George W. Bush and Colin Powell can’t seem to agree on the University’s admissions policy. Maybe they should ask NBA commissioner David Stern for advice.

Paul Wong
Steve Jackson

Stern and the NBA’s team of owners have executed a diversity plan that the University only wishes it could duplicate.

Basketball – a game once dominated by white Americans (George Mikan, Bob Petit, Bob Cousy, etc.) and later blacks (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Tracy McGrady, etc.) – now draws the best talent from all around the globe.

The Dallas Mavericks have the best record in the NBA in part because they were among the first teams to find good players from Canada (Steve Nash), Germany (Dirk Nowitzki), the Caribbean (Raja Bell) and the Native American community here in the United States (Edward Najera).

The NBA has always wanted to expand its global reach because drawing from a larger pool improves the overall quality of the players in the league, and the University has similar goals for its diversity programs.

The NBA accomplished its goal quite easily by simply beaming images of Air Jordan all over the globe to stimulate interest in the sport and create a new generation of elite international basketball players. Unfortunately, showing tapes of Ralph Williams’ lectures won’t inspire kids across the country to improve their reading and writing skills.

The NBA also had the advantage of rapidly growing development structures in the areas where “basketball minorities” lived such as China, Argentina and France. But the schools that provide the University with underrepresented minority candidates aren’t exactly doing the equivalent of starting their own professional leagues.

While the NBA’s diversity initiative was considered a success despite admitting just a few “minority” players, the University needs hundreds of candidates each year before anyone around here will be happy with the results.

The goal of the University’s admissions policies is not to give immediate opportunities to undeserving people, although many people have argued that is what it accomplishes right now. Supporters of the policies believe that they will expand the pool of talent for higher education in America to include people of all races and all backgrounds. In the long-term, they believe speeding up the process now will improve life for everyone by creating an environment like the NBA, where everyone has a chance to succeed at the highest level.

But this sort of growth still has consequences.

Michigan State standout guard Marcus Taylor is no longer good enough to be a part of the best basketball association on Earth because diversity raised the bar.

People who condemn any assistance or special support for underrepresented minorities are turning their eyes away from real problems facing minority groups because they are afraid they will become the next Marcus Taylor.

But those who see no logical limit to that sort of assistance are just as blind.

If Stern were to have proposed a minimum quota of three foreign players per team 10 years ago, the players’ association would have slammed the door in his face. A system like that would do significant harm to the quality of basketball being played and attach a negative stigma to every foreign player in the league.

What if Stern paid teams $1 million per foreign player up to three per team? That might speed up the introduction of foreigners into basketball without doing irreversible harm to the sport. But what if he wrote a check for $10 million per player? I think you would see three foreign-born players on every roster with a system like that. And that sort of quota would not be tolerated, even if it were to be disguised as an elaborate point system.

The University has to do a delicate balancing act. While Michigan has clearly chosen to err on the side of too much assistance rather than not enough, its choices were made with the best interests of the school in mind.

I’m just a sports columnist. I don’t claim to have the answer to this complex problem. I don’t know if 20 points is a quota in disguise or if it is completely justified.

Something needs to be done in order for the University to reach its long-term goals for underrepresented minority students in a reasonable time frame.

But giving too much assistance will actually hurt its cause by cheapening the education at Michigan and making some students feel like they are second-class.

Has the current system crossed a line? The U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide that.

Steve Jackson can be reached at sjjackso@umich.edu.

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