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Bernstein: Northwestern Should Just Play Ball

By Dan Bernstein--

When Duke's Tommy Amaker was a red-hot assistant coach making the interview rounds in the early 1990s, he was said to have applied a litmus test to prospective employers that would determine if he could succeed there.

As the story goes, he would provide the transcripts of two high-school players – all actual, personal information changed or redacted – and would then consider the school's response as to whether or not either hypothetical recruit could be pursued per any self-imposed academic threshold.

Northwestern officials considered the pair, and rejected both. They did not meet the minimum academic requirements, Amaker was told.

That was pretty much it for Amaker's candidacy, since he did not think he would have a fair chance to compete in the Big Ten if Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley could not even be on his radar screen.

Nearly two decades later, The Wildcats' stringent standards remain in place, and they still have yet to even participate in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Bill Carmody just signed a contract extension through 2012-2013, despite a .473 winning percentage in his eleven seasons. Athletic Director Jim Phillips told the Tribune "I don't want to brush off wins and losses, but you can appreciate integrity and graduation rates and NCAA compliance. Wins and losses are important, but only a part of an overall evaluation process."

That's understandable, but at least let the guy compete.

Limiting Carmody's recruiting pool to B-students keeps his program uncomfortably positioned relative to the rest of the conference, with no real benefit to the university. Nobody is clamoring for a stampede of illiterate murderers to break down the gates of academia in the name of championships, but even a slight lowering of the bar opens up a new world of possibilities in a sport where one or two players can change a program's direction instantly.

Michigan's scholarly reputation remains stellar (Amaker, indeed, ended up coaching there), even as they have brought ballers to campus who held their textbooks upside-down. Massive, highly-publicized scandals have done little or nothing to tarnish the standing of the school itself. Illinois is as fine an institution as ever, despite the fact that many who have played basketball there have the same IQ as a dust mop.

Need I even go outside the conference to mention Duke? How, in any way whatsoever, has that school been harmed by allowing a couple dummies in every once in a while because they can jump really high or shoot really well? North Carolina is a great college, itself. Virginia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Texas, Cal-Berkley, UCLA, Stanford…stop me if you get the point.

The financial rewards of a more consistently-competitive program far outweigh the negatives that a C-student or two on campus would bring. More money and better facilities are good things.

Eventually, NU may crack the tournament field, regardless. But the excitement and novelty of that achievement will wear off quickly, and the program will soon be stuck again in the same, Sisyphean purgatory.

Ivy League standards are commendable, perhaps honorable. But Northwestern, elite as it is, is in with the big boys, signed up for big business.

It would be well-served to make some simple, beneficial adjustments to join the game.

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of "Boers and Bernstein" since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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