It’s not that hard. Nor should it be. Last weekend’s news dump of unflattering college basketball revelations has produced new calls to fix the sport. This time, the NCAA should drop the lip service and act. It should start by letting go.
Amateurism is an antiquated idea. Hypocritical, too, given the current cash climate. Big-time college sports is professional sports at the university level. Schools are making millions. Coaches are making millions. Athletic directors are making millions. NCAA President Mark Emmert earned $1.9 million in 2015. Stop the charade.
Steve Kerr is a smart guy. The Golden State Warriors coach thinks outside the sports box and speaks his mind. He did so over the weekend when asked about the news the coach of his alma mater, Arizona, was reportedly heard on a wiretap allegedly discussing a $100,000 payment for freshman center DeAndre Ayton.
“The NCAA model is really a good one,” said Kerr, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve got two kids who went through the NCAA model of playing in college, getting their education. My daughter got a scholarship to (the University of California). That was not paid for by Cal volleyball. It was paid for by Cal football and Cal basketball. So you’ve got the revenue-producing sports that are helping pay for the other 20 sports. I like that model. I think it’s great. You’re putting out a lot of student-athletes into the community who are learning, and getting their education and being part of a team.”
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And yet, said Kerr, there must be a way to allow some athletes a bigger piece of the monetary pie.
“If there’s a guy who happens to be a dominant player and Nike wants to pay him or Adidas wants to pay him to go to a certain school — the school is not paying him,” Kerr said. “I think there’s a way. It may be something similar to the Olympic model. It used to be the Olympians couldn’t make a dime. Now you see Michael Phelps and Lindsey Vonn in commercials. They’re still in the Olympics, still doing great. People love the Olympics.”
Schools don’t have to pay the athletes, but let the athletes be paid. Let them do commercials. Let them have sponsorships. Let them earn money in the free market economy. It wouldn’t be just basketball or football players. You think UK baseball ace Sean Hjelle wouldn’t attract the attention of a local company looking to advertise? How about UK track and field star Sydney McLaughlin?
Yes, some athletes will earn more than others. Some schools will be better supported than others. That’s happening now. Take a look around. Does Ole Miss, which comes to Rupp Arena on Wednesday, support basketball the same way that Kentucky supports basketball?
I’d take it another step. Let the athletes have agents. An elite athlete coming out of high school could use the services of someone experienced and reputable for financial and career advice. If the agent wants to provide the athlete money, so be it. Let the marketplace decide.
Will there still be cheating? Of course. People will always look for a way to cheat. It’s human nature. The NCAA needs to crack down, however. If it is proven a coach has broken a rule, he or she is done. The Pete Rose treatment. Same goes for schools. Talk is cheap. Action is required. That is if the NCAA really wants to clean things up.
It better. We love college basketball around here, but truth be told the game is in sad shape. Attendance and television ratings are down. Apathy is up. The one-and-done model — the NBA’s doing — has damaged the sport. Too many games. Too much money. Too much hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, the NCAA postures. Emmert has appointed a commission. He’s furrowed his brow. University presidents have largely remained silent. In the past, the membership has done whatever it takes to protect the status quo. That can’t happen this time. The status quo has to go.