It is true that watching, rooting for, betting on and generally contributing to the perpetuation of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, March Madness, and thus big time college basketball generally, is not as unethical as supporting pro football…after all, as Rationalization #22 reminds us, at least we aren’t killing anyone. Still, the whole system is rotten to the core: it warps higher education priorities, it instills toxic values in students, it has nothing to do with student athletics, and it rewards deceit, bribery, and cheating. FACT: Colleges would be better and the culture would be healthier without it.
Unfortunately, that would require people like the President of the United States to show some restraint for the good of society and the education of our children, and say, “Nope. College is for education, and spending millions to create teams of mercenaries who are only interested in making the NBA is a disgraceful misapplication of resources as well as inherently corrupting.”
You doubt that description? Look at the University of Massachusetts, which announced that it will retire a jersey in honor of John Calipari to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the university’s 1996 appearance in the men’s basketball Final Four, when he was the coach. Calipari, the university noted in the announcement, “catapulted” the university to “national prominence.” Well, that’s one description. Because the N.C.A.A. eventually found out that Calipari’s star player, Marcus Camby, had accepted riches and, ah, “services” (prostitution services, for example), from sports agents, the university had to pay $151,000 in fines—how many indigent students’ tuition might that have paid for? At least one—and the Final Four appearance that Calipari is being honored for was wiped from the record books. He, of course, knew nothing about this. As Michael Powell pointedly recounts in his sports column for the New York Times, he never does, though for some reason scandals just seem to pop up on teams he coaches. After accepting a huge salary to coach in the NBA, Calipari coached basketball—as usual in big time basketball, at the salary of about ten professors—at Memphis, and before he left, the NCAA. stripped Memphis of a season of wins.
Beneath the shiny surface and the hype, March Madness is just about pro sports contracts and money, and everyone who touches it is corrupted. The e-mail UMASS sent to Powell protesting his inquiry is a classic, worthy of Paul Begala, Lanny Davis or Jay Carney…or maybe P.T. Barnum:
“To argue that the University of Massachusetts should not honor these accomplishments because of press reports speculating about improper behavior flies in the face of the actual history. Furthermore, Calipari has not been found to have violated an N.C.A.A. regulation at any time in his career.”
Such people are entrusted with imbuing values and life skills in our young for tuition fees that are so large that they drive families into crisis. Is being able to cheer for a basketball team of ringers who pretend to represent one’s alma mater worth it? A modicum of quality thought dictates the answer.
Joseph Epstein, who has studied the business of college sports, writes in the Wall Street Journal that he cannot keep his gorge down sufficiently, knowing what he would be cheering, to follow March Madness except for the purpose of wishing a pox on all involved. He writes,
The athletes on these big-time college teams, despite being called student-athletes or (my favorite) scholar-athletes, really don’t have much to do with the schools. They often live in their own dorms, eat at their own training tables. Many seem merely passing through town on their way to professional contracts… The players are, in effect, rented, like bridge chairs for a large dinner party. In the case of basketball, the lease has become an increasingly short one. “One and done” is the current phrase to describe those college-basketball players who use universities to showcase their skills before going off to the National Basketball Association after their freshman year. If it all seems rather squalid, that’s because in fact it is….
Why can’t I set all this aside and find some team or other to cheer for? What about regional affiliation? As a Midwesterner, maybe I should root for Michigan State or Wisconsin. Then I ask myself what does region have to do with anything. Once upon a time, the rosters of such schools as Illinois and Indiana were filled with kids from Illinois and Indiana, and thus the teams truly represented their states. No longer. Now many of the players don’t even come from America, but are Central or Eastern Europeans, working their way up to the NBA. Favorite local players don’t hang around for long. Jabari Parker, a talented Chicago high-school player whose fortunes at Duke I was following, turned out to be a one-and-done college player, and is now in the NBA.
The nation is willing to assist, reward and applaud the ongoing pollution of values and mission in its universities, and the subsequent degrading of their supposed purpose, for the fun of bracket contests and the fantasy that the players on the floor actually prove something worth taking pride in for a school’s addled alumni. It defies all logic.
Spark and Facts: New York Times
Source: Wall Street Journal