The NBA’s uncool rule
Derrick Rose is a hell of a basketball player.
Over the past four years he’s won two high school state championships, reached the NCAA title game and was named NBA rookie of the year.
Derrick Rose is, by all accounts, a good person.
He’s never gotten into any serious trouble and is known as a quiet, hardworking and unassuming guy. His teammates swear by him and the fans who know him best, in his hometown of Chicago, have flocked to him for the way he’s carried himself on and off the court.
Derrick Rose is the American dream.
Rising from humble South Side roots, at age 20 he’s already a self-made millionaire with the Bulls. Barring injury he should make more than $100 million by the time he’s 35. He’s building a reputation for charity back in his neighborhood.
Derrick Rose isn’t much of a student.
This is what the NCAA alleges. It claims he had someone stand in for him on his SAT because he couldn’t manage to make the relatively meager score he needed to play college ball at Memphis (his qualifying test was a “740 or 750,” according to a source with knowledge of the situation). Then, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported, one of his high school grades was changed from a “D” to a “C” in order to help his college eligibility chances.
For the record, Rose denied all of this to the NCAA although he hasn’t spoken publicly since the allegations broke last week.
The fact we know his score, the fact that Rose is dealing with embarrassing questions, the fact that the NBA has another young star wrapped in scandal and two universities are fretting about Saturday’s NCAA infractions hearing, is the latest testament to the NBA’s wrong and ridiculous 19-year-old age limit.
This isn’t to absolve the people involved, but the question shouldn’t just be did Derrick Rose cheat on his SAT?
It should be why the heck did he have to take it in the first place?
If Rose sang or danced or wrote computer code, even if he hit forehands or curveballs and not free throws, his acumen at standardized questions concerning probability, diction and critical reading wouldn’t matter.
They do in basketball because NBA commissioner David Stern wanted to control long-term labor costs and use college ball to market his young stars. In 2005, his league began requiring American players (but not Europeans) to be at least one year out of high school to be drafted.
That essentially sends them to college ball, where outdated and hypocritical amateurism and academic rules exist not because they have any moral basis, but so the NCAA can avoid billions in local and federal taxes.
As a result, young players have to play pretend before they can play ball. They have to pretend that amateurism rules can stop the wheels of capitalism. They have to pretend that an arbitrary thing like a minimum SAT score – which is never how the test was designed to be used – is a fair hurdle they need to clear to pursue their professional aspirations.
They have to pretend because the NCAA long ago figured out how to use its rule book as a tax haven.
And so into this round hole gets slammed the square peg of young players – Rose, O.J. Mayo and pretty much every other one-and-done star who lit up the college season before bolting to the NBA.
And, too often, they wind up with the NCAA slamming them for potentially not following rules that have no real world validity.
How is this helping Stern market his players?
Is it good to have Rose arrogantly ripped by the NCAA for failing “to deport himself in accordance with the high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with … intercollegiate athletics”?
Is it a positive to have rival fans mock him with “SAT, SAT” chants for years to come? Or have Mayo embroiled in his own NCAA investigation into payments from an agent while he did his mandated season at Southern California?
All this is doing is playing up the same outdated stereotypes of young, black players that Stern usually fights so hard against. He’s sold these guys out to shorten careers and, more importantly, career earnings.
Deep down he knows they should have the right to turn pro out of high school the way Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and so many other stars did.
A semester or two in college isn’t the worst thing, but it also has nothing to do with playing basketball, being a good citizen or the ever-stated “protecting their futures in case of injury.”
There is no statistical evidence that players are better on or off the court after a stint on campus. There is, however, a century of win-at-all-cost proof by coaches and boosters that the NCAA’s “high standards of honesty and sportsmanship” are a complete joke.
For the sake of argument let’s assume Rose did have a high school friend stand in and take his SAT. He was desperate to qualify because the clear path to his dream and the fortune that comes with it was on the line. Any other route (Europe, junior college) is unproven.
So facing a system rigged against him, he instead rigged the system.
He kicked down the door, clearing an academic hurdle that bears no relation to his character as a person or his ability as a performer.
In Hollywood they make movies about people who do that.
In basketball, they vilify them and humiliate them, although not before they cash in on them.
We hold this standard almost exclusively for teenage basketball players, mostly African Americans, many from disadvantaged backgrounds and broken school systems (Rose’s Simeon Career Academy isn’t exactly Choate Rosemary Hall).
No one cared when Danica Patrick went pro as a race car driver at 16. No one tried to prevent Shawn Johnson from winning an Olympic gold at the same age or Miley Cyrus from making millions singing and acting with her dad even younger than that.
And no one ever required them to recognize analogies before doing so.
So why do we make Derrick Rose?