Cutting Amateur Players Is Hypocritical Business


The great Transfer Epidemic of 2015, and 2016, and 2017, and so on, is always a huge talking point in college basketball. With how some power program coaches handle cutting talent, however, that goes mostly without attention or the hoopla.

The latter isn’t nearly as sexy as discuss, as it isn’t nearly as big with data and counting-stat numbers as is the transfer problems that many claim plagues Division I basketball. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

Purposely, both are brought up together because of how each contradicts the other.

Without speaking completely in generalities, if you’re anti-player rights, you are more inclined to not even bother thinking about player cuts.

If you fall in the same category as I, the pro-player rights (sometimes at a high cost), the idea of being able to cut players at a supposedly amateur level gives you the willies.

It is certainly important to note that this isn’t a conversation about right or wrong. Nor is it one in which one side is morally superior to the other. It is a nuanced conversation that is usually best reserved to be judged case-by-case –- and even then, depending on your personal belief system, a person may not be swayed no matter the devil in the details.

Fundamentally, it is odd how the claims of transfer epidemics go on, in which people condemn student-athletes for not sticking it for the perceived right reasons, and that same standard isn’t applicable to coaches.

Players are considered somehow characteristically flawed when looking for a way out; not by all, but by some.

When a coach looks to get a player out, no character concerns are brought up. Also, not by all, yet by some.

Recently, new Indiana Hoosiers head coach Archie Miller cut a benign talent; a former 2-star recruit who saw all of 12 games last season.

Miller gave him a few months to showcase his talents, decided to let the player know he wouldn’t be needed, and the player was forced out (not an uncommon thing in Division I hoops).

Sounds cold, right? But this specific example highlights how this topic is inherently complex.

The aforementioned player’s name is Grant Gelon. He committed to Indiana during the Tom Crean era.

Despite telling Gelon he wouldn’t be welcomed on the team, Indiana was going to honor his scholarship.

All things considered, not a horrible move by Miller given Gelon wasn’t one of his, which brings us to the difficult part of the conversation.

What, if any, responsibility does Miller have with another man’s prior – and individual – commitments?

Especially when he’s attempting a rebuild and his job, with the millions of dollars attached to it, are on the line.

Probably none.

If we scale this conversation back, though, it becomes slightly less clear.

The NCAA likes to sell you on the fundamentals of amateurism. That the 99 percent of Division I players are going pro in careers other than sports and that a student-athlete is a student first; that, basically, academics matter more than the multi-million-dollar business that is major conference basketball.

It is clearly a farce. A tired charade the NCAA uses as a magical loophole to keep players without power from obtaining any (or money). Yet, it remains the guise the governing body of college sports has chosen to operate under.

If it is doing that, cutting players is a strange look. Not an evil or even unjust one. Just strange.

We’re talking about the broadly used term of — wait for it — optics!

As old white men cry about the lack of loyalty, accountability, work ethic, of the hundreds of players who transfer each offseason, why are they not up in arms when a coach isn’t loyal to a player who is showing each of those qualities?

What is good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

Maybe. Again, it is complicated. Nor am I trying to argue what Miller chose to do is wrong. In fact, in his

same situation – living in this win-for- money world – I’d be doing the same thing. It is, literally, his job to put together the best roster each season as humanly possible.

Circling-back a bit:

The supposedly easy counterargument to be against cutting players – that it happens at all levels of amateurism – is also a hard thing to turn black and white. One person’s definition or idea of it might not be another’s, and this is largely why these sorts of discussions should not be had in 140 characters or less.

While only an opinion, and certainly not rooted in fact, it is my belief that if any level of amateurism touts things such as education or it being about anything other than winning or money, we should feel yucky when kids are cut.

Middle-school and high school are clearly different than college sports. For the former, they are volunteer-only functions that come with no contractual obligation. Save for the rare “scholarship” to a private high school, no child’s education future rests on his or her ability to knock down a jumper.

To me, cutting kids out of the experience (and that’s what it supposed to be all about, right?) for the sake of suiting up the best 12 players is silly. Find room for the less athletically talented, even if only in practice.

Furthermore, for state sanctioned high school events, if larger schools are being forced to cut players due to a larger supply than demand (in terms of kids wanting to play), a way needs to be figured out to create a sub-league in which everyone gets to get in on the experience.

Tricky, and participation trophy-ish as it is, if any level is preaching the joys of “growing up through sports” or any other frivolous ideal, why in the hell are we preventing the less talented from experiencing that?

We can be more honest about it if we want, but until we acknowledge that all levels of amateurism are about a lot of things other than these supposed purification moments of growing up, it is really hard to justify not letting volunteers volunteer.

It isn’t that those levels have to stop pretending character can be built through sports, because it can. It is that all the extra stuff that comes with sports –- whether it be money, ego and/or pride – need to be acknowledged as part of the equation. Simply put: Stop pretending those aren’t also a part of sports.

College is different. It is some of what we touched on and more. We all know this. It is why it is silly the NCAA still operates under any banner that isn’t about the money that comes with programs winning as much as humanly possible.

Everything is at risk for a university like the Indiana Hoosiers when it comes to even only a single player.

That one scholarship can hinder a person’s employment, the school’s budget, and so much more.

Basketball, unlike many other sports, can be hugely impacted by one player. It is why it is completely understandable for Miller to want a player who he deems not worthy to don an IU uniform off his team.

That specific example does not change how the NCAA, as well as its university members, advertises itself. Therein lies the issue.

None of the people profiting off the back of unpaid labor can scream about the virtues of academics, loyalty, working through hard times, and then all of a sudden be fine with turning their backs on those virtues when their livelihood or bank accounts are at stake.

If everything is geared toward what the NCAA claims it cares for, then fine. Let it operate that way, but have it do so in earnest.

Cutting players, even with merit to a player’s inabilities to live up to a
scholarship, is no different than a player leaving a program for that school failing him (for whatever the reason).

Is this a situation where people are attempting to bake the cake and eat it too? Of course it is.

We all we are best served if we view each instance (in the transfer or cutting situations) on each’s own merit, but when you boil it down to the NCAA’s simplest fundamental flaw, it is that the ideal of amateurism that it holds so dear to its heart just doesn’t work in today’s high-pressure, big business, win-at-all-costs climate.

As it is with nearly everything flawed with the NCAA, there is a fix. If the players had more rights, along with actual pay (as opposed to stipends and educational compensation), then universities can do what they’re already doing now, but without any of the pushback.

After all, it would be a business allowed to make business decisions, such as firing an employee/player rather than an amateur.

Then again, the governing body is getting away with how it functions now, so that’s unlikely to change.

Not unless major reform is forced upon them. The iffy optics, no matter how iffy they actually are, remain.

To be far blunter: You can understand and be fine with college players getting cut, but still feel unconformable with it because of how poorly the NCAA tries to oppose player rights by using every virtue it claims it cares deeply for, then ignores, for the benefit of the dollar/coach/university/organization.

Joseph has been covering basketball for nearly a decade. You can follow him on
Twitter @JosephNardone.