Colleges as farm teams

June 08, 1995

The National Basketball Association holds its draft in three weeks and three college sophomores, including Maryland's Joe Smith, are expected to be top picks. Seven college juniors are also registered for the draft, and Kevin Garnett, a high school senior in Chicago.

It would actually make more sense for the 18-year-old prep player to be selected than the college underclassmen. At least that wouldn't constitute the culmination of a farce. Colleges that enroll gifted athletes do so knowing education is often the least of what many of them want. Some athletes only seek a chance to be seen by pro scouts; the colleges want them to win games in the process.

Winning is everything. The University of California at Los Angeles allowed a star softball player to register for only one trimester, the one in which the college world series was being played. After the tournament -- during which the woman was named MVP and led UCLA to its eighth softball championship -- she left the school without even taking her final exams. Why bother? It wasn't an education she was after. The woman got valuable training for the Australian softball team that she will play on in the Olympics.

Of course, not every collegiate athlete fits that mold. Many accurately fit the description of a student-athlete. Others want a good education, but realize that studying while also competing at a level that will lead to a pro career is impossible for them.

Washington Bullets rookie Juwan Howard is to be commended for continuing his studies after leaving the University of Michigan following his junior year. He graduated this spring. But if his college education was secondary to an NBA career, why shouldn't he have been able to turn pro first and earn money for college? Michigan benefited from the system because Mr. Howard helped win games. But was the system best for him?

Maryland certainly benefited from having Joe Smith on its team and he did get two years of college. But they were two years in which his main focus was on playing basketball well enough to be drafted by the NBA. There should be an alternative for athletes who only want to go pro, an alternative for those who want a college education but also wish to earn money for college as a pro.

Colleges and universities that participate in the farce that

describes their athletes as students just because they are enrolled should decide what their mission really is. Are they institutions of higher learning or are they farm teams for the pros?

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