“G-P-A!” “G-P-A!” “G-P-A!” Those were the chants pouring down upon Louisiana State University freshman forward Ben Simmons on March 5 by the densely packed crowd at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Tigers were in the midst of their regular-season finale against the University of Kentucky Wildcats when news broke that Simmons would be left off the John R. Wooden Award ballot. For a rookie who is averaging 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists, it was a reverberation that sent shockwaves to the college hoops scene.
How could the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s upcoming NBA draft not be a finalist for the award that honors the best player in Division I men’s basketball?
Under NCAA regulations, a candidate for the Wooden Award must have at least a 2.0 GPA to be considered. Soon enough, reports came flooding in that there were concerns with his academic standing. Louisiana State spokesman Kent Lowe said Simmons “did not meet the criteria.”
Lo and behold, not much of a shocker.
Not that I should be surprised considering what we know about collegiate sports. Year after year, players have beaten the system simply because they can ball. While many would applaud the NCAA for finally bringing down the hammer, the point is that the NCAA should not have come to this point. Only when the institution is fixed should there be room for celebration.
Besides the flashy highlight reels and overnight stardom, I believe the most baffling thing is that he was even allowed to play basketball at all in any capacity.
This is a serious problem with college basketball. Every year, dozens of men’s college basketball players commence their careers with unrealistic dreams of being a multimillion dollar athlete within the near future. Attending college should be about receiving a degree in a more realistic profession, and it’s the school’s responsibility to lead them.
In fact, this is a larger problem than the NCAA in general. It has come down to making the athletic program look better by gaining more revenue rather than representing what a higher education institution is all about, which is academics.
The saddest part of the whole situation is that the main reason Simmons is in college is to improve his draft status, yet he can barely get his team to the NCAA Tournament. At 18–13, the Tigers are on the verge of becoming a huge bust with the best player in the country.
And to top it all off, the irony is sweet, considering they were facing Kentucky, whose head coach, John Calipari, cultivated the “one-and-done” mentality.