Monday, June 22, 2009

Where Is The Criticism?

Authored by Andrew Perna - 18th June, 2009 - 8:32 pm

Bryce Harper recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and was boldly anointed baseball's "chosen one" and "the most exciting prospect since LeBron."

On Sunday, just a few weeks after the issue hit newsstands, Harper made his decision to forgo his final two years of high school public.

The 16-year-old from Las Vegas will use a GED to enroll in a community college this fall. He hopes that the decision will allow him to become a professional baseball player sooner rather than later, making him eligible for the 2010 MLB Draft.

It's relatively common for kids with bloated IQs to enter college early, so why shouldn't Harper take his swollen talents into the collegiate ranks two years early?

For one, Harper isn't making the jump so that he can begin practicing medicine in time to cure swine flu.

Colleges, and high schools for that matter, are for learning. That's why each institution was created, but so often that's not exactly what they are used for these days.

Recently, NBA prospect Brandon Jennings was railed for skipping his freshman year of college to play basketball in Europe. The guard's decision was prompted by a failed entrance exam at Arizona, and one year later he's on the same path as his one-and-done peers that made an ever-so-brief stop in college.

While Jennings was criticized, it should be pointed out that Jennings obviously wasn't made to go to college. It's sad that we have to think this way, but his test very easily could have been fudged along the way to make him an eligible Wildcat.

Doesn't he have Derrick Rose's cell number?

Jennings is now thought less of because he couldn't get into college, while Harper has escaped major criticism (many have supported his decision) for skipping his junior and senior proms to enter a community college.

Baseball, long a reactionary sport, has always escaped major condemnation.

Don't tell me that steroids ruined the game, at least as a business. Ratings are still good, tickets are still selling and the game is just as marketable as it was prior to the "shocking" revelation that some of our favorite, and most beloved, players were injecting foreign substances into their backsides.

It took a few bold writers (I commend them) and Jose Canseco, yeah I said it, to finally open baseball's eyes to the issues at hand. Bud Selig played dumb, and most either believed him or simply turned away. As a business man first-and-foremost, can anyone honestly believe that he didn’t know everything that was going on?

Slugging stars continue to fall from the skies today. In the last four months, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa have all by exposed as cheaters, but, for the most part, we still love them.

It is because baseball, while no longer in the same realm as football in terms of popularity, is still this nation's first love?

The NFL is knocked for its rookie pay scale, Michael Vick's dog-fighting scandal (which is somehow worse than Donte Stallworth's DUI that resulted in the death of a man) and super egos like Terrell Owens.

The NBA is railed for its age limit (which could be primed for another amendment), the often corrupt events that take place in AAU and collegiate programs and the belief that its players aren't the most intelligent men in any given room.

While every league is flawed, how do more people not see Major League Baseball as the most imperfect of all?

Basketball was widely criticized for allowing young men to make the jump from high school to the NBA just days after their graduation, so they instituted a rule forcing kids to wait at least one year after high school to enter the professional ranks of their craft.

It didn't matter that some of these kids either weren't cut out for college or simply had no desire to attend. All that really counted was the NBA looked more a little better in the eyes of critics for forcing kids to "grow up" a little more before becoming millionaires.

The rule change ultimately led to Jennings' decision, and will undoubtedly drive more high schoolers to choose Europe over college in the coming years. Especially if the league opts to change the rule once again; forcing kids to either attend college for two years or wait two years after their last geometry class to enter the league’s draft pool.

If an 18-year-old can sign up for the Army and defend his country in Iraq, risking his life for the safety and freedom of his countrymen, why can't he make at least a few hundred thousand dollars playing a game that he loves?

That's long been the contention of Jermaine O'Neal, who came into the NBA right out of high school, and has been a vocal critic of the league's age limit.

That brings us to baseball. A game that not only allows players to be drafted right out of high school, but gives them to option to survey what kind of money that can make before deciding whether or not college is worth it.

They also have one of the strangest draft rules in all of sports, forcing players that do go to college to stay through at least their junior year (or when they turn 21 years old). The rule might keep players in school for two more years than the NBA does, but the results are the same, if not worse.

An overwhelming majority of players that do attend college simply leave before their senior year. We'll get into those numbers a little later.

The structure of the drafts are vastly different -- 60 players are drafted each June in the NBA against more than a 1,000 in MLB -- but can you imagine if players were allowed to weigh the rookie minimum before deciding whether they should play a season or two under Jim Calhoun?

It's not publicized much, but that's exactly what hundreds of the kids that were selected in last week's First-Year Player Draft are deciding right now. Should they sign a contract for anywhere from five figures to seven, or follow through on their commitment to a given school and see where they fall in the draft three years from now?

The decisions that young baseball players, and their families, are given allow them to be much more money-driven than their basketball counterparts.

If a basketball player decides to play in college for just one season before entering the NBA because his troubled family needs an influx of cash, he's looked at as a greedy youth. However, a baseball star can weigh his options and see whether he'd make more money and have better opportunities going pro right out of high school or after playing in college.

And don't think that just because players have the option to follow through on a college commitment that they are locks to eventually earn a degree.

The Wall Street Journal published a story on Tuesday that revealed a startling fact. Only 26 major leaguers (including managers) have earned college degrees. The Athletics are the "smartest" team in baseball, with an astounding three graduates on their roster.

We are talking about roughly 800 men here. That means roughly one in every 30 professional players has a degree. That means just 3% of players have a fancy piece of paper hanging in their house's sixth extra bedroom.

To baseball's defense, a large percentage (27) of players come from Latin countries. The educational system in the United States needs work, but its light-years ahead of the institutions in place south of the border. In the interest of fair analysis, let's exclude Latin players from the equation.

Using 800 as a base, 216 of baseball's current players are Latin American. That leaves 584 players with the great opportunity of turning their talent into a free college education. Still, just 4.4% of such players have actually followed through and graduated.

Without Latin players in the mix, one in every 23 earns a degree. Basically, we are talking about one player per team.

To baseball's credit, they have at least attempted to help players continue their education. Major League Baseball has created a College Scholarship Program for its players, but the numbers indicate that few players take the ball and run with it.

Part of the reason could be that the baseball season occupies so much of the calendar year, but you often here stories of NBA players returning to school for their degrees.

The NBA's season runs from training camp in September to mid-April for half of the league, and June for at least two clubs. Baseball, meanwhile, runs from late February to early October for most, and November for a select few.

That means the average basketball player has four full months off if his team fails to qualify for the postseason, while the average baseball player has three full months and substantial chunks of both October and February.

The time is there; even if NBA players have the advantage of summer sessions.

In the 2008 NBA Draft, 20 of the 60 players picked attended school through their senior year. The number was the same in both 2007 and 2006. It's safe to stay that the percentage of college graduates in the NBA is much larger than three percent.

The easy answer for the huge variance in criticism is race.

A majority of the players that enter the NBA each June are African American, while most that enter MLB are either Caucasian or of Latin descent.

That's the simple answer, though. It is undoubtedly the reason for some of the disapproval, but baseball's reactionary nature is the main one.

Baseball's draft is extremely flawed, and for whatever reason isn't nearly as controversial as basketball's system.

Commissioner Bud Selig claims that his league is held to a higher standard when it comes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps that "higher standard" should be applied to the draft process as well.

Andrew Perna is Deputy Editor of and co-host of RealGM's Radio Show. Please feel free to contact him with comments or questions via e-mail:

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