By Jack Yungblut, Columnist
Ben Simmons, the 6-foot-10 freshman Louisiana State University basketball star, played his final game in the purple and gold March 12, as the Tigers were defeated 71-38 by the Texas A&M Aggies.
The defeat came a week after the announcement that Simmons was disqualified from consideration for the John R. Wooden Award, one of college basketball’s top prizes, due to his inability to meet the 2.0 GPA requirement.
Sports pundits far and wide were quick to jump on Simmons, an easy target, as his Tigers floundered in the home stretch of the season.
The low hanging fruit is easily picked. Simmons is a college student at a quality university, how can he not maintain a 2.0 GPA?
Despite the media and fans across the country questioning his work ethic and leadership, Simmons still stands to be a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA draft — an accomplishment that comes with a contract worth tens of millions of dollars.
Simmons is just another product of the college basketball machine that has been churning out stars since 2005, when the NBA mandated all potential players to be 19 years old or to have completed their freshman year of college.
The same experts who once speculated on Simmons’ draft projections before he even set foot on an NCAA basketball court now lambast him for simply following the necessary steps to obtain his goal career.
Basketball fans across the country love to attack players like Simmons. But, if they were 6-foot-10 with a shooting touch, they would be doing the exact same thing.
No one in their right minds would turn down millions of dollars and stardom for three more years of dining hall food and lecture halls. Very few people will side with the integrity of the term “student-athlete” when they are presented with a check for more money than many make in a lifetime.
Being an NBA lottery pick comes with significant compensations. These contracts pay enough money to not only change the players’ lives, but the lives of entire families. A player would be foolish to give that up.
Say Simmons were to stay at LSU for his sophomore season, giving up the cash for another year in Baton Rouge. During the season he goes down with a career-ending injury. What is he supposed to do?
Sure, he can get a college education, but the guy is a basketball player. What if the top engineering students on campus were suddenly unable to perform mathematic equations?
Certainly some of these players may be acting out of greed or desire for fame, but they are merely doing what they were put on earth to do. Don’t criticize a man for using his talents to put food on the table just because he is 19 and the meal happens to cost more than my car.
Simmons, Anthony Davis and the dozens of other one-and-done college players are merely taking advantage of their talents. They’re forgoing college to pursue the dreams into which they’ve put countless hours of work.
The sportswriter who works 60-hour weeks to write stories bashing Simmons probably doesn’t spend 30 more hours taking free throws and running sprints. Why would he?
The critics wouldn’t be as harsh if business students or musicians were at the center of the discussion. A brilliant finance student who is plucked out of the Farmer School of Business after his or her freshman year by a Fortune 500 company would be lauded around the globe.
If that Fortune 500 company offered the student $6 million a year and a shot at becoming the CEO by the time he is 22 years old, even better.
Simmons may never become an NBA star. It’s just as likely he ends up a Kwame Brown instead of a superstar, but he’ll never know until he gets a chance to play in the pros.
There’s a pretty high likelihood he won’t reach the peak of basketball accomplishment, but his years of hard work will be rewarded in his wallet.
As much as a university will brag about its business school, not every student who walks through its doors will become a CEO. Students follow their passion for business and put in innumerable hours of work in the library. Unfortunately, there’s no promise that their passion and hard work will amount to anything past middle management.
Neither Simmons nor the econ major who lives down the hall in his dorm are guaranteed to climb to the pinnacle of their passions and careers, and they most likely won’t.
If Simmons amounts to nothing more than a blip on the basketball radar and his hallmate never gets the corner office he dreamed of, there is one guarantee.
Simmons made a whole lot more money.