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Scholarship Should Be Real Issue

January 16, 1994|JIM MURRAY

I hate to say this, but I've never heard such poppycock in my life.

I'm referring to the boycott threat of the basketball coaches, specifically the Black Coaches Assn.

The coaches are incensed by the ruling of the NCAA that reduces the number of basketball scholarships from 14 to 13. That computes out to about 330 scholarships a year for Division I coaches.

Their position is, since these scholarships would go mainly to minority students, they are "critically important" to the disadvantaged youths.

Well, I don't know about that, but they are critically important to basketball coaches, let me tell you.

Basketball is a game in which you need only one Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Magic Johnson to "make" a team. The more guys you can recruit, the better your chances of getting this special-quality player. Coaches would like 100 scholarships a year--and if they get 14, that might be their next goal.

The sophistry in this reasoning is so transparent I'm amazed that college presidents take them so seriously.

If these worthies were arguing to put in place 330 additional scholarships for real scholars, I'd be the first to throw my hat in the air. If they were fighting to get scholarships for the underprivileged kids who scored highest on the math tests or who led their schools in the social sciences, you'd have to applaud.

But they're not looking for kids who spend their lives in classrooms or libraries; they're looking for kids who spent their lives on playgrounds or in school gyms. In high posts, not higher learning.

They want jump shooters, not students. You can bet me every lucky winner of one of those 330 extra scholarships would be 7 feet tall or so and no menace at all to the school library.

We don't need jump-shooters. We're up to our hips in jump-shooters. We need doctors, scientists, statesmen.

The coaches aren't going to try to get those types in school. A recent study showed that the average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores for athletes at Oklahoma was 759, at Mississippi 768, while the average for the non-athletic student body at Rice was 1,324. Society doesn't need guys whose scholastic aptitude peaks at signing his own name.

If the coaches were encouraging recruitment of 5-foot-8, slow, bookish young men who wear glasses, you would be on their side. But you remember their last crusade was against Propositions 42 and 48, which tightened academic admission standards. In short, they're not looking for scholars and go out of their way to block a school from acquiring them.

No, their mission is not to get kids in the State Department or the stock exchange or the medical research teams, it's to get them in the Final Four.

USA Today recently conducted a survey that showed there were about 1.4 million black students in American colleges and universities and only about 2,000 of them were basketball players. That's not even 1%.

Which brings me to the next problem: Whose teams are these anyway? These teams belong to the colleges, right? They're not the property of the coaches, who are, after all, merely employees of those colleges. What gives them the right to tell those players to boycott or do anything else not done with a basketball in their hands? When does a coach tell an institution what to do? I thought that was the job of boards of trustees, not former Celtic forwards.

I have had trouble on this score before with Coach John Thompson of Georgetown. Coach Thompson seemed to think our 1988 Olympic team belonged to him, not to the United States of America. He kept it sequestered from the press and community right down to the time it lost to the Soviet Union in the final. All we got to do was pay for it.

If basketball coaches want to upgrade their teams (and by inference their own incomes) by increasing the number of jump-shooters and post-up guys they get to choose from, let them say so. Just don't cloak it behind a pious claim they're only trying to improve society. They're only trying to improve their fast break.

Go ahead and give minority kids those additional 330 scholarships. But specify they're to go to non-athletes and see how happy that makes them.

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