Florida Gators, NCAA Basketball, SEC

The Long Leash of the Student Athlete

March Madness is almost over, and with that we’re down to the final stretch of games for the college basketball season. Of the four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament only Florida and Kentucky are from the SEC, although Florida is the prohibitive favorite to win the title. A big part of the reason that Florida is still remaining in the tournament has been the leadership and heroics of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. Wilbekin has been the driving force for the Gators throughout the tournament, delivering clutch shots when needed and rallying his team when they’re out of sorts. Florida is such an overwhelming favorite with Wilbekin at the helm that it’s astonishing to think about just how close he came to not even be on the team this year.

In July 2013 Wilbekin was suspended from the Gators for the second time in less than a year. The fact that head coach Billy Donovan refused to say what the suspension was for surrounded Wilbekin’s suspension in mystery, although it was clearly obvious he had done something that the Gators didn’t want to reveal. Forced to deal with the situation on his own and get his act together, Wilbekin eventually got under his head coach’s good graces once again and was reinstated to the team… for the second time in less than a year. While Wilbekin deserves credit for turning his career around and leading the Gators to the cusp of the national title one has to wonder how thing would’ve fared for him if he wasn’t a student athlete.

Scottie Wilbekin’s case isn’t a unique one. There are tons of student athletes that get suspended from their teams for doing something that usually isn’t revealed. This enables players to be taught a lesson while at the same time not adding a bad label to their name by being associated with something. A regular student would never get this luxury though, and the question can be raised as to if these suspensions are doing any good at all. Wilbekin had to be suspended and reinstated twice in one year before he got the message that he had to clean up his act, and that’s not even counting the amount of times he’d probably been involved in some other form of trouble. Fans don’t really care about these types of things anyways nowadays. Sure they might say “Oh he’s a bad person” but they will still cheer for these types of players as long as they provide wins for their team. And the schools will keep giving them chances as long as they can still make money for the school without severely damaging that schools reputation. The point is that these players know that they have some form of leverage since the school treats them as money makers and so their leash of doing things before they suffer severe consequences is a long one as a result.

Florida Gators, NCAA Basketball

“The More We Won, the Less I Went to Class”

March Madness is just around the corner, and heading into the most exciting time of the college basketball season is the University of Florida as the #1 overall seed in both the AP poll and the USA Today coaches poll. Florida has been on a tear for the past few months, going 27-2 on the year and has not suffered a loss since a narrow 65-64 loss to the University of Connecticut on December 2. Since then Florida has run off 22 straight victories and is the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament.

Florida’s return to success in the college basketball ranks reminds me of something that former Gator Joakim Noah said about the way he lived when Florida won back to back championships in 2006 and 2007. In this interview on Dan Le Batard’s ESPN show, Highly Questionable, the former Gator and current starting center of the Chicago Bulls admitted that the more Florida won basketball games the less he and his teammates went to class. The interview can be seen here below.

Noah states how instead of going to class and trying to get a degree he and his teammates became accustomed to the life of the party, whose only real purpose at Florida was to win basketball games. It was like the “student” aspect of “student-athlete” was taken out entirely.

This was alarming to me, and I know that it’s been a topic of debate among people for years. Just how are athletes viewed by the Universities that enroll them? It’s even more alarming when you take into account that Florida is only one of many colleges that allow athletes to slack on their studies because they are good at sports, and that this is almost becoming an accepted way of life for these so called student athletes. Should this be an accepted way of life though?