Until recently, I believed that no commentator could possibly have it in for the NCAA more than National Public Radio’s Frank Deford.
Move over, Frank. There’s a new hit man in town.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas, like Deford, is highly erudite. He is an attorney who played college basketball at Duke. He is a prominent ESPN basketball analyst, and he produces (frequently) the Jay Bilas Blog, hosted on the pay section of ESPN.com.
You think twice before you call out people like this.
But for Pete’s sake, when is enough enough?
Over the last six months, Bilas has written 13 posts focusing on the NCAA. The tone has ranged from a little negative to negative to hostile.
Many in Bilas’ audience would say that 13 NCAA bashes isn’t enough, but I suspect that deep down inside, he knows he can say whatever he wants, secure in the knowledge that he’s accountable for nothing.
Here’s a review of some of his recent observations:
- The NCAA needs to be reformed because its rules and principles are unreasonable and unfair.
- Student-athletes should be able to have agreements with agents, advisors and the like.
- NCAA eligibility certification is “slow, ineffective and are not equipped to do the work that the schools do better and more efficiently themselves.”
- The NCAA has created a compliance arms race that requires schools to spend large and unnecessary amounts of money.
- The NCAA is on the wrong side of the Keller and O’Bannon likeness lawsuits.
- Coaches should be able to call recruits without limits.
- Too much emphasis is placed on graduation when that is not a real indicator of education.
- Schools should be able to make their own admission standards and should be able to certify student-athletes as initially eligible, without NCAA interference.
Let’s look at that last one as a case study of sorts. Here’s what Bilas wrote:
“For example, there is no way that the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse (now the Eligibility Center) is in a better position to ‘certify’ the eligibility of Eric Bledsoe or Derrick Rose than was Kentucky or Memphis. It takes in and examines the same information as the two schools, and its certification is meaningless because it cannot be relied upon by the institutions. The Clearinghouse cleared both Bledsoe and Rose, and the latter was later declared ineligible as a freshman almost a year after the Clearinghouse had certified the athlete as eligible. So, what was really accomplished by spending all of that money and time? Nothing, except a lot of people outside of the athletes got paid a lot of money.”
Not so fast. While the same information is available to member schools, that same information is subject to interpretation. Was a core course listed correctly on the 48H form? Were nontraditional courses properly administered? Was there reason to believe that a prospect’s standardized test scores might not be legitimate? We can long all we want to for a laissez-faire world where independent certification isn’t necessary, but that’s not where Division I lived in 1993 when it approved initial-eligibility certification with more than 90 percent of the vote.
So it goes. Many of us might agree with some of Bilas’ various theoreticals, but we also know (as I suspect Bilas does) that it’s a complicated landscape out there, where issues involving opportunity, education, competition and economics often fail to intersect conveniently. If you want to make education a legitimate part of the student-athlete experience, then economic and competitive sacrifices must be made. If you want to provide broad access to education through athletics, then you must make the educational standards permissive enough to apply broadly. Achieving those balances can make college athletic administration difficult.
Bilas actually was something of an NCAA insider before he became an ESPN Insider. When he was a student-athlete in the mid-1980s, he was one of two student-athletes appointed to the NCAA Long-Range Planning Committee. He went on to play pro ball, serve as a Duke assistant coach and has been with a Charlotte law firm since 1992. He’s even appeared in several TV commercials and an episode of “The White Shadow.”
Like I say, he’s a smart guy – probably smart enough to know that there are few perfect answers.
If you’re an ESPN Insider subscriber, I’ll make it easy for you. Here are links to Jay Bilas’ NCAA-related blogs for the last couple of months:
NCAA Insider is an occasional take on college sports issues, as viewed by NCAA communications staff member David Pickle. Opinions are his alone.