Just days after starring on arguably the biggest stage in all of sports with a legion of adoring fans, Louisville guard Kevin Ware could now find himself feeling as if he doesn’t have a friend in the world. Or at least not a team to play for. Despite the admirable will and resolve Ware displayed even as he lay strapped to a gurney, the ligaments in his right tibia eerily resembling the scribble his coach, Rick Pitino, might draw up on a strategy board, Ware is still left to deal with the equally heartbreaking reality that his days at Louisville may well be over.
The nature of college athletics can be every bit as ruthless as any other Fortune 500 conglomerate: the most important thing of all is the company's bottom line. And the bottom line for Ware is he's flat on his back right now. Though rampant speculation that he will lose his scholarship and be held responsible for his medical bills is highly unlikely to be correct, there are valid questions about what comes next for him. Like most Division 1 institutions, Louisville operates within the bounds of a system where scholarships are up for renewal each year and players are expected, required, to perform at certain levels if they hope to have their deals re-upped from year to year.
Say Ware's injury hadn't been so horrible to watch, or that it hadn't taken place during the high-stakes March Madness series. If the world was not watching, would Louisville be as likely to use a precious scholarship on a player who may never take the court again? Would they be obligated to do so?
According to CBS News, when asked point blank whether the university would go on record and assure Ware would not lose his scholarship, a spokesperson would only answer that the question is irrelevant "because doctors are expecting a full recovery.”
What clearly remains a sore point is the uneasy alliance that exists between athletes and the universities they generate millions of dollars for on the court. But then, what would you expect when a business arrangement so overwhelmingly tilts in the direction of the party making all the rules? Schools like Louisville argue that the players they recruit are student athletes above all else and that the arrangement of a scholarship, free education and room and board are payment enough from an industry whose profits now swell into the tens of billions.
That argument loses steam when you consider a recent University of Pennsylvania Graduate School study that found that only half of all Black male athletes ever graduate to begin with and that only 21 teams in this year’s tourney field of 68 had Black player graduation rates of at least 50 percent.
Kentucky star center Nerlens Noel, once projected to be the top pick in this year’s NBA draft, and South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore now find themselves faced with equally questionable futures after suffering similarly gruesome injuries and dreams deferred. And yet, with the Final Four and national title game both just days away, for the NCAA, it remains business as usual.
Instead of the NCAA taking real steps to restructure itself and its policies to better work in the favor of the students, it seems Ware and all the others like him are encouraged to just be the next Anthony Davis, or summon the fortunes of those like Miami Hurricane Willis McGahee, who bounced back from a seemingly career-ending knee injury and became a two-time Pro Bowler. Or, just don't get hurt.
Sadly, though, the odds of that happening are about as low as a Black student athlete getting a fair shake from the NCAA.
Glenn Minnis is a New York-based freelance writer.