The NCAA’s Path Forward Can’t Neglect Education

Today’s guest columnist is Eric Reveno, associate head coach of Oregon State men’s basketball.

My first real memory of Oregon State basketball is more of a nightmare. It was my freshman year at Stanford during the winter of 1985, and Ralph Miller had the Beavers just outside the top 10 in the country. My recollection is a montage of me trying to defend Steve Woodside and A.C. Green in 2-on-1 fastbreaks all afternoon on national TV. Suffice to say Green had 37, and from my point of view that day, the highly touted Woodside was underrated.

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Another early memory of Oregon State basketball took place my senior year in the historic Gill Coliseum in Corvallis. It was our last weekend of conference play in 1989 and Arizona had locked up the Pac-10 title, and we were playing for second against the Beavers and Gary Payton.  Long story short, Gary Payton was jawing with our unflappable point guard Terry Taylor, and I started a kerfuffle of sorts by interjecting. The best I could muster against GP’s verbal assault was “shut up” as 10,000 Beaver fans went nuts. But that win at Gill against an NCAA tournament-bound Beaver team was the best true road win of my college career.

Coach Miller and the Beavers had it going. Oregon State was the dominant program on the West Coast in the ‘80s, playing in the NCAA tournament eight times, ranked in the AP Top 10 six of those years.

And now, the glorious Pac-12 conference is on life support. At the time of this writing, four of the 12 schools remain. Stanford, Cal, Washington State and Oregon State are trying to find out a way to rebuild the Pac-12, or at least the Pac “Something.”

College athletics is a different beast than when I played in the ‘80s, and I should have no complaints, as it has given me hell of ride since then. It has allowed me to find professional and personal joy, year after year, helping 18-to-24-year-olds be the best they can be and build championship teams.

From the beginning, I was nurtured into believing that athletics and school went hand in hand. After an underachieving freshman year in high school, my parents told me if I did not get my grades up, I would have to hang up the size 16’s.

It may seem strange now, but in 1981, I thought my parents were acting like the NCAA. They were making sure I took care of my academics. Like my parents, the NCAA believed that you did not have to sacrifice either. You could be great in both. It went without discussion or conversation. No excuses.

Since then, I have always accepted that this is what made college athletics special.

So does the current Oregon State head coach, Wayne Tinkle. He led the Beavers back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 26 years in 2016, and made an Elite Eight run in 2021. He also had 21 all-academic Pac-12 selections during his first eight years at OSU, when there were only 24 in the history of the program prior to his tenure.

OSU athletic director Scott Barnes is committed to rebuilding the Pac-12 with the legendary Beaver resilience that Oregon State has always had. We need to continue to fight for transformative education and competitive experiences. Fight to create an environment that forges elite athletes and championship teams.

Over the course of my career, the NCAA has spent an absurd amount of time arguing about things such as what constitutes a snack (see bagels, nuts and fruit). Yet, I always hoped deep down we understood what made college athletics amazing. But to be clear…

We help young people be the best student and athlete they can be. Winning matters. Learning matters. Trying to be better than you were the day before matters. And in this struggle, a transformation takes place. These students create the habits to become lifelong achievers and amazing teammates.

This effort creates an energy and spectacle that attracts millions to watch. It is the world’s greatest reality show. Other sports leagues have athletes struggling to achieve and win. But we have young students at a special time in their life, from all kinds of backgrounds, laying it on the line doing it. It is a combination of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” and Ancient Greek culture where combining physical and mental prowess was the highest of virtues.

Yes, to be clear, we can even work to educate athletes who are getting paid. By court or by labor board, that change is coming, and we need to prepare and lead.

As the conference musical chairs of 2023 ends and Stanford, Cal, WSU and Oregon State, so far, remain standing, we must keep our commitment to transformative education and athletic development.  All four institutions have proven the ability to do this at the elite level, and this core virtue should remain regardless of any economic adjustments the future may require.

This education and athletic focus is the thing that makes the college athletic “business” special. As we navigate these changes, we must keep this north star. The rest will take care of itself, including providing the memories of a lifetime like I had in Gill Coliseum almost 40 years ago.

Eric Reveno is the associate head coach of Oregon State men’s basketball. A career college hoops coach, his 25-year plus journey has included success at Stanford, Portland and Georgia Tech. In 2020, he spearheaded the #AllVoteNoPlay movement to make sure college programs around the country gave space to their athletes to exercise their civic responsibility to vote in elections. In 2021, Reveno was awarded the National Association of Coaches “Guardian of the Game” Award for Service.

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