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Freshman Ineligibility: Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face

You know where freshman aren't ineligible? BARCELONA.

Not everyone is here to play school.
Not everyone is here to play school.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

"Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain't come to play SCHOOL. Classes are POINTLESS"

- Buckeye Jesus, Cardale Jones

Can you believe that tweet was sent two and a half years ago! I hope Mr. Jones takes an even stronger anti-education platform this Spring now that he's in the national spotlight, but alas, that tweet will do for now.

Despite his lack of loquaciousness, Mr. Jones makes a very fair point on a subject that isn't going away anytime soon. Some of these dudes just aren't here to play school. And that isn't fair to the student athlete, his classmates, or the educators. Yet, in class Mr. Jones sits.

In typical NCAA fashion, conference commissioners have begun addressing the notion of "freshman ineligibility" for basketball and football players. Why would a freshman be ineligible? To enable them to focus on academics of course!

You see, whenever the NCAA needs a justification for anything, regardless of how exploitative or gross it may seem, they have this big flashing "Welcome to Las Vegas" style sign that reads 'ACADEMICS' they can hold up for all to see.

So let's be clear. This has nothing to do with basketball or football players' inability to focus during the season. Soccer players and swimmers focus just fine. This is an attempt by the NCAA to stifle the situation going on at Kentucky and avoid the future Cardale Jones-like public reactions to the bylaws of student-athletedom (such as going to class).

We know this to be so because MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher agrees:

'It sounds really good," Steinbrecher said. "I don't think it addresses the academic issues people think it does. I think the literature and studies done show sitting as a freshman is not a predictor whether a person is successful academically by GPA or by graduation. Why are we making a group of kids ineligible for a year when for the vast majority of kids, they're academically prepared to be there and to play?

Why do we care what Steinbrecher thinks? He wrote his dissertation on freshman ineligibility. He literally knows more about this subject than any other person on earth. He also happens to be a conference commissioner, and is telling us that this bad idea stems solely from dissatisfaction with Coach Cal's Wildcats. Funny enough, the SEC's Mike Slive is nowhere to be found in the discussion.

The NCAA wants the NBA to increase its minimum age requirement to 20. This would force basketball players to stay in school for a minimum of two years.

The NCAA's advantages in this scenario are twofold: One, the quality of the college game will increase, as potential lottery picks are still playing for free I mean playing for an education. Two, if it's an NBA rule, then the NCAA doesn't have to be the bad guy to get its desired result.

Perhaps the NCAA leaking their discussion on the matter is just white noise, a bluff move to get the NBA to reconsider its age limit. Or perhaps the NCAA really is sick of academics being a punch line that surrounds its elite athletic programs.

It just seems odd, doesn't it? Freshman ineligibility seems like a very poor solution to what I'm not even sure is a legitimate problem. Either way, in the event the Power 5 conferences do follow through on this idea, the solution is fairly obvious for basketball players: Go to Europe.

I know, I know. Ewwww, Europe. But let's think this through. Say I am a potential lottery pick with a shelf of AAU accolades. I have agents and coaches lined up at my door, I have a Nike shoe deal waiting for me the day I turn pro, and a 20 year career in the Association waiting for me. What are my options under the new "freshman ineligibility rule?"

Option 1:Two Years in Europe

  • Enjoy financial compensation for my labor.
  • Reap the benefits of my shoe deal.
  • Live in Barcelona, Berlin, Athens, Rome, or some other desirable destination of my choosing.
  • No playing school.
Option 2: Two Years in the NCAA program.
  • Receive 12 meals per week from Student Union as compensation for play.
  • Avoid Nike Rep at all costs to avoid losing eligibility and/or putting the school on probation.
  • Live in Lawrence, Kansas Durham, North Carolina or Spokane, Washington.
  • Playing school.

Imagine the cultural relevance of Eurobasket once a number of relevant lottery picks have cycled through the system. The more culturally acceptable playing in Europe becomes for 18 and 19 year olds, the more they'll go abroad and the more conducive playing in Europe will become. Two years in Europe will become the rule, not the exception for frontline stars.

And as such, Eurobasket will become the second most relevant basketball league in America. Think a cross between regular season college basketball and the Barclay's Premier League. No, not the NFL, but certainly popular enough to earn revenue.

What will come, then, of NCAA men's basketball? Well, I'd guess they'll cave eventually. The ruling will have little effect on mid majors and mediocre Power 5 programs, but the frontline programs - Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina - will suffer. Playing at these schools becomes a lot less enticing if you have to take a year off while your peers get paid to play in Barcelona. Watching Kansas vs. North Carolina in this fictitious scenario will feel a lot like watching Providence vs. Iowa today. Is it basketball? Yes. Is it good basketball? Nope.

So, NCAA conference commissioners, please think this through. For every UK roster of 12 lottery picks, there are entire conferences of basketball players who can't wait to apply to med school or start their own business. For every Cardale Jones, there's someone trying to be the next Myron Rolle. Don't do it. Don't cut off your nose just to spite your face.