How can anyone root for Kentucky?

Watching Kentucky knock away opponents in the NCAA basketball tournament is irritating. When Aaron Harrison nailed a three-pointer yesterday to seal a 75-72 victory over Michigan, I gritted my teeth and cursed in my head so as not to disturb the wife and the cat.

Yes, Harrison made a fine move to get free for a clear look at the basket with just seconds left on the clock. He put enough arc on his shot to avoid having the Michigan defender swat the ball into the stands. It was dead-on from the moment it left his hand. A purist could revel in Harrison’s grace under pressure.

Yet how could any respecter of right and wrong take satisfaction in Harrison’s shot?  Once again, Kentucky, the university that gave our Sacramento Kings  the troublesome DeMarcus Cousins after one year of college ball, was showing the nation that you could make a mockery of college as an educational institution while reaping athletic success. Kentucky recruits the most talented athletes in the nation, gives them a stage to show how great they are, and quickly ships them off to the NBA after they help deliver millions of dollars in TV revenue to the university.

When Martin Luther King Jr. said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” he must have been excluding college basketball from his moral universe. Kentucky’s basketball program is little more than a development system for an NBA too cheap to establish a minor-league of its own. The university admits star athletes, most of them black, keeps them eligible for a year or two, and sends them off without a college degree.

Kentucky, of course, isn’t alone in the exploitation of young athletes. Most Division I powerhouses do it to some extent.  But Kentucky and its head coach, John Calipari, are especially brazen about their “one and done” college model and achieve a lot of wins with it. You can almost hear them snickering about the concept of student-athletes.

The exploitative nature of big-time college basketball, particularly men’s basketball, has been well documented by Richard Lapchick, who runs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. In a new report on the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament, Lapchick says:

 “The worst news to report is that at the 2014 Sweet 16 the achievement gap between white and African-American basketball student-athletes is even worse than when all the tournament teams were examined.  The GSR (graduation success rate) of white male basketball student-athletes is 98 percent (up three percentage points from 2013) versus only 55 percent (down 13 percentage points) for African-American male basketball student-athletes resulting in a staggering 43 percent gap.  In the 2013 Sweet 16, the gap was an already deplorable 27 percent.”

On the positive side, Lapchick said, “It is clear that elite women’s basketball teams are performing at higher levels in the classroom than the elite men’s teams. There are seven women’s and one men’s Sweet 16 teams that had 100 percent graduation success rates. There are 11 women’s and two men’s teams with GSRs above 90 percent”

College sports should be a playing field for students who are willing and capable of doing the academic work necessary to graduate. Every Kentucky win is an affront to our nation’s education system and serves as a lousy example to the nation’s youth.

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