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Mark Kiszla: NBA has to give colleges a break

By Mark Kiszla

The Denver Post

Published: Wednesday, March 16 2011 3:03 p.m. MDT

We all love March Madness, from the bracket-busting upsets to a champion cutting down the nets. But college basketball needs to stop the insanity, before the best sporting event in America becomes just another money-grubbing sham.

That's why I hope against hope that anybody except Ohio State University freshman Jared Sullinger and the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes win this tournament.

Why?

Call me old school. Call me naive. But one shining moment should be about more than a teenager winning a championship, skipping out of school and cashing his lottery ticket with the NBA.

Or, as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski once told me, "College basketball should be more than an extended-stay motel."

The NCAA Tournament has become too much about the Benjamins and not enough about the education.

The NBA's absurd one-and-done rule does a disservice to everybody, from young athletes who grew up in tough economic situations to coaches who must at least try to maintain the pretense that college is where a player goes to ace chemistry tests along with mastering his crossover.

Kevin Durant passed through the University of Texas in little more time than it takes to cruise Austin's Sixth Street on a rocking Saturday night. Derrick Rose's college education in Memphis had the same empty calorie content as those peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches made famous by Elvis Presley.

It's a sham when a college athlete has no intention of being in school long enough to find his way from the student union to the library, according to Krzyzewski. Know what? Coach K is 100 percent correct.

There is a way to fix the hypocrisy of March Madness, though. It might not plug the drain on talent from the college game and take the tourney back to the glory days of Michael Jordan's Tar Heels, but it could return some sense of team pride and reintroduce a little amateur spirit to the thing.

Let me add my voice to a chorus of basketball lovers screaming for a restoration of order.

Abolish the one-and-done rule that since 2006 has required an American player to be 19 years old and one season removed from high school to join the NBA. As long as the league is headed for a nasty collective bargaining battle later this year, we might as well include a basketball issue that's actually worth a fight.

Here would be a smarter way for the NBA to go with its feeder system:

If a prep phenom wants to turn pro, let the teenage player advance directly to the Celtics, Lakers or whatever team drafts him out of high school.

But if a young athlete accepts a scholarship to Kentucky or Ohio State, make the No. 1 condition of his academic award be a three-year commitment to the school.

If a freshman is in school only to kill time until NBA commissioner David Stern calls his name on draft night, then it makes a joke of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Of course, why would the NCAA care about the academic welfare of its students when bureaucrats are too busy counting the $10 billion from a new media bonanza from basketball?

The University of Alabama-Birmingham has no business in this year's tournament field. This is not mentioned to bait supporters of the snubbed Colorado Buffaloes or to disrespect the fine hoops tradition built by UAB since 1978.

But the Blazers from Alabama rank at the bottom in the field of 68 teams when measuring academic progress of its players. Yet that did not stop the tournament selection committee from scheduling UAB for a potential 1,500-mile road trip for two games in a span of 40 hours at the tourney's outset.

That's why I pray against all logic that this Final Four can somehow make room for a matchup in which grade-point average counts for at least as much as vertical leap.

Before scholar-athlete turns into an oxymoron, please let us witness a semifinal game pitting Notre Dame and its five senior starters against Brigham Young, whose 22-year-old guard Jimmer Fredette has stayed in school long enough to develop his skills until he has become "a combination of Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Danny Ainge and J.J. Barea," according to Hall of Famer Bill Walton.

If college basketball really wants to be about the school name on the front of the uniform, then the NCAA tourney must stop issuing jerseys to young stars whose team allegiance is as flimsy as Velcro.

Mark Kiszla is a sports columnist for The Denver Post. He can be reached at mkiszla@denverpost.com.

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