by Kent Sterling
It’s time for the big money schools to declare independence from the NCAA.
Schools not in the big five conferences (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac 12, and Big 12) are served very well through their membership to the NCAA. At that level, the term student-athlete is entire appropriate. The chances of a collegiate athlete at the highest level making it in the NFL, MLB, or NBA are scant and university athletic revenues are puny to nonexistent, so academics are a focus.
For the 63 teams affiliated with the big five, the NCAA is a quaint, pain-inducing, anachronistic pain in the ass that neither serves their needs nor provides the level playing field sought by members.
Money keeps pouring into college athletics, and because of the wide chasm between the haves and have-nots within Division One membership, the players are treated like the pie-in-the-sky ideals of amateur athletics that have much more to do with branding than reality.
Truth be told, high major college football and men’s basketball are minor leagues that provide the opportunity to gain a education for those willing and/or able to accept it. Not everyone makes it to the pros, but everyone on scholarship reports for duty as freshmen hoping they will exit school for the millions going to NFL and NBA players. For the majority of players, responsibilities associated with supposed academic process are a necessary evil – at best. At many universities, many players cannot read – as we have learned from academic advisors who have recently spoken out.
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has a new book titled, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” being released tomorrow, and in it he lists 13 changes that the NCAA can make to become an effective source of leadership for the athletes currently working toward a professional athletic career.
Among his excellent ideas in the chapter titled “At War? Common Sense Versus the NCAA”:
- $3,000 to $5,000 stipend for players to cover the full cost of attending a university
- NCAA to cover eligible players’ insurance premiums
- Allow college athletes to accept loans against future earnings up to $50,000
- If a coach leaves his team, players should be permitted to transfer without sitting out for one season
- Allow players the money for one round-trip flight home every year
- Access to lawyers
- Funds for formal attire to wear when representing the school
The NCAA will scoff at the list, in part because the majority of the membership has nothing to gain from these changes, and while many pay lip-service to a student first mentally in athletics and academics, most are driven by their ability to earn piles of cash. The other issue that will make this list easy to dismiss is the source.
Calipari is to the NCAA as Barack Obama is to tea partiers or Bill Veeck used to be to major League baseball owners. Whatever comes out of Calipari’s mouth is certain to be disputed by the NCAA, regardless of whether it makes sense.
Because the majority of the NCAA’s membership is intractably opposed to paying players a dime beyond tuition, books, and room & board, the members of the big five should secede from the NCAA to form its own association where the rules can serve their specific needs – and those of the athletes preparing for the pros.
The blatant hypocrisies asserted by the NCAA have made the rules schools are asked to follow virtually meaningless. The idea that agents are not funneling cash directly to top athletes and their families is ludicrous. Of course they are, and why shouldn’t they? Johnny Manziel sells his autographs for a satchel full of cash, and sits for a whole half-game. The inmates are running the asylum, so why not be honest about it and start fresh.
The thought that a school from the MAC or Sun Belt should compete under the same set of rules as those in the Big Ten and SEC is madness.
The NCAA cannot effectively serve all its members, so why should the most profitable allow themselves to be hamstrung by the have-nots?
Because the NCAA membership is unable see the forest for the trees, it’s time for the members of of the big five to construct their own ecosystem where athletic departments and students can thrive.
Calipari didn’t say it first, but he’s the latest to call for NCAA membership to accept that just as water seeks its level, change can either be welcomed or rebuked, but it cannot be stopped. Logic is either going to come to the NCAA or around it.