The NCAA has had a pretty rough year.
Ohio State. North Carolina. LSU. Oregon. USC. Connecticut. Tennessee. We could keep going- the list goes on and on. All these schools have either been hit with heavy NCAA violations or are currently being investigated for possible violations. Athletic Directors and head coaches are being exposed left and right. Every other day we would hear about a new program or coach under investigation. Even the “holier than thou” Coach K is being investigated! (Even if it is much ado about nothing).
But even ideas to spark beneficial changes in college athletics are being mocked. When SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suggested radical changes to improve the quality of student-athletes such as multi-year scholarships (athletes currently receive a series of one-year scholarships that can be revoked) or raising academic standards, South Carolina head football coach ripped the idea.
That’s a terrible idea, Commissioner. Do you sportswriters have a two-year contract, three or four-year contracts? … If you go bad, don’t show up to work, your butt will be out on the street. Everybody has to earn your way in life. That’s what I believe.
That’s right, Steve. Players have to earn their scholarships. But they don’t have to obey team rules if they happen to be your starting quarterback. Your boy Stephen Garcia has finally learned his lesson and changed. Fifth suspension’s a charm!
Coaches like Steve Spurrier and Jim Calhoun are all that are wrong with coaching in college athletics: it’s not about developing young men and women, it’s about exploiting them.
But there are some good guys in college athletics.
Which brings me to Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.
Mike Brey signed a recruit named Eric Katenda this past April. Katenda, an athletic 6’9” power forward from Kansas, might be able to help offset the loss of Carleton Scott and Ty Nash and bring some toughness to South Bend. Unfortunately, a freak accident might cost him from ever playing basketball for the Irish.
While playing pick-up basketball in early July, Katenda was hit in his left eye severing his optic nerve. There is no way to reconnect the nerve which will leave him blind in that eye, severely jeopardizing his collegiate career.
Steve Spurrier would wish him and his family, “Good luck ya’ll,” and scramble to replace his scholarship. Hey, he can’t “earn” it. Mike Brey is taking a different approach than the Ole Ball Coach according to Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune:
Brey emphasized to Katenda and his mother that Notre Dame would honor his scholarship even if Katenda couldn’t play for the Irish. Brey said Katenda already has started working out again and will be fitted for goggles to discover, essentially, if it’s possible to play the game at any level again.
But Katenda is not expected to enroll until January now, given the injury roiling his academics and his life in general. Brey advised him to return to Paris, where his mother and sister live, and take a step back for a spell.
Wait? A coach honoring a player’s scholarship when he’s likely never going to step foot on the court? Letting a player get his life and academics on track? Doesn’t he know how valuable each scholarship is and that athletics come before academics?
In the ultra-competitive world of college basketball, Brey is doing what’s right. No one in the world is more demoralized or dejected than Eric Katenda. His entire basketball playing career could be destroyed by a freak accident. But Brey isn’t cutting ties with him and letting him stray down an unknown path. He’s bringing him to Indiana to give him an education and mold this young man into the person he’s going to be for the rest of his life.
There’s a lot wrong with the NCAA and college athletics. But there’s also a lot of Mike Brey’s too. Just wish we heard about them a little more.