Smile Politely

No Place For Old Men

In our culture, there’s enormous pressure to buy new things.

Q: Where does that pressure come from?
A: People who sell new things.

Keeping up with the latest trends, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping current. What’s in style this season? No one wants to look like a square. Out with the old and in with the new.

It doesn’t matter that you already have everything you need. We all know someone who routinely throws out an entire houseful of furniture, or suffers Chronic Urgent Remodeling Syndrome Epidemic (CURSE). Car salesmen effectively embarrass nervous, materialistic social climbers every year.

Today — and I mean this day, right now — you can find a houseful of furniture by trolling the curbs of Campustown. If you want really nice college stuff , NYU is the preferred campus. For adults, Sheridan Road is dumpster-diving heaven — and closer to home.

An enormous advantage to reusing (and reducing, and recycling) is that it keeps all of last years’ models out of the landfill. A disadvantage to rejecting the manufacturers and marketers of the world — you may have missed it as it blipped across your screen last month — is killing jobs in the rustbelt.

Hillary and Obama battled for rustbelt votes. They appealed to laborers whose jobs are never coming back, and may cease to exist anywhere. I have to assume both candidates were kidding about re-erecting trade barriers. Surely what they really intend is to wield tax incentives toward the engineering of new technologies. Think of all the hydrogen and electric cars Detroit hasn’t built yet!

If we do rescind NAFTA, everyone who votes in favor must be required to turn in his TV set, MP3 player, gaming system, cell phone, gym shoes, wireless router, socks, stereo components, and on and on. The practical consequence of free trade is fewer jobs — and more stuff.

And honestly, who wants to work a factory job when you can while away the hours playing video games, watching The Sopranos season 4, and surfing the interweb?

Rustbelt laborers are taking early retirement in droves — replaced by younger, cheaper workers. That’s the new paradigm in Detroit. But it’s the tradition in college basketball — where there’s no respect for the elderly.

Old man Calvin Brock tumbled out of bed this morning, scratched his whiskers, and reached for his cane. The wrinkly college graduate has one season of eligibility to go, if arthritis and shingles don’t catch up with him.

In a perfect world, Calvin would spend next year playing basketball for lots of money, and then continue his education when his freakish athleticism atrophies into grown-up aches and stiffness — when tea-brewing with friends supplants tea-bagging opponents.

But Calvin gets only one more year at Illinois. Like all NCAA athletes, he gets only four years to play. And he can’t do it at all once he’s played for pay. For Greg Oden, this system works fine. By the time Oden finished high school, he was 43 years-old. Calvin Brock, like a lot of people, didn’t mature physically until he reached his twenties.

Calvin is the victim of an outdated NCAA rule. It’s a rule that works against athletes, but it also conflicts with the the NCAA’s own aspirational platitudes. That shouldn’t surprise us; the NCAA has been shooting itself in the foot for years. It tackles bad problems, and implements worse solutions. Like 19th century medical science, the ideas are lofty and heart-felt, and have little demonstrated practical benefit. (Case in point: President James Garfield would have survived his assassin but for teams of doctors repeatedly poking unsterilized fingers and tools in his wounds.)

There are actually people pushing for the reinstatement of freshman ineligibility.

While NCAA President Myles Brand colludes with NBA Commissioner David Stern to keep players in college, his organization simultaneously discourages — well, forbids — college players from sticking around.

The pristine ideal Brand promotes is ancient, white people history — from a time when college, conceptually, had to do with wealthy protestants who sent their kids to Exeter and Andover before enrolling them at Harvard or Dartmouth. It’s ironic for a man who’s spent so much of his time campaigning for progressive racial viewpoint politics. But, because he’s a dinosaur, Brand fails to recognize that post-boomer politics will emphasize age discrimination, not race.

Why not allow players to stay on the team for as many years as they can progress through higher ed? Why not allow former professional players in NCAA ball — after the marketplace decides they are no longer valuable? If you can make the team, and the grades, shouldn’t you be allowed to play? Michael Jordan doesn’t need an Executive MBA to get a job, but he might like to learn more about European history. He could pursue a degree while holding the towel for his younger teammate, Jeff.

Frankly, it wouldn’t be all that strange to see a man MJ’s age in a public university classroom. Myles Brand probably thinks the average undergrad is 18 to 22 years old. That may be true at Williams, but in Carbondale the average undergrad is 24, at the University of Detroit it’s 26. Maybe they’re former auto workers, training for new careers. Nationally, the average age at community colleges is 29.

College campuses are accessible to everyone now — and not just the educationally adept. Yes, academic standards diminished to make things fair for football players. But standards also dropped to make college accessible to groups of people not previously included in higher education’s family portrait — the descendants of Ellis Island immigrants.

Just as the steep physical gradations (stairs) were flattened for the benefit of the physically disabled, steep academic gradations (grades) have been flattened for the benefit of the intellectually disabled — what pre-enlightenment society referred to as dumb-dumbs, now identified as the culturally disadvantaged.

By inventing programs of study such as “marketing” and “sports management”, colleges and universities have increased their revenue streams: They get tuition dollars from people with little interest in literature and history. In turn, those people get a theoretical education which may bear some resemblance to its practical application. But the guy who graduates at the top of the class will go to work for the guy who finished last (while compiling an impressive list of contacts).

Despite my pejorative tone, I regard this evolution of the modern university as a positive advancement. The fact is that some of those marketing majors will find out about the humanities, and take a liking to them. The Liberal Arts framework still requires students to take classes in subjects they don’t already know. If it doesn’t broaden a student’s interests, at least it provides the opportunity for broadening. Moreover, sometimes you don’t figure out that you want to study Descartes, Confucian philosophy, or David Ricardo until you’ve got the beerlust and the regular lust out of your system — i.e. when you’re not 21 years-old.

That’s why a lot of people go back to college — especially community college — later in life. They find they have an interest in learning stuff. Big universities have begun to recognize the advantage of enrolling non-degree students. It pays the rent during the off-season. It allows all those non-tenure track instructors to scrape together a few more dollars, too.

But I’m not recommending those part-time students be allowed to play on the varsity team. I recommend making players eligible as long as they can find a degree program in which to enroll — and as long as they matriculate on schedule. There’s no question that some teams will gain a competitive advantage from such a scenario, but none would replicate the domination UCLA enjoyed when its teams were paid better than professionals. The eligibility rules are remnants of an age when playing for Adolph Rupp was the only way a guy could earn a buck. Dominant players are not likely to find a new fascination with schooling, now that there are so many professional leagues. But if they do, why kick them to the curb?

For one thing, allowing non-traditional and post-professional students a chance to play would bite a serious chunk from the asses of all the “street agents” and AAU “coaches” who corrupt the recruiting process. It could help keep amiable boozehounds like Billy Gillispie away from 8th graders. The billion dollar amateur basketball industry would rely less on impressionable tweens and teens. It would remove people who sell new things from the equation.

And here in C-U, we could keep Brian Randle until he finishes his MD/JD/PhD. By then, he would be as old as Greg Oden — or even regular Odin.

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