Brian Murphy: Blurring the line between college and the pros

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 25, 2014 

As if we needed another reminder that college sports is merely professional sports without those pesky salaries for the athletes, we got one Wednesday night.

Boise State announced that Joey Nebeker, a graduate of Melba High, and Edmunds Dukulis, from Latvia, were leaving the men's basketball program and would "continue their playing careers elsewhere."

That was a bit of Orwellian language.

The truth, Nebeker told the Idaho Statesman, was that he didn't want to leave, but had been told his year-to-year scholarship was not being renewed.

In other words, the duo had been cut.

Or more precisely, shipped out to make room for two new scholarship players — 6-foot-11 prep forward Zach Haney and 5-foot-9 junior college guard Montigo Alford.

Coaches are paid to win games. After getting a raise in the offseason, Boise State coach Leon Rice is paid better than ever to do so. Better, in fact, than any Boise State basketball coach ever.

If Rice believes he will win more games with Haney and Alford than with Nebeker and Dukulis, who played a combined 75 minutes all of last season, then he has to make that trade. Rice's job, his paycheck and his program depend on him putting together the most talented team he can.

Even if it means cutting two players he recruited. These weren't players left over from the previous coaching staff, not guys caught in a shuffling system.

These were Rice recruits who didn't produce enough on the court and now they're gone.

Nebeker isn't the first college basketball player to be shown the door. He won't be the last. But his rare public statements shed more light on the subject — and the expanding disconnect between what we like to think college sports represent and what they actually do.

"I thought I'd be here for five years. I feel a little cheated," Nebeker said.

With good reason.

Nebeker wasn't a McDonald's All-American who failed to deliver on his hype. He was a 2A Idaho basketball player being recruited to perform in the Mountain West. It was always going to be a tough path.

Now his college career, not just his basketball future, is being uprooted. We're told, repeatedly, that student-athletes are being paid with a free education, that an education is something to be valued.

What about that education now? Nebeker's lost out because he wasn't good enough at basketball, something this coaching staff is paid to figure out before he arrives on campus.

Nebeker has been treated like an employee, precisely what a federal labor board in Illinois considers Northwestern's football players. Scholarships are just one-year contracts with an option, held by the school and coach.

Coaches who explore other job opportunities get raises. Players who don't like the working conditions can leave, but in most cases they must sit out a season, losing a precious year of playing eligibility in the process.

Nebeker will continue his basketball career elsewhere. The Broncos are likely to be better with their new players.

The beat goes on.

The system feeling more and more professional all the time.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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