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COLUMN: Hand shakes could send message to DC

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By Bob Watkins

America, I love this place. Even though sometimes it’s a puzzler isn’t it?
October brought us budget buzz and national debt ceiling squabbles in Washington D.C. and parades of talking heads to blab fests on CNN.
Meanwhile, in the real world – in Chattanooga, Tenn., the prayer before high school football games issue surfaced two weeks ago. The Free-Press newspaper conducted a poll. Should prayer be allowed before public high school football games? 2,517 readers voted - 45 percent said yes, 54 percent said no.
In the pantheon of mankind, prayer-before-games ... this is an issue.
In Kentucky, the hot topic of the day became hand shakes after high school football games.  
The KHSAA fumbled its response then rallied to say abolishing the hand shakes was a misunderstanding, Oops!
Much ado about nothing, right?
Wrong!
In a time where politicians show us what arrogance, intransigence and hatefulness look like, there could be no better time for high school young men and coaches to seize-the-moment and show politicians they’ve lost the meaning. A hand shake to demonstrate they realize post-game contact is as reach-across-field important symbolically as reach-across-the-aisle.
Opportunity for young men to show parents and opponents their education includes more than math and English and sixth period. It’s about ideals too, personal discipline, respect and honor.
Since Kentucky rose up to magnify the issue, I’m betting high school athletes and coaches across the Commonwealth will put added emphasis on shaking hands with opponents after games.
America, I love this place.

MARK EMMERT & DAVID STERN
A couple of fresh air ideas crossed the college basketball landscape last week that could have major impact in Kentucky.
NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert: “There is little support within the NCAA to convert student-athletes into paid employees.”
The NCAA is reviewing, Emmert added, ways to legislate a stipend allowance for college athletes.
Says here, even a stipend opens another path to corruption. At some point a team’s leading rusher, or best rebounder would expect more than the kid sitting in the last spot on the bench.
Emmert also addressed the one-and-done rule.
“Why would we want to force someone to go to (college) when they really don’t want to be there? But if you’re going to come to us, you’re going to be a student.”
Why indeed, Commissioner?
David Stern, the architect of the one-and-done, weighed in on the subject Oct. 11. The NBA commissioner spoke to high school basketball prospects through Fox Sports: “Play for me and you’ll not only get paid, but you’ll also get a better education.”
Better education than at institutes of higher learning? Brazen, but I like it.
Through the Houston Chronicle, Stern said, “I’m very proud of the development league. It’s working. That march is continuing. The drum beat I hear about colleges not liking what they refer to one-and-done ... we now have a rule where the development league will accept players that are 18 and will do a better job of educating them than the college programs they are in.”
I like Stern’s thinking. Even if the commish has scant few current NBA players who came through the D-League, and a very long list players from college.
Key linkage of course, is as always, money.
• Would salaries (and endorsement opportunities) make the D-League more alluring to high school stars than a college scholarship and going to class for seven months?
• College basketball media exposure and television is still a world ahead of a year in a bus league where crowds are in the hundreds and television time is zero.
Conclusion. If Emmert and Stern have their way, we could see that wonderful old American system kick in: Open market competition.
“OK, Johnny Jump Shot, there’s the university and here’s the money. Your choice.”
Impact closer to (our Old Kentucky) home? College recruiters would be forced to change philosophy, pitch the attributes of their schools again instead of assembly-line track to pro ball.
A separation of states. Student-athletes versus one-and-done mercenaries.
I’m rooting for David Stern’s D-League approach. You?

FOOTBALL MID-TERMS
Football at Louisville, Western Kentucky and Kentucky have arrived at mid-season. Mid-term grades: Louisville (6-0), ranked No. 8 nationally, the Cardinals ought to be proud (and grateful). Yet, to compare U of L with that other ranked team visiting the Bluegrass last week, is folly. No. 1 Alabama would roll U of L. Still, at mid-season the Cards are perfect. A-minus.
Western Kentucky (4-2), impressive defensively against Kentucky and Navy, disaster in Knoxville aside, the Hilltoppers improved steadily. Start of second half – maybe game of the year this week with Louisiana Lafayette at home. B-minus.
Kentucky (1-5), record against SEC brutes aside, improvements on defense and offense have been been modest. Most disappointing? Level of intensity against all but South Carolina. Two weeks to recover and prepare, Wildcats could turn a corner in Starkville next week. C-minus.

WORTH REPEATING DEPARTMENT
Best thing to happen to Jabari Parker at Duke? Having Andrew Wiggins at Kansas to take the heat off.
Wiggins’ Sports Illustrated cover is latest expectation for a kid who’s already traveled over the rainbow to a region we might call “ya better not fail!”
LeBron James tweeted a bit of comfort to Wiggins last week.
“... try to be the best student and the best teammate and the best player you can be every day,” James told Rock Chalk Blog. “You got to live in the present.”
And so it goes.