Change – it's the buzzword around the Northwestern program right now thanks to the firing of long time basketball head coach Bill Carmody yesterday and rightfully so. However, there is a bit of a disturbing trend to what some mean when they use the word "change." That's the beauty of the English language after all, one word can mean so many different things.
What do we mean by that? Well, to some change is a reference to a change in philosophy for the system used by the new head coach. That's all well and good and a distinct possibility as well. No worries there. To others change is a reference to changing up facilities for the program. Probably a good idea actually, so no worries there either. Yet still, to others change is a reference to loosening up their strict academic standards to allow for a bigger pool of players to get into the program. That reference…. That reference has us worried.
Northwestern is a unique experience in the Big Ten to be sure, it's the only private institution in the conference and therefore sets it's own academic standards to be held by their student-athletes above and beyond what the NCAA mandates. Other schools in the conference do it to a lesser degree (looking at you Wisconsin and Michigan) and you don't hear anyone pissing and moaning that they can't win with higher academic standards at those schools.
Yes, they aren't the same standards as we are talking about at Northwestern to be sure. However, they are examples of not having to change who you are as an institution of higher learning just to win at sports.
For this writer that's the biggest problem with those in the "Northwestern needs to change it's standards" crowd.
Sports, while the most public face of a university these days, is not what 99.9% of the students at said university are there for. Hell, even most student-athletes aren't at school just to play sports. Most are at school because sports is a means to getting themselves a top level education in whatever field they will go into after school.
That's the reality of sports and it's the reality for 99.9% of all college basketball players as well. So, why would you change your core values and beliefs as an institution just to win a few more games at one sport?
It makes ZERO sense. Sure, you could theoretically open up to a bigger pool of players, but what does that mean for the rest of the student body and for the education everyone is receiving. Are you really doing a service to the incoming student-athlete by letting in students that normally wouldn't qualify by your standards? Or instead, are you doing them a disservice by allowing unprepared students in, only to set them up for failure because they can't handle the rigors of your educational standards once in university?
As it is, maintaining grades at Northwestern isn't easy for the best of students in high school. If you don't believe me just look at the season long suspension of JerShon Cobb – a key player to the team a season ago – for failing to live up to academic standards.
Now, true every player and every situation are unique. Could there be students that don't meet the standards set forth that could succeed at Northwestern because they will receive the help or the attention they never got because of where they went to high school in the first place?
Of course, however it's the job of the university to make sure that students they are admitting and allowing to represent the university have proven they can live up to the standards they deem fit their academic profile. They can't deal in hypotheticals, they have to deal in realities of what are in front of them.
If that means sacrificing opening up to a bigger pool of potential players to make sure those players you do have end up graduating and succeeding at your school then so be it. The student-athlete and the university are better off for it.
That's not to even make mention of the wonderful consideration of the NCAA's academic progress rating. Let in students that can't hack it in the classroom on a more regular basis and you run the risk of some serious NCAA sanctions. How would that play at Northwestern?
I'm guessing, just guessing…. NOT WELL AT ALL.
If they are even thinking of making the changes just look at Notre Dame, Stanford, Duke, and heck their own football program for all the proof you need that you can win at the highest levels with the highest of academic standards as well.
So, Northwestern as you re-evaluate your program feel free to change your style of play and feel free to change where you play, (that gym is a pile of junk and always has been – Williams Arena or Wisconsin's Fieldhouse you are not) but please, please don't go a changing who you are. You can win both in the classroom and on the court.