Student athletes or pro heroes?

Amanda Wallace

Amanda Wallace

Oxymorons are a fascinating way to look at social beliefs and commonly held conceptions and misconceptions. They are jokes that speak to a certain “truth.”

Take, for example, military intelligence. Its inclusion into the oxymoronic lexicon shows that some people find the military’s capacity for information gathering to be somewhat suspect. My personal favorite, at least in regards to UK, is “student athlete.”

At UK, we simultaneously expect a great deal from our collegiate basketball stars, and very little. A lot because we expected freshman Brandon Knight to lead his team to the national championships. We expect a near unblemished record and a legacy, a hoops dynasty. We expect them to go on to be first-round draft picks in the NBA. And we expect them to do all of this in one year. This is because of how little we truly expect from our supposed athletic scholars. Because within a year from them entering campus, we expect and cheer for them to drop out.

Surely, you say, you are being too harsh. After all, they’re going into a career. Yes, a multimillion-dollar career. So why come to college at all? Since when did a university become a one-year waiting room for a million-dollar career?

There is the old joke about how UK is a basketball team where some people happen to get an education. But it is more true then we seem to accept. Recently, a UK professor was lambasted for accusing the basketball team of giving enough money back to academics. How dare he? Doesn’t he know that basketball is what UK is all about, that it is through basketball, not academics, that we will attain the lofty Top-20 goal?

I too watched the meteoric rise of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. It was exciting and exhilarating to watch them play, and to watch them win.

But my feelings soured when almost the entire starting lineup left UK. True, Patrick Patterson graduated. But for every Patterson, there is an Orton — a player who quit school, entirely, after his freshmen season was done.

It feels like being cheated. Imagine a Cousins/Wall-led team with them as seniors: four years of learning how to play with each other until they can almost sense what the other is doing, that sort of sixth sense that is lauded and comes only though experience; four years of Calipari’s admittedly skilled coaching.

Imagine if Knight stayed and tried again for the national championship that was almost within our grasp, and then think if we could’ve done anything other than win.

This is why it feels so cheap when they drop out of college and everyone reacts as though it was something impressive. It does feel sad when we celebrate men in sports over the professors that serve their collegiate function. We have, in fact, become a semi-pro team where some people come for their education.

So, I ask, why bother? Why go through all the trouble of giving them scholarships to an institution they have no interest in attending? They are not student athletes, then, not really. Not if they are just waiting for their eligibility to the pros. Brandon Knight has already apparently thrown his hat into the draft ring. Who next? Outside of Harrellson, who is planning on graduating from UK at all?

Because at the rate we are churning out basketball stars, we might as well give up on the academics. We are, in the end, more likely to win another national championship than we are to ever become one of the Top-20 universities in the country.