Sunday, February 21, 2016


I read yesterday that an athlete at Louisiana State University, someone who is billed as the best college player in the nation, was benched--as in did not start--in a game this weekend because he had had some academic problems.  He was inserted into the game with approximately 4 minutes gone in the first half and played the remaining 36 minutes.  He was benched for 10 percent of the game.

Let's juxtapose this with a situation that occurred with my school, Northeastern University.  Northeastern is playing hard and intelligently in an attempt to get a good seed for the CAA tournament that begins in two weeks.  The team is fighting to at least get the 6th seed in order to avoid having to play what amounts to an extra play-in game in the tournament.  On Thursday they won a thrilling triple overtime contest against James Madison University 95-94 and today they lost by five to Hofstra University.  In order to get the sixth seed the Northeastern Huskies will need to win its final two games and hope that another team stumbles.

So, there was a lot on the line last week when the Huskies played twice.  I did not go to either game but I did review the box score after Thursday's match.  I noticed something that seemed strange.  The starting point guard for Northeastern did not play at all. Not one minute in a triple overtime game. Even if the game had not gone into three overtimes it would be strange for a player who typically is on the court for a lot of minutes not to play at all.  Three players on the team were on the court for more than 40 minutes. One player who typically only plays 10-15 minutes logged 44 minutes in the triple overtime contest.

I was puzzled why a starter did not play and listened to the post game press conference to hear an explanation from the coach.  When asked about the missing player he said that the student-athlete had some academic problems and he needed to be reminded of why he was in school.

It was a surprising and telling response.  I looked at the box score after today's game and noticed that the player also did not play this afternoon.

Now, I do not know the magnitude of the offenses by the LSU player and our player, but I do know that one cannot lose eligibility for poor academic performance during the course of a semester. Therefore, the Northeastern decision to bench a starter was one that the coaching staff did not have to make.  Coaches are rewarded for winning games.  Our coach, apparently, made a decision to remind a student-athlete that he is a student first at the possible expense of losing key games in the season.

A university can create a culture that supports the idea that academics trumps athletics.  It seems to me that when you do not play a starter in the heat of a conference race you are making a statement to not only your athletes but to your institution. And it is an important message for the current students and faculty members at your school, and all those who are considering attending the institution.

Meanwhile, Northeastern last year came within one possession of defeating Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame went on to compete with and very nearly beat powerhouse and then undefeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight.  This year Northeastern defeated the University of Miami, a team that is currently rated as the 11th best men's basketball team in the country.  Miami won 12 out of their first 13 games with the only loss against us, Northeastern.

A university can emphasize the student in student-athlete and still excel in athletics.

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