First of all, let's all give thanks that there are no more college basketball contests this season scheduled to take place on the decks of naval warships. Nothing against American sailors, and/or nautical aggression; it's just that playing games outside means you're, well, playing games outside. Which means it can get wet. Go figure.
You mention Kentucky. It's hard not to mention the Wildcats. Under prep star pied piper John Calipari, Kentucky quickly has become the nation's top program—and if fawning ESPN coverage is any indicator, the most glamorous, to boot. Many in and around the sport—moralizing sportswriters, mostly, but also fans of other schools—have reacted to the Wildcats' ascendance with a full-on moral panic. Why? Season after season, Calipari recruits the best high school players. By which I mean: just about all of them. As a result, Kentucky wins lots of games. Said players move on to the NBA, sooner rather than later. Rinse and repeat. Somehow, this is bad. Downright wrong. Fainting couch material. A violation of all that is good and pure and just about college sports. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land, and it is raining one-and-dones.
Ahem. Please. Capliari and Kentucky's only real sin is honesty. Playing basketball for money isn't wrong. Amateurism is wrong. Treating a big-time, revenue-producing college sport like a campus marketing shingle and sports television entertainment product is utterly rational; pretending otherwise is insane. Deep down, I think what rankles the Wildcats' critics and detractors isn't the sneaking suspicion that Calipari and Co. are getting over in some unidentified-but-corrupt way, but rather that they're getting over in plain sight, working an inherently bogus system better than anyone else, including the other blue blood schools—Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, UCLA—who have long enjoyed the benefits of NCAA cartelism and restraint of trade masquerading as armed-for-life tinpot piety.
So, yeah: I'm definitely rooting for the Wildcats.
Along those lines, I'm also rooting for Shabazz Muhammad, even though I'm a huge University of Arizona fan and Muhammad plays for Pac-12 rival UCLA. A uber-talented freshman and likely NBA lottery pick, Muhammad was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for violation of—you guessed it—amateurism rules by accepting airfare and lodging for unofficial recruiting visits to North Carolina and Duke, paid for by a family friend and financial advisor. God forbid! UCLA is appealing the decision, and may have caught a break when a lawyer reportedly overheard an NCAA investigator prejudging the case. Of course, Star Chamber, fiat-style justice is nothing new for the NCAA, which recently announced a series of get-tough rules reforms that essentially hold that coaches presiding over programs that break the rules are considered guilty until proven innocent.
Seriously, who needs 15 centuries of Western legal philosophy when there are bigger fish to fry, like making sure college kids can't exploit their own market value?
I say let 'em play. Let 'em get paid. The games on the floor—the dry, indoor floors—will be just as good, and the corrupt, unnecessary Prohibition-enforcing administrative superstructure surrounding them won't be missed. If you have to keep burning the village in order to save it, guess what? It might be time to stop fighting the war. And to start enjoying major college basketball for what it really is—a minor league with campus benefits.
Hampton, give me your take on the nascent college season.