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Bigger than the game?

Brett Fera
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday January 22, 2003

Sophomore guard Will Bynum's recent departure for Georgia Tech was predicted by some, yet still surprising to others. That aside, the fact is that this is not an anomaly for the UA men's hoops program.

Currently, Including Bynum, four former Wildcats circulate among the college ranks.

That means that four high school studs that Lute's staff spent hours with, making recruiting trips, phone calls, offering scholarships and enticing with the thought of championships, are looming at other schools, not even taking a second glance back. It doesn't concern them that while the NCAA forces the UA, and every other member institution, to honor their commitments to student-athletes, those athletes themselves have no true obligation to the school that took a chance on them.

Johnny Jumpshot is homesick; he wants out. Suzy Shotblocker isn't getting enough playing time; she'll take her game elsewhere.

Student-athlete transfers from coast to coast are affecting schools' abilities to recruit and, in many cases, leaving their former schools in the dust to try and put the pieces back together after departing on short notice.

While the NCAA claims to stand by its athletes, its own policies regarding scholarship limitations leave many schools, such as Arizona, in a tough position when a student-athlete decides to break his or her promise. So why then doesn't the NCAA stand by the schools that keep it running? Sure there is no team without any players, but there is also no game without the teams. Since when did the players become bigger than the game?

UA women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini had to deal with transfer issues as well, when junior guard Candice Allen recently decided to leave the team for personal reasons.

As a compliment to Bonvicini and hall of fame men's head coach Lute Olson and staff, consistently lined with future head coaches, Arizona's programs have been resilient when dealing with transfers. Despite UA's success, other programs may not be so lucky.

Players' decisions to leave school with eligibility remaining, because they can no longer pull a LeBron and dominate a game because of the amount of parity at the college level, coupled with the NCAA regulations, such as the 5/8 rule for basketball, could ultimately cripple some teams. The 5/8 rule, which has been at the heart of Arizona's recruiting issues over the past few seasons, states that schools cannot sign more than five prospects in any given year and no more than eight in any two year period.

So where are they now?

All-America candidate Ruben Douglas, currently a senior at New Mexico, started 14 games as a Wildcat freshman in 1998-99, averaging eight points per game before heading to Albuquerque for more playing time.

Andrew Zahn and Travis Hanour, both Southern California preps, came to Arizona together, and Hanour earned valuable playing time during the Wildcats run to the 2001 National Championship game. Hanour left just before last season, ultimately choosing San Diego State as his destination, while Zahn's departure last summer was predictable in hindsight. Zahn was a campus favorite for his practical-joking demeanor, but his commitment to the team was questionable, displayed by his inability to take pre-game warm-ups seriously, shooting fade-away three pointers while the rest of the prepared.

Bynum walked out of the Tucson International Airport as the rest of the team boarded a plane for Oregon on New Year's Day. He would never dawn the cardinal and navy again, instead opting for a new yellow jacket, and a new home at Georgia Tech.

In all fairness, whether running the point or gunning it from the 2-spot, Bynum was an attribute to the team, as were Douglas, Hanour, and even Zahn.

Maybe UA was lucky öö if Hanour and Zahn had stayed, what are the chances of bagging big-name talents like Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams or even Mustafa Shakur and Ndubi Ebi?

Instead of chastising transfers, should they be thanked instead?

Put freshman Chris Rodgers in with that group of phenoms in a pickup game against the departed four, while throwing in Luke Recker for good measure (Recker never played a game for UA, transferring to Iowa just months after running from the wrath of Indiana's Bobby Knight for Tucson in 1999). I wonder who would win that one?

Even still, problems caused by the 5/8 rule are proving that athletes and institutions, upon committing to each other, aren't held to the same standards.

What puzzles me most about Bynum is that he could have stayed in Tucson and had a shot at a national title.

He still had a redshirt season available, giving him two more years of eligibility starting in fall 2004, should he still have decided to transfer.

Even if he did have his heart set, he could have waltzed into classes next fall at Georgia Tech, with the bling-bling of a championship ring the envy of all his Yellow Jacket teammates, something none of them will ever see as with the Ramblin' Wreck.

As for Arizona, the Wildcat men have been deep enough and talented enough to not let this phase them. Only time will tell if the NCAA will wake up and realize that the commitment made by its schools are just as important as the supposed commitments made by its athletes.

It's time they make it known that the players aren't bigger than the game, starting with eliminating the 5/8 rule.


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