A matter of class

A matter of class
By Mike Jarvis, Yahoo Sports
March 6, 2007

Mike Jarvis
Yahoo Sports
From last week until this Sunday, 294 Division I men's basketball teams comprising more than 4,000 student-athletes and managers are participating in 30 conference tournaments hoping for an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.

As the NCAA tournament begins next week, all eyes will be on the action taking place on the court. But there is another side to March Madness that takes place off the court which, in some cases, is more important in the long run for the players we are watching – the amount of class time that will be missed due to travel and competition.

The more games a team wins, the more classes its players will miss. We all know that study halls and tutors are only temporary solutions. There is no substitute for a professor and the interactive learning that occurs in the classroom.

In 1993 while I was coaching at George Washington, the Colonials received an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Everyone on our staff had a lot to do, and that included our academic advisor, Karen Ercole. Her job was to make sure the players had the blessings of their professors, knew what books to bring and what papers had to be started or finished. She also made the necessary arrangements for study halls, computers and individual tutoring sessions.

During the first week we advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with victories over New Mexico and Southern in Tucson, Ariz. Our next destination was Seattle, where we would meet Chris Webber and the Michigan Fab Five. Since we were traveling commercially, we decided to have the necessary books and supplies shipped to us in Tucson, where we would practice and study for two days before heading north. Karen continued to push all the academic buttons and doubled the study time.

Later that week we lost a close game to Michigan and returned to campus as heroes. The price for that moment of glory: 11 days of missed classes and an untold amount of knowledge the players might never regain. However, all the student-athletes and managers willingly made that sacrifice and gladly would do it again – even the ones who paid the greatest price, the ones with the toughest majors and most challenging classes.

Perhaps we were lucky that no one paid a steeper price for a chance to play in the Sweet 16. None of our players left for the NBA that year, and fortunately everyone completed his work and graduated or returned the next season in good academic standing. But this isn't always the case, and sometimes a student-athlete can invest so much in a season of playing basketball that he or she loses sight of life after college and the responsibility he or she has to be prepared for that next step. A young life can get out of balance when too many classes are missed, and sometimes it is just too difficult to catch up. Once a college career on the court comes to an end, often there simply aren't very many open doors in the working world.

There is no denying that the livelihood of the vast majority of youngsters playing college basketball will be determined by their degree and the quality of education they receive, not by their basketball ability. Grades, eligibility, graduation and knowledge are diminished every time a class is missed. What would you say if your son or daughter came home and told you that he or she was going to have an extended spring break and miss 36 classes during the month of March? And that's a conservative number that quickly balloons for teams that go from the conference tournaments all the way to the Final Four or the last week of the NIT.

It’s one thing to identify a problem, yet another to do something about it. Tutors and academic advisors helped my team back in '93, but as I said, that was only a temporary solution. Our universities and the NCAA should level the academic playing field for everyone, including the student-athletes and managers, by virtue of modern technology. If athletes cannot attend class, we can bring classes to them through the Internet by setting up a direct link into classrooms. That way, student-athletes could simply turn on their computers and "attend" classes live or catch up after the fact with an archive from the days they missed.

This is just one solution. However, many worthwhile ideas have gone by the wayside because of one thing – money. The rationale usually given is that it will cost too much, and if we do it for the men, then we have to do it for the women. What a great idea. Why not do it for both?

So as we head into the most exciting time of year for college basketball, be mindful of the price these young men and women might pay in the long run. There is no quick fix. But I believe the potential downside of a collegiate athletic career should not simply be swept under the rug.

Mike Jarvis is Yahoo! Sports' NCAA men's basketball analyst. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Wednesday, Mar 7, 2007 2:01 am, EST

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