One and Done: The Game vs. The Student Athlete

Summer television is fairly boring, but this summer ESPN is re-airing its most current iteration of its 30 for 30 series. I grew up in a religious household, so sports was about all I could watch growing up without risking the wrath of Jesus.

This past Saturday “One and Not Done,” told the story of John Calipari, the beleaguered college basketball coach who seems to leave chaos and revoked titles in his wake. “One and done” refers to players who leave college after one year to enter the NBA draft. Students go to college because the league requires that the student’s high school graduating class be out of school at least one year before they are eligible to be drafted.

What struck me most, however, wasn’t Calipari’s story of intentionally recruiting players who want to leave after a year. It was the segment where other elite coaches made their arguments as to why college basketball players should stay in school and play rather than jump to the NBA after one year. Syracuse’s Coach Calhoun went so far as to state that the kid’s should stay for the sake of the game.

My jaw dropped. For decades the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has emphasized that it wants its athletes to be students first. Nevermind that the term “student athlete” was created so that the NCAA wouldn’t have to pay a kid who was injured while playing for a college. Yet, here is a premier coach focusing on the game, and not the student part.

Furthermore, it’s only in revenue generating sports that we seem to care about the student part or the game. Baseball players often do not go to college at all, and get drafted right into the minor leagues. Tennis players and golfers turn pro as early as they are able. At some point we are going to have to come clean and talk about how “the game” doesn’t really accommodate the student part of athlete and either fix it, or get over being salty about a student leaving college and pursue financial security.

If I knew at age 19 that I was good enough to go right into a career that would leave me without student loans then I think I would have been “one and done” also.