- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2004

Things to think about while waiting for Connecticut to win the NCAA tournament:

Real students wanted — A recent survey indicated that three-fourths of the teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament round of 16 would have been barred because of low graduation rates under a proposal advocated by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Some commentators have dismissed the findings as nonsense because so many schools recruit and use players whose academic credentials are suspect that the figures should be no surprise. But that misses the point about as badly as a last-second desperation heave from midcourt.

I am as aware as the next person of the hypocrisy that infiltrates and afflicts major college football and basketball: Let scholastically inferior jocks represent the school, and maybe they’ll bring in millions of TV dollars you can use to build libraries, dorms and chemistry labs for real students. But that unfortunate reality doesn’t make it honorable or right.

Excuse me for sounding old school (pun intended), but I’d like to see book-cracking, test-taking, grade-passing students playing the revenue sports. The level of play might decline so precipitously that some of us would find other things to do rather than watching TV too much of the time — and what’s wrong with that? There’s a whole other world out there, honest.

Lest I sound hypocritical myself, I enjoy watching talented athletes in major events like the NCAA tournament, but why even pretend that many of them are students? The ones who really care about getting and using a free education will consider that ample payment. As for the others, they’re just doing a job — and the bookwork is merely an annoyance.



I have no problem with marginally qualified athletes being admitted to college and being given special help — if they genuinely try to do their best. Otherwise cast them out, no matter how fast they can run or how straight they can shoot.

Attending college involves more than playing sports, a fact I doubt some athletes realize. But they should be made to realize it and perform accordingly.

In the early 1970s, two superb basketball players named Len Elmore and Tom McMillen arrived in College Park to complete the resurrection of Maryland’s basketball program begun a couple of years earlier by coach Lefty Driesell. They succeeded, and in more ways than one. After playing in the NBA, McMillen became a Congressman from Maryland and Elmore a widely respected sports attorney and TV commentator.

You can find examples like this in many places — but I’d like to see them be the rule rather than the exception. Call it wishful thinking.

Birds on the wing, sort of — Now that the major league baseball season has started — did I dream this, or was it really in Japan? — it’s fitting and proper to size up the 2004 Orioles, who remain now and perhaps forever the closest thing to a Washington team.

They’ll be better, maybe even have a winning season, but a rise from fourth place in the American League East appears unlikely. After six straight seasons in that unlovely outpost, they probably have squatter’s rights.

The O’s will score a lot more runs with Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro added to the batting order. But if you know anything about baseball, you know that good pitching is more vital than good hitting — and new manager Lee Mazzilli could wind up waving to the bullpen so many times that casual observers might think he’s a politician soliciting votes.

Sidney Ponson as the ace? Eric DuBose as No.2?

I’m not from Missouri, but you’ll have to show me.

Let’s say 83-79 — and be satisfied for now.

Barry and cyberspace — So surly Barry Bonds plans to “chat” with fans this season on his own Web site. Who’s next, Eddie Murray? Kobe Bryant? Todd Bertuzzi?

The address will be www.barrybonds.com, but that’s only for the adoring multitudes who equate slugging feats with truly important things. Media wretches seeking to establish contact with the frequently unresponsive slugger are required to click on www.biteyourheadoff.com or www.gospitinyourhat.com.

Any image of Bonds cheerfully communing with his public is comical. And I feel sorry for the first blogger who inquires, “Say, Barry, are you really involved with BALCO and steroids?” Probably a special virus will immediately destroy the offender’s computer and mind.

Come to think of it, I might even try to get through with this question: Why can’t bigheaded, pigheaded athletes react decently to decent people?

Just for old times’ sake — Now that the Redskins have reacquired wide receiver James Thrash, Joe Gibbs can get serious and go after Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. (And is Charlie Brown still around?)

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