- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

So the autocrats in college basketball want to be addressed as "teacher-coaches."

A gym apparently is their classroom, and sweat is a sign that their lesson plan is being assimilated.

The coaches might as well employ their middle initials, too, another accessory of the pretentious.

Coaches master at least two letters of the alphabet, the X and the O, and treat three other letters, the SAT, as if they were a four-letter word.

Coaches are teachers just as sports journalists are literati.

The two groups share secrets with each other and a contagious spirit. Both were put on this planet to whine: coaches at referees and sports journalists at editors.

Their respective forums, the gym and the newspaper, inspire and restrict. Perhaps a few ascend to a higher level of competence.

Coaches are inclined to think they are incredibly special, often because those around them are so eager to glean vast insights from a final score. Coaches start to believe their press clippings, which usually only reflect the won-lost record and their ability to charm the next batch of blue-chip recruits.

They must have some telemarketing in them, too, if they want to land a visit in the living room of a top player. Oddly enough, however, they do not want to be addressed as "telemarketer-coaches."

The system breeds arrogance and a peculiar logic best left to the sex-is-not-sex crowd in politics. In a gym, "Dumb and Dumber" are not academically unqualified.

Coaches insist they are saving lives, because the geeks in the admissions department sometimes require a certain amount of teary-eyed persuasion. Coincidentally, the life in jeopardy can put the ball through the hoop.

Save a life. Win a game.

The conflict of interest goes unnoticed until a tutor speaks up or a police report is filed or an embarrassing graduation rate is published.

Life lessons undoubtedly are dispensed through basketball, just as they are dispensed in all walks of life. The wise souls outside basketball don't ask to be called teachers, however, and they don't have a landfill of evidence against them that suggests their motives are less than pure and problematic for an institution.

Shane Battier was the toast of college basketball last season, the embodiment of the "student-athlete" concept, an exception of sorts. It was mostly the product of good parenting instead of the "teacher-coach" in Durham, N.C.

This is not to minimize Mike Krzyzewski's contributions to Duke University and college basketball. He recruits decent enough student-athletes, he wins games, and he fills the university's coffers. More power to him. That raises another point.

Coaching is a power trip in college basketball, coming as it does with minimal checks and balances. Money is the great conditioner.

Coaches have accrued more power, not less, in response to the quasi-professional evolution of college basketball in the last generation. Coaches are loath to let students be students out of fear of embarrassing the university.

Of course, coaches might not have to stand beside classroom doors to confirm their players' academic participation if they recruited a stronger student-athlete. They also might not feel a need to draft a 24-7 schedule each month for their players. Is that teaching, or is that trying to cover your backside?

Being on your own for the first time is a learning experience in itself, if you are allowed to be on your own.

The coaches are not seeking to add shoe salesmen to their formal designation, perhaps because outfitting players in shoes is an unsettling perk of the profession. The rich get richer, the players get free shoes.

The real teachers on campus have no deals with shoe companies, designer shoes or otherwise, and even if they did, they might find it hard to impose their sense of fashion on their students.

Coaches are too funny. It must be the air up there.

Next thing you know, they will request that sir go with their rank.

That would make each one Sir Coach.

Or Sir Teacher-Coach.


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