I'd wanted to write about the topic of the ACC's proposal to change the rules regarding players declaring for the NBA Draft, but I frittered away the time, and most of what I was going to write ended up appearing elsewhere, so I was going to let it pass. Tonight, however, I read another story and decided that I needed to use our small soap box.
Imagine you're a top 50 recruit and after a stressful recruiting process you pick a program and you're excited about the prospect of playing for a Hall of Fame coach who said he needed you. Before you even get your dorm room set up, the coach abruptly resigns and your teammates begin scattering to the four winds. Suddenly, instead of playing for one of the
most overrated best coaches in the country, you're faced with the prospect of playing for an interim coach and three of the young men you thought you'd be playing with are anywhere from Michigan to Italy. You decide this isn't the best situation for you and asked to be released from your scholarship, but the Athletic Director attempting to do damage control says, "No!" As a result, you'll have to wait a year and then sit out another before being able to move on with your basketball career.
This is the exact scenario Jeff Withey, a 6'11" Center at Arizona is dealing with. Faced with already losing Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson, three players and three commitments from next year's recruiting class, AD Jim Livengood denied Withey's request saying, "At the end of [the year] -- as I told him last night -- I would gladly release him if he wanted."
The topic of players being able to get out of commitments if a coach leaves or is fired has been discussed for years, but when considered in conjunction with the ACC's newest proposal to the NCAA, the lack of rights given to players is even more egregious.
The ACC recently proposed that players have only until the middle of April (roughly coinciding with the start of the spring signing period) to decide if they want to enter the NBA Draft and if a player does, his college eligibility expires. This would give player playing in the Final four approximately a week to a week and a half to decide their future.
A week and a half is hardly enough time to decide anything. Most stores allow you to return clothes up to a month later, and these young men only have ten days to possibly determine the rest of their lives? Contrast this with the schools rights to hold a kid hostage for the equivalent of one to two years and it's clear that the system is already rigged against the young men that make the NCAA's $6 Billion TV contract possible.
If a young man declares for the NBA draft and then suffers an injury, it hurts his chances of being drafted. Under the new proposal he would not be allowed to return to school and would likely end up in the NBDL or overseas. If the player attends a pre-draft camp and realizes his game just isn't up to par, too bad he made his decision. The kid has only one shot, and the policy is designed to do nothing but help the schools and the coaches. In the case of Withey, however, if Arizona had a bigger, stronger, faster recruit lined up and needed the scholarship, they'd be happy to let the kid go. The game is rigged and instead of protecting the young men (you know the "innocent" and "naive" ones), the system protects the schools (read: keeps the alumni booster money flowing) and the coaches. If a coach wants to change schools he does not have to sit out for a year, or have only ten days to decide even though in most cases the players have more on the line than the coach.
After finding out Lute Olson's departure was for medical reasons, I had a little egg on my face, but I don't feel bad about saying Lute should be standing up for Jason Withey's right to move on. It's what an honorable man would do when he knows he didn't hold up his end of the bargain.
The NCAA should protect these players, not exploit them, but time and again that's exactly what they do. They make billions of dollars off these young men and continue to search for ways to further exploit and control them. A union for these young athletes needs to be formed or at the very least an advocacy group that looks out for their best interest, because it's clear that the coaches (and institutions) they put their trust and faith in, all to often will leave them high and dry if there's a chance to make a better life for number one.