Global Ethics Corner: Sports, NCAA Basketball, and Money

Apr 9, 2010

Is the role of the NCAA to help students succeed through sports, or to garner money for educational institutions? With the high drop-out rate of NCAA basketball players, should the organization change its rules to encourage student athletes to complete their undergraduate degrees?

In modern societies many people seek roots and identity. Sports frequently fill that need. Sports are tribal, coalescing around colors, images, and myths. Greatness is rare. Sports' heroes and heroines reaffirm tribal links. The market for both the tribal and the rare is huge; literally worth millions. While teachers, police, etc. provide more worthy public service, they can't command these dollars. This is an understandable, if unpleasant, market fact. However, collegiate sports are also about education. The NCAA proudly serves 400,000+ student/athletes, and few go on to sports careers. The NCAA basketball championship is a highlight of the sport's year, and this year highlighted a gray area, neither market nor student driven. Only the rare appearance of a mid-major team like Butler revealed how the night might be. The basketball was legendary. Unusually, both finalists graduate 90% of their players and play many seniors. The Butler team, reportedly, went to classes on game-day. Typically, basketball powerhouses recruit players who attend for a short period and then try to jump to the big money of pro-ball. These players are called "one and done." Nothing is wrong either with the player's goals or with organizations helping young people succeed through sports, but why should educational institutions facilitate "one and done." Is it money or mission? What do you think? Should the NCAA change its rules to discourage the "one and done" system? Perhaps this system is the best accommodation to basketball that universities, as tribes, can make? By William Vocke

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