you.