One of the most iconic games in UCLA basketball history is one that didn't even count. In 1965, the preseason No. 1 and two-time defending national champion Bruins opened a brand new Pauley Pavilion with an exhibition game against the school's freshman squad. At the time, first-year students were ineligible to compete at the varsity level.
The youngsters won 75-60 in a game that wasn't even that close. In the starting five that day? Some guy named Lew Alcindor. You may know him better as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Alcindor dominated John Wooden's seasoned team to the tune of 31 points and 21 rebounds, a stunning double-double that foreshadowed all that was yet to come.
Fifty years later, some conference commissioners want to go back to these supposedly halcyon days, when freshmen were forced to ride the pine and play opening act to the big kids. Leave it up to the bigwigs to make the college sports landscape even messier.
According to ESPN, the Big Ten is considering making freshmen ineligible for varsity sports. Sorry, check that: For football and basketball. The reason? The claim is that this (like anything else the NCAA and its cohort is willing to cram down our throats) is a move designed with academics in mind. They claim students need a year to settle in, get their scholastic feet wet and become accustomed to the humdrum of college life before stepping into the glitz and glamour of big-revenue sports.
Let's be clear. This proposed rule, which was abandoned in 1972, is really an attack on the NBA's one-and-done rule. The league and its players' association require prospects to spend at least a year out of high school before earning draft eligibility. Is this misguided? Maybe. Does it have the best interests of universities in mind? Of course not. But pretending that rendering freshmen players ineligible is going to solve the problem of one-and-done players is pure madness.
Throwing in football? That's just as ludicrous.
One-and-done players, commissioners, athletic directors and coaches constantly complain, hurt programs because, darn it, they just don't take school seriously. It hurts the school's image! Its reputation! Its integrity!
Ever heard of Kevin Durant? Kevin Love, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving? Of course you have. Because they played at big-time colleges with big-time TV audiences in on of the biggest national sporting events outside of the Super Bowl. They became more marketable, increased their value to potential employers, were treated to world-class educations (albeit briefly) and ultimately improved their chance of lifelong success by honing their skills at a high level.
It's that what college is for?
Start making these players -- some of them transcendent stars who are still very much supportive of their former schools -- ineligible, and you're essentially turning away talent. You're making an already weak on-court product worse. What's to stop these players from skipping school altogether and taking money to play overseas for a year, as future first-round pick Emmanuel Mudiay opted to do? What's to stop them from going straight to the D-Leauge and, again, earning money right out of high school?
Absolutely nothing. So who, exactly does this help? What's the point of keeping potentially iconic talents -- ask Abdul-Jabbar -- off the floor for a year? Times have changed. A rule that barely worked 50 years ago is especially unsuited to today's harsh realities. We're talking about a tiny percentage of players here, most of them at big brand schools. Because a few kids are leaving Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas early, we should keep 18-year-olds from playing at Wofford?
Ridiculous. But within the NCAA hierarchy and under the watch of some conference commissioners, ridiculous seems to be par for the course.