Most experts rank Wayman Tisdale at the top of a splendid college freshman basketball class. Many snowbound easterners who saw him against Missouri last weekend argue he is more gifted even than Michael Jordan and Ralph Sampson. I think it's a crime every time he sets foot on a court this season.
Evidence suggests Tisdale also is doing well in the classroom at Oklahoma; that is beside the point. Nobody, no matter how brilliant he is on and off the playground, has any business in big-business sports as a freshman. Not Herschel Walker; not even Whizzer White if he were to step off the Supreme Court bench and back into his Colorado football duds.
To say there is no more hypocritical phase of our national life than major-college football and basketball is to say gun control stinks. We already know that. What's anybody going to do about it? And until the colleges stop exploiting the best, if not the brightest, athletes almost from the moment they set foot on campus, none of us who would like to be less cynical will be.
This is a backdoor cut toward the notion that the NCAA did not go quite far enough with recent landmark legislation set to be implemented in 1986. Propositions 48, 49-B and 56 are fine first steps. With them, the colleges have placed reasonable responsibilities on some proper people--but not nearly enough on themselves.
With Proposition 48, the message to a young athlete is: dream of being O.J. and Dr. J, nothing wrong with setting your goals so high; but unless you work hard enough to meet two almost embarrassingly minimal requirements, you won't be able to play as a freshman.
Proposition 49-B says that the athlete who does not meet either or both of those standards still may receive a scholarship, but is ineligible to compete or practice as a freshman. Also, he loses a year of eligibility.
Proposition 56 says that once an athlete is eligible he must move toward his degree at the same rate as classmates not paid to maul quarterbacks or throw alley-oop passes.
Seems a sensible enough package, certainly not the Pandora's box so many insist. Standardized tests may well discriminate against the poor and blacks, as John Thompson insists. A study of college-bound seniors in 1981 showed that half the blacks whose parental income was less than $24,000 scored under 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. That also was true for blacks whose father and mother only had some college experience.
This suggests the bias is more economic than racial. Still, 700 on the SAT or 15 out of 36 on the American College Test, plus a C average in core curriculum in high school, are not exactly shoot-for-the-heavens goals, especially since on the college boards your signature is worth 400 points.
Besides, these NCAA proposals never said an athlete could not get an athletic scholarship if he failed the standardized tests, merely that he'd have to get his academic act together before being allowed to go out and play.
Joe Paterno was branded a racist for that?
I know lots of exceptional pro athletes who failed to graduate from college; very few of them are dumb, most were simply not motivated academically. So I don't think a person picks up just jock genes at birth. But if sports is all he thinks he needs to slide through high school and college, on his way to fame and fortune in the pros, that is all he will work at.
Not long after a dazzling guard left a mildly prominent West Coast school and achieved very little success in the NBA, I asked what had been necessary to get him admitted.
Said the coach: "Red blood."
Probably with good reason, Thompson and others suspect the worst from these new NCAA bylaws. With such as literacy tests for voting, blacks often have experienced legislation whose language masked its intent. Paterno did not fight for this so the next Curt Warner could not attend Penn State.
Paterno's saying "we've raped and exploited a generation of black kids" certainly was a mouthful. But extremism in attacking the shame of athletic America surely is no vice.
What the NCAA needs to do is supersede Propositions 48, 49-B and 56 with a Proposition 1: no freshmen play Division I basketball or football. That way the colleges would be bending in the athlete's best interest. They aren't now. In the war between what is right and what pays bills, money still wins.
The athlete had better shape up academically, and the high school had better help him, the NCAA now is saying. That having been accomplished, it's all right for us to make the most difficult transition of his life much more complicated than it should be.
Fact: most freshmen football players report to fall practice before they report to their first class. That sets immediate priorities, no matter what anyone preaches.
Many athletes survive quite well playing as freshmen. State quarterback Todd Blackledge managed that rarest of doubles: Phi Beta Kappa and a national championship. Walker said he will graduate on time.
All that proves is that exceptional men and women still walk the earth. Most teen-agers are not prepared to cope with adjusting to being away from home, more demanding classwork and 35 or so hours a week of high-pressure sport. Some of us scarcely made it through college on time without football.
If colleges again make freshmen ineligible, they still are obliged to keep them fit and, to use their phrase, making normal progress with their peers elsewhere. That requires extra coaches, more strains on a budget already very tight.
For the tiniest bit of credibility to be established, that has to happen. Soon. All the moves up to now have been on a one-way street