Search

ABANDONED IN CYBERSPACE IT DOESN'T COMPUTE: COLLEGE COACHES CAN TALK FOR DOUGH, BUT PLAYERS MAY NOT SPEAK FREELY

March 04, 1996
March 04, 1996

Table of Contents
March 4, 1996

Pro Basketball

ABANDONED IN CYBERSPACE IT DOESN'T COMPUTE: COLLEGE COACHES CAN TALK FOR DOUGH, BUT PLAYERS MAY NOT SPEAK FREELY

You, dear reader, could have lucked out this week. Rather than
slogging your way through the following screed, you might have
had the chance to read something fresher and more compelling.
You could have been reading an account of life in the Big Ten as
seen through the eyes of Dan Kreft.

This is an article from the March 4, 1996 issue

Kreft is a senior electrical engineering major at Northwestern
who describes himself as "the world's only 7-foot-tall, Division
I--basketball-playing computer nerd." Last fall he created his
own home page on the World Wide Web, and throughout this sorry
Wildcats season--Northwestern was 7-17 at week's end--he has
updated it with postings that reflect his frank and salty
sensibility. In a manner that sometimes strays into the realm of
Beavis and Butt-Head, Kreft ruminates on the love-hate
relationship he has with his coaches, the stress of studying
linear convolution while playing a Big Ten schedule and the
traumas of a relative's dying and a teammate's quitting during
the season. Kreft is an athlete who actually does what
universities are chartered to encourage, which is to ask
questions. Among them: Why is abbreviated such a long word? What
is Styrofoam shipped in? And, as he puts it, "if bread always
lands butter-side down and cats always land on their feet, what
would happen if you strapped your bread and butter (butter-side
up, of course) to the back of a cat?"

We asked Kreft a question of our own: Would he like to
contribute a story to our pages? He said sure. He said he would
even do it for free if that's what the rules required. But,
alas, that wasn't good enough for the abominable no-men at the
NCAA. Invoking Article 12.5.2.1 of their constitution, they
ruled that if Kreft were to write a bylined story, he would be
helping a commercial entity, i.e. SI, sell its product--and that
would constitute unacceptable exploitation of his status as an
athlete.

Never mind that we wanted Kreft to write for us not because of
his basketball ability--he'll admit with disarming candor that
he has very little of that--but because of his way with words.
The NCAA was resolute: It simply can't have athletes at its
universities writing for national magazines. (Why, the very idea
might disabuse the public of the notion that college jocks are
illiterate.)

The rules that govern athletes are made by NCAA committees that
have only recently added nonvoting student representatives. But
while the NCAA effectively tells the people who play college
sports to shut up, the airwaves are clogged with coaches' shows
and with former coaches working as commentators. Woe unto us if
we were to be deprived of their wisdom. "We put his balls in a
vise, I twisted it, we stuck a red-hot poker up his ass and
poured water down his mouth, and I told him if he promised to
play well, we'd quit all that," Indiana coach Bob Knight said on
Feb. 14, when asked why Hoosier center Todd Lindeman had played
so well that night against Penn State. Knight can spew blather
like that, and every repulsive syllable will be disseminated.
Yet if Kreft sent us a sonnet and we published it, he'd be
drummed off his team.

Meanwhile, corporations collaborate with coaches to turn the
abuses endemic to college basketball into merry little jokes
with which to sell their products. Knight has parlayed his
bullying reputation into an endorsement deal with NutraSweet
and, in a Taco Bell commercial, he and Kentucky's Rick Pitino
and Georgetown's John Thompson joke about plying a recruit with
all the tacos he might desire--a sly wink at a recruiting
violation. If the NCAA is going to let coaches profit from
abusive behavior (even if they give some of that money to their
universities), if it is going to permit coaches to use players
as billboards for sneaker companies, if it is going to allow
$59.99 UConn jerseys bearing Ray Allen's number to hang in
sporting goods stores, it shouldn't be invoking the evils of
commercialism to deny athletes the right of free speech
enshrined in the Constitution.

The college presidents are supposed to be taking back control of
the NCAA. But until they remove the muzzle from the mouths of
players, we can only encourage you to log on to Kreft's Web site
(http://www.eecs.nwu.edu/~bigdan/) to follow his fortunes. And
while you're booted up, send an E-mail to Sam Smith, the
president of Washington State and chair of the NCAA Presidents
Commission (he can be reached at bakerd@wsu.edu/). You might
pose to this sage educator the great unanswered question of our
time, a conundrum even more vexing than why abbreviated is such
a long word: Why is a consortium of universities pledged to
uphold reason and free speech so irrationally oppressive?

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERGKreft's craft can be seen only by those with Net access. [Dan Kreft superimposed over computer screen showing his World Wide Web home page]