Bernstein: Northwestern Should Just Play Ball

By Dan Bernstein–

When Duke’s Tommy Amaker was a red-hot assistant coach making the interview rounds in the early 1990s, he was said to have applied a litmus test to prospective employers that would determine if he could succeed there.

As the story goes, he would provide the transcripts of two high-school players – all actual, personal information changed or redacted – and would then consider the school’s response as to whether or not either hypothetical recruit could be pursued per any self-imposed academic threshold.

Northwestern officials considered the pair, and rejected both. They did not meet the minimum academic requirements, Amaker was told.

That was pretty much it for Amaker’s candidacy, since he did not think he would have a fair chance to compete in the Big Ten if Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley could not even be on his radar screen.

Nearly two decades later, The Wildcats’ stringent standards remain in place, and they still have yet to even participate in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Bill Carmody just signed a contract extension through 2012-2013, despite a .473 winning percentage in his eleven seasons. Athletic Director Jim Phillips told the Tribune “I don’t want to brush off wins and losses, but you can appreciate integrity and graduation rates and NCAA compliance. Wins and losses are important, but only a part of an overall evaluation process.”

That’s understandable, but at least let the guy compete.

Limiting Carmody’s recruiting pool to B-students keeps his program uncomfortably positioned relative to the rest of the conference, with no real benefit to the university. Nobody is clamoring for a stampede of illiterate murderers to break down the gates of academia in the name of championships, but even a slight lowering of the bar opens up a new world of possibilities in a sport where one or two players can change a program’s direction instantly.

Michigan’s scholarly reputation remains stellar (Amaker, indeed, ended up coaching there), even as they have brought ballers to campus who held their textbooks upside-down. Massive, highly-publicized scandals have done little or nothing to tarnish the standing of the school itself. Illinois is as fine an institution as ever, despite the fact that many who have played basketball there have the same IQ as a dust mop.

Need I even go outside the conference to mention Duke? How, in any way whatsoever, has that school been harmed by allowing a couple dummies in every once in a while because they can jump really high or shoot really well? North Carolina is a great college, itself. Virginia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Texas, Cal-Berkley, UCLA, Stanford…stop me if you get the point.

The financial rewards of a more consistently-competitive program far outweigh the negatives that a C-student or two on campus would bring. More money and better facilities are good things.

Eventually, NU may crack the tournament field, regardless. But the excitement and novelty of that achievement will wear off quickly, and the program will soon be stuck again in the same, Sisyphean purgatory.

Ivy League standards are commendable, perhaps honorable. But Northwestern, elite as it is, is in with the big boys, signed up for big business.

It would be well-served to make some simple, beneficial adjustments to join the game.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Northwestern Should Just Play Ball
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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  • crash corrigan

    One would think that making the top 64 teams once in a while would be achievable, even with stringent academic standards. The NU football team seems to be able to adapt, why not basketball where only a single player or two can make all the difference?

    • Meatless Meatball

      Northwestern Football is in the NCAA version of hell. In 1995, they had the kind of novelty season that Dan’s talking about, rising as high as #4 in the rankings. Now, they’re no longer the doormats of yesteryear, but they’re not outstanding, either; they might crack the Top 25 every couple of years, and they’ll probably be pretty consistently in the kinds of bowls reserved for 7-5 teams, but they’re not going to compete for the national championship with the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State.

      • Martin

        Not exactly the end all, but worth mentioning that even in the years when NU has competed in college football, they still can’t seem to win a bowl game.

  • Jaimie in Hoffman Estates

    I agree, I think this is the year NW gets to the dance, as a long time Cats fan I’m pulling for them. On another note the Bears are a 10 point favorite going in.

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    Bernsie makes a good point…

    but DERRICK ROSE made the two points of the YEAR!

    I think Stacey King had an emission after that one.

    • AT3374

      I though SK head was going to explode Scanners style after that dunk . It was nasty though .

  • bronzo

    Interesting but… BORING….

    Great BCS game last night. Those were clearly the two best teams in the country.

  • G-Mo82

    he took the elevator to the top floor !

    • Stacey King



    I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Bulls’ locker room last night. They were down 55-43 to a bad Pistons’ team at halftime last night, but I wonder what kind of colorful language head coach Tom Thibodeau told his guys. We all know how awesome Derrick Rose was in the second half, but how ’bout their defense holding Detroit to just 27 in the final 24 minutes en route to a 95-82 win and their 10th straight win over the Pistons in the process.

    • Beverly Brewmaster

      I got to sit courtside last night (I’m assuming I’ll never get that chance again) and was along the baseline about fifteen feet from the Bulls’ bench. I was excited to watch Thibs up close and was surprised that he really wasn’t screamy at all. Obviously he could’ve gone nuts in the locker room, but on the floor he seemed intense but composed… makes me like the guy that much more.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        excellent…thanks for the first-hand info

  • AT3374

    Can;t wait for teh Miami game . Going to be awesome .

    Derrick Rose -Allstar , has a nice ring to it

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    DRose is amazing.

    Dan-o’s point is well-taken.
    If Duke can do it without watering-down the academic integrity, so can NW.

    I didn’t watch a minute of the national championship bowl game last night, just no interest whatsoever.


    I’ll never understand for the life of me why Northwestern has rewarded a guy in Bill Carmody to continue coaching a men’s basketball team in Evanston that has NEVER been to the NCAA Tournament in school history and likely will be watching the tourney on TV like you & me come March if they don’t string a bunch of wins together in the Big Ten. If I’m not mistaken, Carmody’s had more losses than wins in 11 years on the job there. An extension for Carmody? You’ve got to be kidding!

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Well, Bernsie…looks like you failed to pick a topic today that got our juices flowing.

    I can’t comment on the Tostidos’ Bowl…because I didn’t give a $hit enough to watch it. Over/under of 3 years before Auburn needs to forfeit the title due to an investigation by the NCAA Poe-lease.

    • Denver Smeghead

      I’ll take the Over, unfortunately.

      At this point, Newton is getting off scot-free, and he was the one most likely to bring it all crashing down.

  • bronzo

    It was a good game Larry..for me at least ,I don pay any attention to all of the other “issues” regarding Auburn / Newton etc. Money is the driving force behind college football…we better get used to it.

    There is no organization with less credibility outside of cook County politics than the NCAA

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      LOL about Cook County politics and the NCAA.
      The NCAA is like a brothel trade association.

  • posted 1/11/11 at 1:11pm

    1/11/11 at 1:11pm

    • Beverly Brewmaster

      Mundane internet achievement!

    • Beardy McWierdington

      we got are selfs a doopelganger.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Given all his ties to Michigan, I was sure that Les Miles (who has not always had the most happy stay at LSU) would have gone there.
    Wow, the Michigan job now seems to semi-suck.

  • bigtime sucker

    WHO WOULD ever have thunk that MEEEECHIGAN is in middle of thepack big ten hell. didn’t they just add seats to that monstronsity of a stadium? interesting. anyways, meeechigan should think outside the box, hire someone that doesn’t have ties to the university, like Herm Edwards. Pete Carroll used college football to rebuild his coaching career, it could work for Herm as well

  • Tweets that mention Bernstein: Northwestern Should Just Play Ball « CBS Chicago – Breaking News, Sports, Weather, Traffic, and the Best of Chicago --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by thrwestcoast. thrwestcoast said: Bernstein: Northwestern Should Just Play Ball « CBS Chicago …: Athletic Director Jim Phillips told the Tribune… […]

  • Sophist

    Again with the old podcasts. What’s going on WSCR? I’m expecting to download the B & B transition and get Ed Shorts next.

  • Mason from Hyde Park

    This point of view is comparable to asking how much more you should embellish your own radio show to garner more and better ratings? Northwestern, like many other institutions of higher learning that wrestle with the role of athletics amongst their academics, has chosen to abide by self-imposed standards. Clearly they aren’t concerned with perception amongst their so-called peers (Duke, Michigan, Cal, etc.) as with the perception amongst their alumni. They feel they’re competing well enough with their approach and probably look for vindication to come when they actually get an invite to the big dance, and/or win a game at the tourney or make it to their own conference finals.

    I’m sure you (Dan) feel you have standards by which you conduct yourself in preparing and presenting your radio show. Could you become something you aren’t or more like someone else for the sake of ratings? I’m sure you could argue that such a move is unnecessary or that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. I would be willing to guess that the best argument you could make for yourself would just as aptly apply to Northwestern.

    When you get right down to it, for whom does it benefit for Northwestern to adjust their standards? Not the university (which emphasizes academic acclaim), not the athletic department that is already a member of a major conference (where is the floor for adjusted standards?), and probably not the athlete.

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