Archived Story

NCAA’s black sheep may be white knight

Published 10:14am Friday, April 11, 2014

I don’t know much about Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.
I can tell you that I don’t agree with the propensity of his team’s to feature “one-and-done” players.
I also can say that in spite of that, based on what I have seen he’s a very good coach and a master recruiter, given that his Kentucky teams reload at a level comparable to Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide – at least talent-wise.
Now, does that always translate to on-court success? No. And those who follow college basketball know that Calipari’s record isn’t the cleanest.
Sure, while he lands players who  use their collegiate experience as an NBA audition tape – what else can you really call it? –  we’ve typically seen that experience trumps talent on the big stages.After all, Calipari’s national championship Wildcats squad started two sophomores that were All-SEC performers.
All that aside, it appears that he’s stumbled onto a gem of a solution in regards to a hot-button issue that has been discussed heavily for years.
That issue is, of course, the decision of whether or not to pay college players.
Yes, I know that full-ride scholarships are not full rides at all. There’s a gap between cost of attendance and said scholarship. If you don’t believe me, ask UConn’s Shabazz Napier. He admitted that there are some days where he went to bed hungry because he couldn’t buy food.
It’s also no secret that the NCAA and its member universities profit greatly from their players’ athletic exploits (Texas A&M. Enough said.).
But I think Calipari has nailed down a bit of a compromise that it would behoove the NCAA to at least consider.
In his soon-to-be released book, “Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out,” Calipari outlined a 13-point plan for NCAA reform.
Highlighted changes include: giving players stipends ranging from $3,000-$5,000, the NCAA covering the insurance premiums of eligible players, and allowing athletes to accept loans up to $50,000 against whatever future earnings they rack up.
As he compared the NCAA to the Soviet Union during its last days of power, Calipari pretty much warned the NCAA to either change with the times, or be ultimately rendered ineffective in the world of intercollegiate athletics.
While he makes valid points, let’s be frank about this.
To be honest, the problem with the stipend could be the simple truth that some players are just worth more. For example, you couldn’t tell me that Texas A&M running back Ben Malena was worth more to his team – and the Aggies program – than Johnny Football. So why pay them the same amount?
It’s a similar process of thought with the allowance of players taking out loans.
Some players just aren’t going to go pro. Not everyone is good enough to do so.
In fact, some of them probably will end up with 9-to-5 jobs.
Is it really smart to weigh a loan against potential earnings that may never come?
Either way, while I think that Calipari’s likening the NCAA to the U.S.S.R is a bit if a stretch, in a way it’s already happening with Northwestern’s recent victory, where they won the ability to unionize, thus being considered as employees (which are paid) for all intents and purposes.
Personally, I think that at most, athletes should be given full cost of attendance – which could lead to an argument in regards to academic scholarships.
Hey, I admit that it may be far-fetched, but just like an athlete typically lands an athletic scholarship for expected athletic excellence, an academic lands an academic scholarship for expected academic excellence. But that’s a story for another day.
Even if NCAA president Mark Emmert says “pay-for-play” will never be a thing,  there’s at least one plan out there that, despite its faults, seems reasonable should that – like so many other things – changes.
Unfortunately for the “pay-for-play” advocates, the greatest downside about the plan is that it came from one of the NCAA’s black sheep.
Bailey is sports editor for The Outlook.