It has become as much a part of the college basketball lexicon as high picks and slam dunks.
Los Angeles is a poster boy for this. Last year, O.J. Mayo had a cup of coffee at USC and Kevin Love took a sip at UCLA.
Wednesday, DeMar DeRozan blew a kiss to the Trojans. Thursday, Jrue Holiday said bye-bye, Bruins.
Freshmen become men, at least in their own eyes. Having recently learned to shave, they convince themselves they are ready to take on Kobe. Not to mention checkbooks, agents, investments and 15,000 screaming people every couple of nights.
This is what we have come to in major sports. Send our 18- and 19-year-olds out to become gladiators. If they have the physical skills, and we can make a quick buck off them, go for it. Sure, they get paid lots too, even if a bank statement befuddles them and they end up, in 10 years, with the social skills of a hungry bear in a dumpster.
This is the land of opportunity, and people should have the right to make a buck whenever and however they want to. Teams of lawyers will protect that right at all costs, and for 30%.
Sure, some have made it big. Mayo and Love are good pros. Kobe never even passed through college. Nor did Kevin Garnett.
But more end up with a seat in the back of the bus and a couple of years of begging for 10-day contracts.
We have just completed the annual extravaganza known as March Madness. The NCAA protects that brand just as Yahoo and Google protect theirs, and the driving force behind that, of course, is the multibillion-dollar CBS contract that keeps all the troughs full at NCAA headquarters.
We make out our brackets, plunk down a few bucks to enter our office pools and root for Old State U., especially if we have Old State U. in our pool. Which is fine, although illegal.
No harm, no foul. Even when we know it is all based on a dishonest premise, perpetuated by the NCAA, which walks around with pockets full of money and talks about the college experience of its student-athletes. In many cases, that is accurate. Such as at North Carolina this season, where players passed on the pros and won the title.
But the other side of the coin is a tournament and a system that promote and perpetuate hired guns. It is the be-all and end-all, the big show.
The guys on the end of the bench are happy to be there to cut down the nets for Dear Alma Mater. But the guys scoring the points are searching the stands for the agents, who, incidentally, have better access to them at most campuses than their sociology teachers.
A few years ago, the NBA changed its rules so that high school players couldn't go directly to the pros. They had to play at least one year in college.
The colleges applauded. Now, many coaches wish they'd just left it alone. One-and-done is proving more disruptive and counterproductive than none-and-done. You get a great player, you get a sniff of great things, and you get a broken heart.
The NBA wasn't doing this out of the goodness of its heart and with an eye toward a renewed campus appreciation of Shakespeare. What do you think sells more NBA tickets -- a kid named Kevin Love out of some high school in Oregon or a kid named Kevin Love out of a storied program such as UCLA's?
March Madness is the NBA's triple A -- only it doesn't have to pay for it the way baseball does. CBS and the NCAA are picking up that check.
The local coaches, Tim Floyd at USC and Ben Howland at UCLA, have to stand around and say all the right things as this happens. While hoping DeRozan and Holiday change their minds and stay, Floyd and Howland have to wish them well, even if they are convinced the player isn't ready and is heading for pro basketball disaster. If the coaches don't appear upbeat and understanding in public, the next batch of one-and-dones won't even consider their schools. And, as Howland said recently, there is always hope.
"I thought there was a chance that Kevin Love would stay," Howland said, "because he was having such a great time as a student."
There was no chance, of course, that O.J. Mayo was staying.
There are cases, such as DeRozan's, where there is family need, this one both financial and medical. Hard to dispute that decision. But you wonder, in many cases where family finances are cited, whether it wouldn't be a better long-range plan for the family to hang on while its star player gets a chance to learn as much about business as basketball.
Howland says that the colleges are at the mercy of the NBA rule. He hopes the next NBA collective bargaining agreement will make it so players either go pro right out of high school or have to stay three years once they enter college.
"There's got to be a better answer," he said.
Even if there is, we ought to start being honest about what we have now. Which is a lot of very young, very talented players, whose main academic-related pursuit is finding a spot in the econ building for their departure news conference in April.