LSU star Ben Simmons, one of college basketball’s best and most exciting young players and a likely top three pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, was not named to the Wooden Award’s finalist list. After a brief moment of befuddlement, ESPN reported that Simmons did not meet the award’s minimum GPA requirement.
This is not the first time academic issues have pestered Simmons this season. He was forced to miss a start Feb. 21 against Tennessee due to an “academic matter,” according to NOLA.com.
Unlike the Oscar Robertson or Naismith player of the year trophies, the Wooden Award requires athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA. The exclusion highlights this fact, which has led to some outrage on Twitter and various news outlets.
The Wooden Award’s criteria are the following, per its website:
- Candidates must be full-time students in an accredited NCAA college or university.
- Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and aspirations. All candidates must have a cumulative 2.00 grade point average since enrolling in their current university.
- Candidates must exhibit strength of character, both on and off the court.
- Candidates should be those who contribute to team effort.
- Candidates must excel in both offense and defense.
- Candidates should be considered on their performance over the course of the entire season (pre-conference, conference and tournament play).
Those opposing the exclusion are doing so for two reasons: Simmons has truly been one of the 15 best players in the college game this season — he is averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game — and by keeping him off the list, the committee has all but revealed the freshman’s GPA.
Simmons has been academically eligible by the NCAA’s standard all season and on all the preceding Wooden Award lists, so to be dropped this late in the process only draws more attention to the rookie’s alleged academic struggles. The latter point seems to be the one generating the most displeasure, as Sporting News’ Michael DeCourcy writes that doing so violates FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is set in place to protect students in many ways, one of them being the protection of their grades from the public.
While the release does not provide Simmons’ specific GPA, it does provide an incredibly tight window when considering NCAA requirements — per the institution’s website: “Student-athletes must achieve 90 percent of the institution’s minimum overall grade-point average necessary to graduate.” So, the FERPA violation allegations may not be all that far off.
According to ESPN, when told about the decision, Simmons, 19, reportedly told his uncle, “All I care about is winning.”