GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, Kentucky fans are celebrating their latest basketball championship. But the team’s dominance is reviving questions anew about what it takes and what it costs to assemble a winning team.
ANNOUNCER: And the Kentucky coronation is complete.
GWEN IFILL: Monday night’s victory capped a remarkable season for the national champion Kentucky Wildcats. The team was led by three freshmen starters, including national player of the year Anthony Davis.
But Monday’s title game may be their last in a college uniform. Next season, most are expected to trade higher education for pro ball. In an effort to keep athletes in college, the National Basketball Association decreed in 2005 that players have to be 19 and at least one year out of high school before they turn pro, its nickname, the one-and-done rule.
Winning Kentucky head coach John Calipari has been accused of exploiting that rule. He disagrees.
JOHN CALIPARI, Kentucky head basketball coach: I don’t think it’s a good rule. And I hope we change it before this week is out so these guys all have to come back.
JOHN CALIPARI: But it is a rule. It’s not my rule. It’s a rule we have to deal with.
GWEN IFILL: The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA, insists its goal is to increase graduation rates.
MAN: Division I student athletes have higher SAT and ACT scores than college-bound students.
MAN: The number of us receiving diplomas..
WOMAN: . . . is at an all time high.
WOMAN: Still think we’re just a bunch of dumb jocks?
MAN: You need to do your homework.
GWEN IFILL: But for young athletes like Davis, the rule raises questions about whether it is even worth it to stay in school.
NCAA President Mark Emmert says he thinks the one-and-done rule simply doesn’t work. But he says he can’t change it since it’s part of an NBA labor agreement. Just last week, NBA commissioner David Stern argued that the NCAA could create other incentives for players to stay in school. But today he said he would eventually like to raise the entry age for new players.
We have a closer look — we take a closer look with Kevin Blackistone, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland and a commentator on ESPN, and Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader. He’s been covering Kentucky basketball for four decades.
Jerry Tipton, congratulations to all those Kentucky fans down there.
Is this rule making it less likely for student athletes to stay students?
JERRY TIPTON, The Lexington Herald-Leader: Well, yes.
I mean, you take anybody’s college experience. And if they’re in college one year vs. four years, it’s just vastly different. And Kentucky, the officials, and even the fans are not completely happy with the situation as it is. But, you know, when you win the national championship, that eases any concerns you have.
GWEN IFILL: Does it ease concerns when they know they’re going to have to start from scratch again next season with a whole new crop of players?
JERRY TIPTON: Well, they have some experience at that.
Darius Miller, he’s a — one of two seniors on this year’s team — we counted up how many teammates he’s had in his four seasons. And the number is 40. So they have basically had a new team each season and had a lot of success each season.
GWEN IFILL: A lot of success on the court.
But is this good for the game or for the students, Kevin?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE, Professor of Sports Journalism, University of Maryland: Well, it’s certainly not good for students. It makes a mockery of higher education.
Any time you have someone come in who the NCAA wants to call a student athlete, and the fact is they only have to stay eligible for a short period of time in order to play basketball and then leave straight for the NBA, it makes a mockery of higher education.
Is it good for the game? It’s great for college basketball. These are the highest TV ratings we have had since 2005 this year. It brings in something like three quarters of a billion dollars in revenues, March Madness does, to the NCAA.
And as far as the NBA is concerned, it gives them a year of free tutelage for talent that will be coming in to the league. So it’s great for basketball. And fans love it. That’s why everybody tuned in last night to see this freshman phenom Anthony Davis.
GWEN IFILL: Everyone is talking about what happened last night in New Orleans at the final. But I wonder whether one and done is not something that goes beyond Kentucky. Is this widespread? Is this now widely accepted?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: It is widely accepted. It’s not just Kentucky that’s doing it. I think John Calipari gets the finger pointed at him because he has had so many players who have been one and done.
But it’s happened at Duke, which everyone thinks of as a bastion of higher education, which certainly it is. But Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, has had it happen there. It’s part and parcel the way basketball is going these days. And the reason is because of the money that it generates and how it benefits everybody around it, including fans, who love to see this thing, and those of us in the media who continue to write about it.
GWEN IFILL: Jerry Tipton, we heard that the NBA is saying, well, this is really something the NCAA could fix. And we have the NCAA saying, we are powerless because that’s an NBA rule.
Circular argument going on there.
JERRY TIPTON: Well, it’s sort of like passing the buck.
But the NCAA really doesn’t have control. This is a pro rule that they’re dealing with. I can remember — this has been several decades ago — when a player named Spencer Haywood sued for the right to turn pro out of high school.
I think at that time — and I may be wrong — but I believe you had to — it was four years out of high school before you could turn pro. He went the legal route and won the right to go. So, the one and done is something of a compromise. And it’s the world — as Kevin suggested, it’s the world we live in.
GWEN IFILL: So, do we go back to the way it used to be, where you could just get drafted out of high school? Why bother to go to college at all?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, you’re absolutely right. That’s the way it should be. I mean, if people want to get into the phrase un-American, this is about as un-American as it could be.
GWEN IFILL: To force the students to even go to school for even one year.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Exactly.
If you have the ability to earn large sums of money in whatever endeavor you choose, why should you have to go to college in order to do it, if someone is ready to pay you immediately? Now, clearly, there are industries in this country that have age limitations. But there are some real reasons for that.
We’re not talking about brain surgery here. We’re talking about basketball. If you’re 6’10”, 6’11”, you can run with the wind, can jump to the heavens and can score points and rebounds and do all of that, you know what? You should be able to garner a living immediately — garner a living immediately at that — after that.
And if you want to go to college, you can still go to college. You can pay and go to school. That’s fine.
JERRY TIPTON: Gwen, the model that you hear people mention is college baseball, where, coming out of high school, a player would have the option of turning pro immediately or making a three-year commitment to college before being eligible for the basketball draft.
That would be sort of the ideal. How we get from where we are to there, I really don’t know.
GWEN IFILL: Gary, do we know whether college administrators, those who presumably are focused primarily on academics, whether they object to this strenuously, whether they try to change it?
JERRY TIPTON: Well, I have asked the Kentucky president who hired John Calipari and his successor, who came aboard a year ago, that very question.
And what you get is a way to rationalize what we have. The former president said that, if Kentucky didn’t take these kind of players, that their competitors would. So — and that’s probably true. And when I asked the new president, he basically tried to point out that, while the players are on campus for that year, they are monitored and they are required to be students or at least make an attempt there for that year.
GWEN IFILL: And, Kevin, do you hear any pushback at all coming from academics?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Oh, sure.
There’s the Drake Group that’s out there. There are people who are involved with the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics who are very concerned about this thing. But at the end of the day, you look at Kentucky, you look at the state of Kentucky and at a basketball program like that is at Louisville and you realize that they’re bringing in $27 million net revenue at the University of Louisville through basketball, in a state which is cutting back, just like most other states, on higher education funding.
So what is a president and a chancellor to do? They are looking for streams of revenue. And this is one of them. And they’re not likely to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both, Jerry, starting with you, finally, how aggressively is the NBA playing a role in this? Are they basically pulling up chairs at the side of basketball courts and just waiting for these students?
JERRY TIPTON: Well, of course they’re happy to wait.
The longer they wait, the more mature player they get, the more seasoned player they get, and the more marketable player they get, because the longer the player is in college, the more fans become aware of them. Someone like Anthony Davis, he’s going to be a player that the pro fans will want to watch. If he were to stay at Kentucky two or three years, you know, that appetite would only grow more and more to see him play in the NBA.
GWEN IFILL: Kevin?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Yes, absolutely.
You know, the NBA doesn’t want to get rid of this rule. They want to strengthen it. They want to move it to two years before you can come into the league. And the NBA Players Association is behind this as well, because that means less competition for their membership.
GWEN IFILL: Kevin Blackistone, Jerry Tipton, thank you both very much.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you.
JERRY TIPTON: Thank you.