Commentary: Should Freshmen Athletes Sit for a Year?

Commentary: Should Freshmen Athletes Sit for a Year?

Big Ten conference seems to be taking lead in ensuring its student-athletes are prepared to graduate.

Published February 26, 2015

OK, so what’s the catch here?

Some sort of inside story must be behind what the Big Ten Conference is now exploring, because out of nowhere the conference said it’s looking into making freshman athletes, many of whom are Black, sit a season.

The conference is calling it a “year of readiness,” although why it has decided to fret now about how ready an athlete is for his studies makes me suspicious. For rarely does a good idea like this one come out of thin air; it has to have hidden baggage attached somewhere.

But if the effort is legitimate, I applaud the Big Ten. It looks as if it wants to blaze a trail that puts academics ahead of athletics, which is unheard of in this era of “one-and-done.”

"If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising ... their freshman year, they're going to graduate," Maryland president Wallace Loh was quoted on ESPN.com as saying. "And I think it's worth spending an extra year of financial support to ensure that they graduate.”

Graduation? Isn’t that a fresh idea for a student-athlete?

For the first time in a while, administrators in a major conference look interested in creating stars in the classroom as well as in the arena.

At last, administrators seem to realize that an athlete must have a plan in case his dream of a pro career goes unfulfilled. If he doesn’t have a plan, colleges must prepare a plan for him, and the “year of readiness” is that plan — a good plan, not one pieced together with duct tape.

I ought not get too giddy, however, about an idea that is only in the exploration stage. In a statement to ESPN.com, the Big Ten said it’s “gauging the interest” of members in this “readiness year,” a concept that will allow athletes to find their academic footing before stepping headlong into the rigors of intercollegiate sports.

The concept, of course, is fraught with worries. If the Big Ten implements this “sit year,” it risks putting its members at a competitive disadvantage against schools that don’t care how ready an athlete is to compete in the classroom.

Yet should that disadvantage trump making certain a student-athlete is as ready in the classroom as he is on the field?

I would answer “no.”

Still, I can’t say for certain how serious the Big Ten is. Gauging the interest is a long, slow journey to making a “readiness year” the conference standard, and is sitting freshmen fair to them?

"That would be one of the healthiest things we could do for college sports right now," Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz told ESPN. "Recruiting's kind of a runaway train, and what a lot of people don't consider is there's a lot of serious pressure that's put on some players' shoulders that I'm not sure is healthy for them big picture-wise.”

Sitting a season would lift some of that pressure. It would let a student settle into his classroom obligations but remain connected with the team. He might put his athletic growth behind a year, but the trade-off is a stronger academic foundation.

How can that be a bad thing?

It can’t be bad if we’re actually looking out for the best interest of a student, even if he’s of the one-and-done kind.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)

Written by Justice B. Hill

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