Durham County

They’ve gone pro after a year. Can Duke still help former players get a degree?

Duke University law professor James Coleman wants the school to come up with some sort of “continuing education” program to encourage NBA-bound, one-and-done basketball players to finish their degrees.
Duke University law professor James Coleman wants the school to come up with some sort of “continuing education” program to encourage NBA-bound, one-and-done basketball players to finish their degrees. tlong@newsobserver.com

No one in authority at Duke University is a fan of college basketball’s “one-and-done” phenomenon, but as long as it lasts, the school should do something to encourage departing players to eventually get their degrees, an influential professor says.

James Coleman, who chairs the Duke faculty’s Athletic Council, wants Duke to develop a “continuing education” program for former one-and-dones that keeps them “engaged academically with the university in some way” and helps them get or complete their education “whether it’s at Duke or some other place.”

He said he’s floated the idea to Duke President Vince Price, Provost Sally Kornbluth and men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and he also raised it with Duke’s version of a faculty senate just before the holidays.

So far, “I think everybody has responded positively,” Coleman said, adding that the Athletic Council should discuss the idea in April in anticipation of offering “some kind of formal proposal” in May.

Coleman, a law professor best known for his role in the Duke lacrosse case and the law school’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, said the idea is one he’s “kicked around for about two years in the Athletic Council.” He went public with it Nov. 16, during a briefing on the panel’s work for the Duke faculty senate, which is called the Academic Council.

He was answering political science professor Peter Feaver’s question about what Feaver called the “reputational risk” to Duke of the one-and-done phenomenon that since 2006 has seen some highly rated pro prospects come to Durham to play basketball for one year before moving on to the NBA.

So far, 10 players have gone a route at Duke that’s dictated by the NBA’s labor agreement. It includes a minimum-age restriction, 19, that effectively prevents players from joining the U.S. pro league directly from high school.

The rule is controversial in many quarters. Its critics nowadays include NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a Duke alumnus and trustee who in a couple of 2017 interviews singled out what he called the “half and done” mentality where a player goes to classes in the fall semester and leaves school in the spring as soon as his team’s season is over.

“Just being a realist here, a lot of them aren’t even a full one year in college and their entire focus is becoming a NBA player,” Silver told sports commentator Dan Patrick in a June interview.

Coleman said the “half and done” problem hasn’t surfaced at Duke, as all Krzyzewski’s one-and-done players have completed their freshman year in good academic standing.

“That’s the thing that differentiates us from some of the other universities where their one-and-dones put in the fall semester so they’re eligible to play in the spring and many of them don’t complete the year,” he said an interview with The Herald-Sun.

Coleman told the Academic Council he thinks a player’s leaving after completing but a single semester’s worth of classes would represent “too tenuous a relationship with the academic side of the university to call it legitimate.”

One-and-dones are at severe disadvantage when it comes to finishing a degree because of the time demands of their pro careers, and for having just one year of classes under their belts of the four they’d need, Coleman said during a later interview.

Other players have left Duke early before, of course, or completed their basketball eligibility before finishing their degree. But many who were well along in their program have been able to catch up later, often by taking summer classes to knock out their last year or so of coursework, Coleman said.

The professor conceded the practical details of a continuing-education program for one-and-dones are “what I haven’t figured out” yet, but he’s counting on enlisting other people at Duke to help.

They include Lee Baker, a cultural anthropology professor and former dean of academic affairs in Trinity College, the home of Duke’s bread-and-butter undergraduate programs. Baker’s successor as dean of academic affairs, Arlie Petters, is also on the list along with Brad Berndt, the senior associate athletics director who heads Duke’s Student-Athlete Support Services Program.

Coleman is in his final semester as chairman of the Athletic Council, but he voiced confidence “that the university and the Athletics Department will follow through” if the panel offers a recommendation.

Other officials at Duke, such as psychology professor and Faculty Athletics Representative Martha Putallaz, are hoping the NBA resolves the issue by changing its rules. They now contribute to a situation that’s “not a fortunate one in terms of academics,” Putallaz told Feaver and other members of the Duke Academic Council.

Berndt added that no one in the Athletics Department, including Krzyzewski, “thinks that one-and-done is a good thing.”

Away from Duke, Coleman’s drew a mixed response from Jay Bilas, a ESPN commentator and former Duke basketball star who’s emerged as a prominent critic of the NCAA and its existing regulatory system for college sports.

Via Twitter, Bilas said it’d be “a good thing” to encourage departed athletes to finish their academic work. But he noted that early departures are nothing new, as players leaving school to turn pro happened often before the one-and-done era began.

“Stop scapegoating ‘one and done,’” Bilas said. “If you don’t want one and dones, don’t recruit them.”

Coleman, though, told the Academic Council in November he’d discussed the rationale for recruiting them with Krzyzewski. The coach cited competitive pressures and the ethos that students ultimately are responsible for their own life choices.

“He explained why, as a coach of a top program, you have to recruit the best athletes and if they decide to come for only one year, that’s the athlete’s decision,” Coleman said, recounting the conversation.

Putallaz added that it’s been “hard to predict which ones will necessarily leave.”

“Some of them do not leave after one year,” she told the Academic Council. “Some of the ones we did not predict to leave early, did.”

Either way, “those students have been good representatives of the university whilethey’ve been here,” she said.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg

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