Sunday, April 15, 2018
It’s become so predictable, hasn’t it?
Within weeks after the completion of the NCAA Tournament, questions begin about which teams will be accused of serious recruiting violations. The process began earlier than usual this spring when the FBI handed down indictments against a handful of top Division I programs before the tournament even started.
Kansas, a Final Four team, and North Carolina State were added afterward.
Everyone agrees action needs to be taken to clean up the mess in college basketball. Many have suggested paying players as a deterrent for cash benefits, but I remain firm in the belief that a free education, housing and meals are a pretty good deal for scholarship athletes.
I also believe that university presidents and athletic directors should demand the NBA help fix the problem that’s been created. The NBA must follow the model that’s worked so well for Major League Baseball and expand its minor league system.
That way, top high school players who have no interest in college will have another option, especially if they are provided a decent wage by the league or the shoe companies who seem so interested in their well being.
Currently, 26 NBA teams have minor league affiliates spread throughout the country, from Maine to Santa Cruz, Calif. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a G League (developmental) team in Oklahoma City called OK Blue. The Memphis Grizzlies G League team is in located in Southaven, Miss. It’s where former Arkansas guard Dusty Hannahs played this season.
A few NBA teams do not have minor league teams, but that will certainly change if the NCAA eliminates the “one and done” rule and more players decide to bypass college. If an NBA team is looking for location to establish a developmental team, why not Northwest Arkansas?
I have relatives who live in Grand Rapids, Mich., which has minor league teams for the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings. The city of Grand Rapids has a population of just under 200,000 people.
More than 500,000 people live in Northwest Arkansas, and our area was selected among the top five places in the country to live for the third consecutive year by U.S. News and World Report. The Kansas City Royals moved their Double-A franchise from Wichita, Kan., to Springdale more than 10 years ago, and that relationship has worked out quite well.
Could professional basketball and hockey succeed here as well? I have no doubt, especially with an increasingly diverse population.
Critics have said expanding a developmental league for NBA teams would reduce college basketball to a club sport, void of top talent. I heard the same concerns with baseball, where top players can turn pro right out of high school if they’re drafted or head to college if they choose.
Many prospects, especially those from low-income families, take the money, but that hasn’t hurt college baseball, which is more popular than ever. Schools like Arkansas lose players to the draft every year, but the interest is still high among Razorback fans at Baum Stadium, which drew over 6,000 fans for a game last Thursday against South Carolina.
The quality of play is reflected in the huge number of former SEC players now in the big leagues, including the eight from Arkansas, which leads the SEC this season. So, don’t try to convince me college basketball will die if the 5-star and 4-star athletes decide for the developmental leagues instead of going to college for a semester or two.
The current FBI probe into cheating in college basketball should serve as the springboard for sweeping changes in college athletics. It’s time to emphasize the word “STUDENT” again in student-athlete and give those top prospects another option to begin their careers.
“We all know what’s going on here,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters recently. “We should provide the opportunity for kids coming out of high school that, maybe, don’t want to go to college. Don’t keep this ruse going.”
Are you listening, Mr. Commissioner? It’s time for the NBA to act.
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.
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