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September 23, 2010, 10:32 PM ET
All leagues have eligibility rules. That’s why they’re “leagues.”

by John Gasaway

I like Jay Bilas a lot. He chipped in with the Foreword for our book last year. He consistently writes very interesting things about college basketball. Most importantly, he’s very funny at roasts of Bob Knight.

This week Jay proposed that the NCAA get out of the academic eligibility business entirely, saying that schools can decide for themselves whom to admit. He proposed the same thing last year and I responded. Now he has re-proposed it and, after consulting with you, the reader, I have decided to re-respond. If Jay proposes the same thing again tomorrow I’ll have to challenge him to a game of HORSE or maybe a showdown on “Dancing with the Stars.”  

One can ask, as Jay does, what bloody difference does it make if Eric Bledsoe’s high school GPA was a 2.5 or a 2.3? Either way Kentucky should be able to decide whether or not to enroll him as a student, right? Of course that’s right. Literally no one, to my knowledge, is saying otherwise.

But we’re not talking about Kentucky enrolling Bledsoe as a student, we’re talking about UK giving him 1122 minutes of playing time on their basketball team. And I worry that Jay leads otherwise alert readers astray with tricky sentences like: “Member institutions are perfectly capable of making admission and eligibility decisions on their own.” That “and” spans a world of difference. This isn’t about admission. It’s about eligibility.

More: “[N]o school or association of schools should tell another autonomous institution who to admit, educate, or provide a uniform.” (Whoa, don’t tread on Jay!) Again, delete “admit” and ”educate.” Those aren’t what we’re talking about. What are we left with? Something like: No school or association of schools should tell another autonomous institution whom they can put in uniform.  

I don’t believe Jay really believes this because, well, no one really believes this. To cite only the most obvious example, any association of schools should absolutely tell Duke or any other autonomous institution that they can’t provide uniforms this year to LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Those guys are off-limits.

The question is not whether to have uniform minimum eligibility requirements across schools but rather what they should be. I suppose you could argue that, well, the “minimum” standard should actually be a 0.0 GPA, and that anyone who who’s good enough on the court should be allowed to play D-I basketball. If that’s your pet cause, have at it. As for myself I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the NCAA in my day, but I confess I’ve never once heard: “These college basketball players are being held to an academic standard that’s just too darn high!”

Lastly, if schools are truly as worked up about their own autonomy as Bilas seems to be on their behalf, well, there’s the door. You’ll find MIT and the University of Chicago, among others, on the other side of it. You can of course opt out of NCAA-sanctioned competition in revenue sports anytime you wish if these sky-high academic standards are just too elitist and onerous.

BONUS book plug! Dear NCAA: I just came to your defense. Please remember that when you read “The Trouble with Amateurism” in the 2010-11 College Basketball Prospectus this fall.  

Dear everyone else: In said book you’ll find Prospectus-level previews of every team in D-I. And wait until you see who we got for the Foreword this year.  

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