Friday, February 23, 2007

Gene Collier: Knight dead-on with indictment of one-year wonders

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, February 23, 2007

A number of theories were launched this week as to what Bobby Knight was up to with his comments regarding freshman sensation Kevin Durant of Texas, at least one theory for every facet of The General's complex and often troubling persona.

While the proffered explanations for Knight's lament on "the integrity of college sports" ranged from plausible to stupid, the bigger news slipped offstage, namely that in the course of his comments, the Hall of Fame coach allowed as to how he "wasn't exactly positive" of something.

Put that down under famous firsts:


There's your headline.

Part of what made Knight the winningest college coach of all time has been a kind of monstrous self-assuredness, matched only by his hyper confidence on how the game should be played, how the athletes should be students, when people oughta be slapped, how writers should strive for a position that requires more than a third-grade education, and bedrock convictions on many, many other things.

But unless I was hallucinating, Knight said this the other day on the new NBA rule that prohibits players from turning pro until one year after the high school class has graduated.

"Now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class. He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester. I'm not exactly positive about the first semester. But he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.

"That, I think, has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports."

For the record and without displaying the full legislative minutia, by NCAA rule, nobody can play this semester without completing at least six credits last semester. Even though it would surprise no one should credits somehow accrue to a student-athlete who never actually goes to class, Knight is at least half right.

Should Durant or Ohio State's Greg Oden or North Carolina's Brandan Wright (who all would be in the NBA already without the new rule) eschew classroom attendance for the remainder of this season, NCAA sanctions would not be imposed after the basketball season, a moot point. I'm just a little surprised that Knight didn't know, at least in general terms, what makes his own players eligible for this semester.

Cynics suggested Knight merely had begun a slow burn over having to deal with Durant again, as the 6-9 freshman's jaw-dropping 37-point, 23-rebound performance, perhaps the best individual show of the season, came against Knight's Texas Tech fellas the first time around.

More accomplished (meaning more hopeless) cynics suggested the Knight indictment of one-year wonders was designed to make NCAA executive director Myles Brand squirm on the eve of March Madness, which is always accompanied by a detailed accounting of March Badness, expressed in the rates at which college basketball players are actually graduating. Those observers like to point out that Brand was running Indiana University when that institution decided it could no longer be represented by the likes of Robert Montgomery Knight.

More likely than any of those things, Knight was essentially emphasizing the educational component of a sport that's again set to spring into wild popularity for everything and anything but education. At Indiana, Knight graduated 80 percent of his players when the average was 42 percent and repeatedly proposed NCAA legislation that would punish outlaw schools with the loss of one scholarship for every player that failed to graduate in five years.

Last year, 35 teams in the 65-team NCAA tournament field (64 percent) had graduation rates of less than 50 percent. While most graduation measurements show improvement, the fact that someone can lead a college basketball team to a national championship without picking up more than six credits certainly cheapens the university's higher purposes.

While it's not as if the colleges haven't already figured out eight-dozen ways to compromise their integrity for televised glory, I agree with Knight (speaking of famous firsts) that the one-season-and-gone arrangement does college athletics "a tremendous disservice."

With college basketball about to gorge on the adulation of its most celebrated athletes and coaches, it doesn't hurt for someone to remind everyone what's still supposed to be their mission. It's just a good thing to hear, even when it comes from the prickly old guy in Lubbock.

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283. )

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