More players choose NBA before B.A.

by Sean Madigan

For the past eight years, the lure of million-dollar contracts has persuaded more men’s basketball players to drop out of college in favor of short-term professional careers.
“We can sit around and talk about graduation ratios, but that’s not realistic. It’s all about money,” said Gophers coach Clem Haskins. “You can’t pass up an opportunity to make $50 (million) or $60 million dollars. Why would a young man wait until he is 60 or 70 to make a million dollars when he can become a millionaire at 19 or 20?”
In 1997, only 41 percent of men’s basketball players across the country who received scholarships graduated within six years. That is 4 percent less than those who graduated in 1996, according to an NCAA survey released this month.
The NCAA reports that the University fared worse than the national average last year.
Only one player out of the four who entered the team in 1990-1991 graduated in six years, which means that the University’s graduation rate of 25 percent falls about 15 percent short of the national average.
The statistics don’t allot for players who transfer to a different school — they’re counted as nongraduates even if they graduate from their new school.
The numbers also don’t allow for students who come back to school after their professional days are over.
When Bob Martin’s eligibility to play basketball at the University expired, he had a choice to make. He could stay at the University and finish up his degree program or take a shot at a life dream: playing professional basketball.
Eleven classes short of graduation, Martin decided to postpone school and try out for the Los Angeles Clippers.
When factored into the NCAA’s report, Martin would not be counted as a graduate despite the fact that he returned to the University five years later.
Martin recently finished up a degree in geography and natural resources, but it was after a three-year stint playing professionally in the NBA, the Continental Basketball Association and Europe.
“The window is open for only a small amount of time,” Martin said. “I knew that if I stuck around in school I would have regretted it.”
Although Martin was not drafted or guaranteed a lucrative contract, a year off from basketball to finish his degree might have hindered his chances of trying out for a professional team.
It would have been too tough to stay conditioned while still in school if he was not playing on the team, Martin said.
“I always knew I was going to get my degree, but you can go back to school when you’re 50 if you want,” Martin said.
Collegiate athletes playing revenue sports are faced with decisions like this all the time, said former Gopher Rob Metcalf. Metcalf played for the Gophers from 1989 to 1991 and now works as a lawyer representing professional athletes, including former Gopher Sam Jacobson.
Metcalf said student athletes recruited out of high school into large Division I programs will use their eligibility in four years.
“Blue-chip athletes will more than likely play their freshman year,” said Metcalf.
Regular students at the University take an average 5.3 years to graduate, according to the NCAA report, while student athletes take an average of 5.4 years. When players declare their eligibility, they have four years to play.
Without the process of redshirting — remaining on the team for an extra year without using up a year of eligibility — it is difficult for student athletes to graduate before their eligibility expires.
“If you wave an opportunity to make a million dollars (in front of these players) they would be crazy not to pursue that,” Metcalf said. “Guys are coming back to finish school.”
It is the players’ choice to work for a degree.
“Ultimately the individual must say, ‘Hey I want a degree.’ Then we have everything in place for them,” Haskins said.
In his 27 years of coaching, Haskins has never had one of his players leave early during their four-year eligibility for the draft. Before he retires, Haskins said his goal is to have 100 percent of his players play all four years.