by Kent Sterling
College basketball isn’t broken, but as part of the bigger landscape of big money amateur athletics, it’s sure as hell flawed. There are people making a boatload of money to compile and lead talented kids who are waiting for their shot to make millions in the NBA.
Coaches make up to $4 million per year while the kids make nothing more than the cost of their scholarship. For players in the Patriot League, that’s a good deal. For starters at Kentucky and North Carolina, it’s indentured servitude.
Here are six steps the NCAA can take to level the playing field and clear out the corruption that dominates headlines rather than the great stories of the student-athletes who do it right:
- John Wooden never took a penny more than the highest paid professor at UCLA, and I like that. You want to clear out the crooks, turn off the cash. Limit total compensation for coaches to that of a tenured professor at that institution. Paying a coach $4 million for coaching college basketball is madness, and only serves to attract the slime that college hoops should systemically repel. I’m not sure how that gets done or by whom, but limiting the rewards for coaches is a great place to start in expelling the riff-raff that so permeate major college basketball.
- Cheaters are banned period – forever. Do what Bruce Pearl did at Tennessee, and it’s over. That’s a career ender. That there was any hesitation in firing a coach who knowingly lied to NCAA investigators is an embarrassment to the players and coaches who try to do it right. And the school who hires him should be forever ashamed for putting wins ahead of decency. The NCAA will likely impose a show cause order against Pearl after his appearance at a meeting of the disciplinary committee on June 10 and 11, but that’s not enough. Kelvin Sampson’s show cause (effectively making him unhirable by an NCAA member) expires in 2013, and you can bet that he’ll get another gig shortly thereafter. In the meantime, Sampson is cashing checks as an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks. If you are serious about stopping the cheating in college athletics, the hammer swung by the NCAA must cause swift and severe consequences.
- Limit the NCAA Tournament to 48 teams. This will never ever happen, and I’m not certain it’s a good idea anyway, but I felt so sorry for ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi babbling about bubble teams no one cares about that something needs to be done to secure his position and fan interest. Regardless of VCU’s success in this year’s tourney, the two weeks Lunardi spent debating the virtues of Alabama, VCU, Penn State, Colorado, USC, and UAB was as monotonous as it was ultimately meaningless. Maybe Ed DeChellis, Kevin O’Neil, Shaka Smart, and Mike Davis were on pins and needles, but the hundreds of thousands of the rest of us watching could only mutter to ourselves, “Who the hell cares?” So, let’s allow the 32 conference champions, and the best 16 teams who didn’t win. You want crazy interest in the last two weeks of the regular season and conference tournament, and make Lunardi relevant again, trim this tournament back.
- Scholarships remain renewable year-to-year contracts, but once a player signs, the school doesn’t get the scholarship back for four years. Coach K wants Kyrie Irving, and he jumps to the NBA after his freshman year, great, but his ride can’t be awarded to another recruit for three more years. The only exception is for kids who graduate early. A degree puts the scholarship back into circulation. There has to be some concession to schools who are committed to bonafide student-athletes. The one-and-done factories like Kentucky are frankly playing by a different set of rules, and it upsets the competitive balance of college basketball. The alternative to this would be for the NBA to adopt the framework baseball uses for draft eligibility. Kids can come out after high school or after completing three academic years.
- Allow agents to sign and pay college players. Who is the NCAA to restrict the earning potential of kids who demonstrate worth? Let licensed agents come in, interview with a player, his parents, and coach. Other than a little control, what does a coach lose by allowing a kid to have an agent, and get paid based upon future value? Give the players with pro potential a chance to put some money in their pockets so they can live a normal life while they are in college. Many players have a support system that allows them to pay for some clothes, but others have nothing. Agents throwing some cash to kids is humane.
- Get rid of the three-point line. It’s a silly and unnecessary contrivance.
- Move the Final Four out of these cavernous stadiums (I know the plural of stadium is stadia, but who talks that way?) Throughout the season, kids grow accustomed to playing and shooting in a specific environment, and then for the biggest prize, they are moved into a giant football stadium. Butler didn’t shoot 18.8% because of a lack of depth perception, but to substantively change the environment so radically for the sole purpose of giving 50,000 extra people horrible seats is silly. Sitting at the top of the United Center in Chicago makes the ball nearly impossible to see. I can’t imagine what it would be like from the corner of the upper deck in Lucas Oil Stadium, and I will never find out even with a free ducat.
I’m well aware that it will be a miracle if any of the initiatives are ever proposed in a meeting full of academics to consider, and parallel to a #16 seed’s chance to make the Final Four to be enacted. And if they were, I would be hated by fans as Ed Steitz was during the 1980s when he was the chief proponent of the three-point line and 35-second clock coming to college basketball. I doubt John Calipari would accept a 95% pay cut without some kicking and screaming, and there are 18 year-olds who have been jacking up 300 three-pointers everyday for the past eight years as they try to build a recruitable skill set who would want me dead.
If advancing these ideas is idiotic, at least I’m a well-intentioned idiot.