This has not been a good summer for college basketball players so far as avoiding brushes with the law goes. It seems each news and notes I type up features at least one player suspended or dismissed from a team and, as I sat down today, Justin Moss of Buffalo and Madison Jones of Wake Forest joined that less than prestigious club. Xavier was rocked when Dez Wells was summarily expelled for violations that he was later mostly exonerated of, but these issues are now becoming the norm. Why is that?
Lack of contact with coaches
It's weird to read that in a culture where it seems like every major program is under investigation for some sort of improper conduct, but it holds true. These problems generally crop up in the summer because coaching and training opportunities are limited then. That's not to say players don't get into trouble during the season, but the very presence of coaching staff and constant practice, training, and maybe even the occasional class make free time a bit more treasured. That leads us right to...
Too much free time
When you were in college what did you do in the summer? For most of us the answer to that question is "got a job." For athletes the answer to that is much more complicated. Jobs are pitfalls of accepting illegal benefits, boosters gone crazy, and a chance at losing amateur status permanently. Yes, there is a lot of running, shooting, and lifting to do during the summer, but that only takes up so much of a day. Even playing in tournaments or some leagues only fills so much time. After that, 18-21 year old men are left to their own devices for most of the day. When has that ever been a recipe for success?
A growing entitlement culture
Rash generalities following: A large part of the reason basketball players, or anyone, really, comes a cropper of the law is a lack of accountability before that point. Emmitt Holt from Indiana is a prime example of that. Holt was caught on Saturday for underage consumption of alcohol. That wouldn't be such a big deal if he hadn't also been involved with the Devin Davis mess last year. Quite simply, Holt figured that he got away with it once and he'd get away with it again. Nothing in the way Indiana behaved then, or in the way that anyone around Holt handled him since then, made him think that he would face consequences until it reached the level police were involved...
Even then, athletes skate simply because of who they are. At least, of course, until they are no longer useful to their institution or create too much bad publicity. Athletes are told throughout the recruiting process how special and how talented they are, they are feted on campus every time they do something right, and they live a life of privilege. That leads them to believe that they are the things they've been told they are. As Justin Moss has just learned, that isn't true. Institutions are playing a game of balancing the good and bad news that gets out. To that end athletes, students, coaches, or any staff are merely means to an end. When things go so badly that they effect image, the person is gone. Not recognizing that reality makes some players think they can get away with more than they can.
As the season approaches all of this will change. Players will be more involved in practice and all the other things that come with college to, hopefully, be constantly getting in trouble. Next summer, though, the troubling cycle will start all over again.