One-and-done frosh more 'athlete' than 'student'
SAN ANTONIO -- Kevin Love, what's your favorite current class at UCLA?
"Favorite class?" he responded. "It would have to be my sports class. Sports and Masculinity."
Hmmm. Sounds like an interesting class. What sort of things have you learned in Sports and Masculinity?
"That's funny you ask. He's over here asking me about school right now, and I'm trying to focus on the Final Four," Love said. "But I've had a great run at UCLA thus far. It's been a lot of fun. I have over a 3.0 GPA. I made the honor roll my first quarter. I know I'm bragging about academics when we're here at the Final Four, when we're here trying to win a basketball game, but it's been a lot of fun and a good ride for me."
It is awkward when academics gets in the way of basketball, isn't it?
Love's answer skirted the question completely -- he offered no description of Sports and Masculinity. So I checked UCLA's Web site for information on the class. Couldn't find any. Couldn't find the class at all.
Then I called the registrar's office. The people there couldn't find a Sports and Masculinity class, either. The guy said there is a Masculinity course offered in the World Arts and Culture discipline, but that is as close as it comes.
Next stop was UCLA sports information director Marc Dellins. I asked him if Love could clear up the confusion over this mystery course. Dellins called back a couple of hours later with an explanation.
"Kevin was just messing around, trying to be humorous," Dellins said. "There is no such class, and it's obviously not his favorite class."
Two hours later, Dellins called back again and said that after consulting with UCLA's academic adviser, there is such a class. And Love is taking it. And it could still be his favorite class.
Just confirming the existence of the Sports and Masculinity class was an exercise in the ridiculous. But maybe this farce to verify one simple class was appropriate -- because the academic requirements of one-and-done freshmen in college basketball are a joke.
You can force teenagers like Love and fellow Final Four freshman Derrick Rose of Memphis to be college basketball players for a year. You cannot force them to be legitimate college students.
I asked Rose similar questions about school. He said a finance class is his favorite, and he even named the teacher. Said he takes the class with teammate Chris Douglas-Roberts.
I think people should have the opportunity to go out, make a living, maybe even get out of poverty for their family. I think there should be freedom to choose. I mean, this is the land of the free, America.
-- Kevin Love on the NBA draft rule
Love said he is going to class and studying this spring -- "If I didn't keep my mind on my schoolwork, my mom would be slapping me around." Rose said he also is maintaining academic diligence, in order to avoid the wrath of Memphis' academic advisers and, ultimately, coach John Calipari. (The coaches have NCAA academic progress report numbers to worry about, after all.)
Maybe these two freshmen stars are going to class; maybe they're not. (Dellins said Love has successfully completed two quarters at UCLA.) But if Love or Rose packed a single textbook for their various postseason tournament trips in the past month, I'm wondering why.
If you were a surefire NBA lottery pick (like these guys) and you were going to come out (bet the house that both declare) and the rules said you had to attend one year of college, how hard would you hit the books? Like Mike Tyson, or like Richard Simmons?
I know which end of that spectrum I'd be on.
To be eligible to play in the spring semester of your freshman year of college basketball, you must have passed six credit hours of classes during the fall semester. After that, you can, at least theoretically, check out of higher education and still play in the Final Four without any eligibility repercussions.
You must enroll in classes, but who says you have to go?
This easily could be a continuing trend -- superb freshmen taking advantage of the talent vacuum in the older classes and leading teams to the Final Four. Having Love and Rose here in San Antonio is good for college basketball. It was good for the game to have Greg Oden and Mike Conley in the Final Four last year, too.
But how good is it for universities' academic missions?
In a sport that already wears a thick coat of higher-ed hypocrisy, the NBA's 19-year-old draft rule only makes the situation worse. The players are scrupulously referred to as "student-athletes" during the NCAA tournament, but you can bet that plenty of the participants in the Big Dance have kissed the student part goodbye.
The very best players are conscripted into college, heightening the temptation to do the minimum required academically while playing ball and waiting to become rich. Maybe if a second year of college were required, there would be more legitimate academic efforts beyond majoring in eligibility.
As Stan Love, Kevin's dad, said, "You're forced out [of college] if you're any good." But first, you're forced in for a year.
Despite that, both Rose and Love said they probably would be in college this year no matter what.
"I wasn't ready for the NBA," Rose said. "No way. I wasn't ready at all."
Said Love: "My mom loved seeing me at UCLA and in college. That was her dream. But I probably would've tested the waters.
"I think people should have the opportunity to go out, make a living, maybe even get out of poverty for their family. I think there should be freedom to choose. I mean, this is the land of the free, America."
But in the land of the semi-free that is college basketball, even the best players must go to school for a year. Or at least say they are in school for the second half of the year.
And if you can find a Sports and Masculinity class, by all means, enroll in it.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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NCAA Tournament 2008
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• Forde: Self on a wild ride, and it's just starting
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• Forde: Good Kansas throttles UNC
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