Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The State of the Program: Part II

The following is the second part in a series about the state of the Oakland University basketball program. So often such addresses are delivered by the heads of state (or in this case, the program), but for today this is from the perspective of an outsider, a dedicated fan.

When the average person attends college, the goal is to obtain a degree. It is presumed that the degree will be valuable in the search for a meaningful and fulfilling job. In the realm of college basketball, however, it is debatable whether this is the true end goal. In the one-and-done era, especially, it has become increasingly common for student-athletes to completely bypass the former portion of that hyphenated word which press conference moderators love so much. These individuals are students only in the sense they are enrolled in classes. But how much time and effort is put into those classes? A recent report showed that such effort is minimal for the University of Kentucky basketball team, which featured four one-and-doners this past season, where the team GPA was just above passing.

The one-and-done phenomenon doesn't affect teams at the mid-major level as much, but there are still factions on such campuses who wonder about the work athletes put into school versus sport. As an Honors student and dedicated supporter of athletics during my time at OU, this was something I thought about on a consistent basis. The Honors student in me valued education first and foremost, but the basketball fan in me knew the athletes were denied certain opportunities I would have because they played Division I basketball. A major part of my time as an undergrad was shaped outside of the classroom by the activities I was involve in, the many communities I joined, and the jobs and internships I was able to partake in. In essence, I had a complete undergraduate experience.

While I'm sure any basketball player will tell you they too had a great experience, there is no doubt that the time they have to dedicate to the program severely limits opportunities: if you have practice during the day, it becomes difficult to secure an on-campus job; if you have summer workout programs, it's nearly impossible to land a summer internship; and if 75% of your non-conference schedule is on the road, well, it is really hard to establish meaningful relationships with professors. These are all things I had the opportunity to do as Joe College Student, and each one of them made me feel more connected to the university, boosted my pride, and eventually led me to spend a lot of time trying to spread that pride and sense of community to others.

The basketball program does that too, and the players are perhaps the most integral part of that process. They sacrifice the typical college experience for grueling practices, long flights, and even longer bus rides to lackluster places like Macomb, Illinois. Don't get me wrong, there are assuredly many perks that make the life manageable; these are gifted individuals with talents better than most who go to school for "free" (and no one is saying they don't have chances to have fun off the court), but it is still worth noting such sacrifices that many students often forget about when debating the merits of the student-athlete education.

What is important noting at Oakland University, as we evaluate the State of the Program, is that the student-athletes are graduating. While it is impossible to show what is behind the degrees they are earning, the simple fact remains that they are getting them. They are walking across the stage each semester with a degree in hand. Three starters from last year's team just graduated in May, making Coach Greg Kampe three-for-three for both his 2006 freshmen class (Johnathon Jones, Keith Benson, and John Kast) and amongst those who stayed with the program in his 2005 freshmen class (Derick Nelson, Erik Kangas, and Ricky Bieszki). Even as one of those players, Keith Benson, tested the NBA waters early (and eventually withdrew), he still had his degree in hand.

We can be sure that after four (or five) years under Kampe, these individuals are graduating as disciplined men. They are proven winners. Some may go overseas to play basketball for a bit while others may stay in the States seeking playing opportunities. But ultimately they'll end up in a position where their Oakland University degrees (and experiences therein) will come in handy. This fact is something all Golden Grizzlies fans should be proud of because there are not many schools that can boast about graduation rates. And it's also one more reason why it is a remarkable time to be a supporter of this program.

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