James Watson is no longer with the Kansas State basketball team after he and the team parted ways on Tuesday, with the school hoping to move him to a medical scholarship. This may sound like a bad thing, and immediately the attention turned to Watson's health, but the reality is much different. Technically, Watson doesn't have some sort of career-ending injury. Instead, new Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber had a scholarship problem.
Weber had more players than he had scholarships, and needed to free up financial aid for an incoming point guard. What followed was a common practice in college basketball and elsewhere -- Weber searched the roster, chose a candidate to "trim" and tried to do it in the least messy way possible. That meant moving Watson, who has always had a heart condition, to a medical scholarship.
Of course, nothing is ever clean when it comes to scholarship math.
Kellis Robinette has more, but here's a sample:
"I feel like he was just trying to open up a scholarship and wanted me off the team," Watson said. "I feel 100-percent healthy. I only fainted once during my time here, and that was with the old coaching staff. It never happened when Bruce Weber was around. I worked to come back from my injury ... It's crazy.
And Robinette points out that now Weber has room to put Michael Orris, a point guard he'd recruited at Illinois and is now bringing to Kansas State, on scholarship. This is college athletics in a nutshell -- Watson became expendable, and wasn't likely to be a major contributor next year anyway, despite his confidence.
This isn't a problem confined to Kansas State or even college basketball. We've all heard about oversigning and the roster manipulation that happens just about everywhere in football. It's just more obvious when it happens in basketball -- with only 13 scholarship players, it's almost impossible for one to become lost in the shuffle. And with only a small number of scholarship athletes, a few "misses" can cripple a coach.
So they trim and turn over the roster in an effort to hide mistakes and misses, or at least mitigate their effects. Watson's heart problem -- it causes him to faint, though rarely -- wasn't a problem before, but now that Weber needs a free scholarship it becomes one.
And so the senior-to-be who struggled to stay healthy and contribute was sent packing by a new coach who wanted to bring in his own guys.
It's a rough ending for Watson, who has been through a lot in his life thus far.* After a difficult upbringing, he made it to Washington State, then promptly struggled to remain academically eligible. He went through another tough period, heading to community college in an attempt to get back into major college basketball, before being scooped up by Frank Martin, who was, in many ways, the perfect coach for Watson. Despite the injuries, he seemed like he was on the right track and was working towards a degree while fighting for playing time.
*He may be able to get his degree and play elsewhere or drop down a level, but who knows at this point.
Now, he's just another player to be spit out by the college sports machine. It's a business, and college coaches have to protect themselves in a show-me-now world. But in the end, the athlete ends up getting screwed -- be it because of transfer rules or being at the mercy of those in charge.