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Friday, March 30, 2012
Student-athletes need expert advice

By LZ Granderson
ESPN.com

I love a good Twitter fight as much as anyone and the prospect of one between in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State had me salivating as soon as I saw a headline that suggested one.

Then I read the story and was disappointed to find that cooler heads had prevailed. I was also miffed that this was even news.

Trey Burke
Are Trey Burke and the Michigan Wolverines closer to the fifth or 44th best team in the nation?

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, let me get you up to speed: Trey Burke, a freshman point guard at Michigan, tweeted "EVERYONE got something to say … smh I thought this was my life!". He was apparently lamenting all the unsolicited advice he was getting as he decides whether he should leave school early and enter the draft.

Anyway, Michigan State's athletic director Mark Hollis responded directly to Burke's tweet, something along the lines of "Follow your heart," adding "people u seek out is better than those that seek u."

Now first of all, I'm so stealing that line because it's just a smart way of communicating a great piece of advice (grammar aside). But apparently because Hollis is a Spartan and Burke is a Wolverine, it kinda rubbed Michigan's AD Dave Brandon the wrong way. The two have a history of trading fun one-liners on Twitter and so quite naturally Brandon went back to the well.

"Mark Hollis had good intentions-but made a mistake," Brandon tweeted. "Not appropriate to tweet one of our student-athletes. Won't happen again. End of story."

In other words: Stay in your lane.

But I would think what Hollis did was part of his lane as a college administrator and someone whose career is about helping students make good decisions. However, because this is college basketball, and because this is big business, everything's much more territorial -- not necessarily in the best interests of the students. In any case, Hollis agreed with Brandon so the soft-shoe Twitter fight was over, a brief flare-up followed by a kumbaya moment, all illustrating just how overly sensitive the whole system is.

As far as I can tell the bigger problem is that Burke, who averaged 14.8 ppg on 43 percent shooting this season, thinks he's ready for the NBA. Hollis' tweet to him about following his heart couldn't have been more vanilla if the AD had included a smiley face at the end.

Yet Michigan State officials had to make sure he wasn't in violation of some obscure NCAA rule about publicly offering advice in 140 characters or less. This flap, as minor as it was, is a microcosm of the irrational aspect of the process the NCAA enforces for student-athletes who are considering declaring early for the NBA draft.

The problem isn't what happens out in the open -- like on Twitter -- but rather what goes on behind closed doors. After all, in no other university department would such an innocuous bit of advice from a college administrator to a freshman at another school solicit this sort of handwringing. In no other university department are college students forbidden from talking to job recruiters. Yet the whole student-athlete/agent correspondence is still hard for everyone to figure out even though many of the successful programs actively recruit one-and-done kids. Maybe schools should stop behaving as if talk of going pro is a threat to the "amateur athlete" mantra and start operating in the real world where billions of dollars are at stake and the kids generating that money just want a piece of the action.

Mark Hollis
The Michigan State sideline is a safe, noncontroversial place for AD Mark Hollis, left.

If anything, Hollis' tweet should have warranted a simple retweet from Brandon, not an email to the Associated Press explaining his objections.

Had Hollis said "Michigan sucks, come to State," I could see a problem.

Had Hollis said "You're all-world, baby, leave school and make that cheddar," I could see why that would be an issue.

But what he said?

I think, along with an academic advisor, student-athletes like Burke would be well-served to be able to talk to agents as soon as they enroll. Why keep pretending early declarations are an anomaly when coaches know it is the intent of the most talented recruits? As NBA commissioner David Stern recently said:

"A college could always not have players who are one and done. They could do that. They could actually require the players to go to classes. Or they could get the players to agree that they stay in school, and ask for their scholarship money back if they didn't fulfill their promises. There's all kinds of things that, if a bunch of people got together and really wanted to do it, instead of talk about it …".

But schools prefer to just talk rather than act on the issue because they don't want to mess with the geese laying the golden eggs. And that's fine, I guess. But don't behave as if the restrictions on student-athletes defend the integrity of the game and academia when they really are just maintaining a business.

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