Q+A: George Dohrmann
Pulitzer Prize award winner talks all things college hoops.
SLAM: So how do you feel about all the one-and-done players we’ve seen in recent years?
GD: I don’t think they should be in school to begin with, most of them would have gone straight to the NBA out of high school. The NBA doesn’t have to draft them or pay them, but I still think it should be the kid’s choice. There are kids who shouldn’t be playing in college—they’re that good. And I think those kids play and I think it’s silly that it’s somehow important for the college game. I disagree that the college game is about the stars. I totally think the college game is exciting because of March Madness, it’s exciting because of the Big East Tournament—which may no longer be around—it’s exciting because of conference tournaments. When you cream off the top that 1 percent of kids, it’s still an exciting product and people will still care. There will still be exciting players, it just may take a little longer for them to develop. There are kids who started out not so great, then grew three inches and got stronger, Derrick Williams is a great example. Derrick Williams wouldn’t have been drafted out of high school, then he was the second pick in the last Draft. There will always be Derrick Williams’. You’re just losing that small percentage of kids who would have been drafted straight out of high school anyway. I say let them go, it’s their right.
SLAM: When you look at most of the teams who have been successful in the tournament recently, they have very senior laden teams. You look at teams like Butler…
GD: … and Duke the year before. And that’s exciting stuff, and it remains exciting stuff. It won’t hurt the game, what hurts the game is the NBA because they would much rather have these kids. It’s interesting to me where the NCAA is supporting the NBA’s age limit thinking that it’s the best thing for them when I don’t think it is. I think the NCAA is wrong, I don’t think it’s a good thing for the NCAA. Let those kids go, they don’t want to be in college, most of them are not being “real” students or have an interest in being in a student. Just take the kids who want to be in college and want to play in college.
SLAM: To switch gears a little bit, what do you think the current conference re-alignment will do to college basketball and the whole landscape?
GD: It’s such a mess and I really don’t know how it’s all going to shake out. It just seems to me that it’s obviously greed, it’s about power, and there not going to stop—these guys are competitive people that run these conferences the Athletic Directors and presidents—and they’re going to continue to jockey to put themselves in the position where they feel the most powerful and feel the most secure. So if it continues along this path, you’re ulitimately going to have three or four power conferences and that’s it. And schools will strike it out on their own and you’ll see the end of the BCS and a giant re configuration of college football—what that means for college basketball? I really don’t know. There is a large segment of people that believe that this re-alignment is going to blow up the system, which I don’t know if I believe is imminent. I know that if this continues, it’s inevitable that the system will change so drastically it won’t look like what we remember, which may be a good thing I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We might see a playoff system, and that’s what the fans want so maybe it will be a good thing.
SLAM: I look at the Big East losing Pitt and Syracuse, which isn’t a huge deal for football because these teams aren’t necessarily traditional powers, but as far as the basketball landscape those are two of the top teams in the country and now the Big East is going to try and bring in teams like Houston and there’s rumors of Boise St. for football which is great for football. But Big East basketball has traditionally been an east coast basketball power so it doesn’t make sense to me for midwest and west coast schools coming in…
GD: Football drives everything. Loss of these football teams threatens their BCS spot which would cost the Big East tons of money from a football perspective. Football actually in some ways hurts more than losing basketball. Traditionally it hurts basketball but from a money standpoint it hurts football more if they were to end up losing their automatic BCS bid and not able to operate as a football conference anymore. Football is driving everything, it’s where the money is. As big a deal as people make about the CBS contract and how much money the NCAA gets from the NCAA Tournament, at the end of the day if you look at the Athletic Dept. books [for a school], what’s fueling everything is football and it’s just occurring on a much larger scale with all this re-alignment.
SLAM: You broke the story at Ohio St. this summer, would you say the infractions committed in college football are comparable to those committed in college basketball or is it a completely different animal?
GD: There’s cheating everywhere and I don’t think that you can breakdown each sport. There’s more athletes in football so that’s why there tends to be situations and scandals where more athletes are involved. There’s infractions across the board and I don’t think it’s sports specific at all.
SLAM: It’s obvious from reading Play Their Hearts Out what your take on grassroots basketball is, but for those who haven’t read the book, can you give some insight into your take on AAU basketball and your thoughts on grassroots basketball as far as exposure and development?
GD: It comes back to all the things we’ve been talking about—the money, the cheating—it all, in some ways in the basketball world, starts down at that level. It’s the birthplace of all those things, it’s difficult because it’s so seductive for kids and parents to play in this world of grassroots basketball to get exposure and play against other elite kids and it’s not the worse thing in the world for every kid. If you look back at my book, there are some who handle it properly and really thrive. But at the end of the day, there’s an enormous number of very talented kids who fail because of the way the system operates and it ends up being a success story sometimes but also far too many tragedies. For me, it was a fascinating subculture of greed, power, greedy parents, good parents and sort of this hodge-podge of America. I think it’s fascinating and if you read the book I don’t think you’ll watch basketball on either the college or professional level the same way again.
For more information on Play Their Hearts Out and George Dohrmann check out his site at georgedohrmann.com.