Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was quoted this week as saying that if the NCAA doesn’t require student athletes to stay at least two years in college it might be time to split from the NCAA. Of course, Calipari, like just about everyone else, has his views on how many years student athletes should remain in school — but that’s not really the story here in my opinion. What is more telling is that his comment may be the start of dialogue that seems almost inevitable anymore – specifically, can the current “amateur” system in college sports survive, particularly with respect to the modern-day paradigm of big money, integrity (or lack thereof), eligibility, and “minimum” academic standards?
NCAA “Amateur” Model?
I have said for years that the NCAA model as we know it is destined to fail, as the moving pieces of the model simply don’t add up no matter how you look at it. College student athletes are recruited to play sports, and increasingly more are nudged to follow “eligibility” majors with the hope (assumption?) that they don’t need school because they will eventually become pro athletes. Likewise, coaches these days (like Calipari, coincidentally) make exponentially more money than any other employee on campus – including university presidents. They also get paid to do one thing: win. What this means is that there really isn’t any incentive to develop “student” athletes, and it also leaves coaches in interesting positions when they are faced with doing the right thing versus looking the other way in order to win games (and earn bigger contracts).
In essence, college “amateur” sports are professional sports, they just don’t call it that. It is for that reason that I believe the NCAA model as we currently know it will eventually implode. The elephant in the room is that the NCAA knows there’s really nothing at all amateur about their current model, yet they continue their charade as though college sports are innocent and completely devoid of corruption and skewing the academic pursuit (the “student” part of the equation). It seems almost inevitable that some sort of mini semi-professional sports league will inevitably develop in the future, and perhaps if more coaches like Calipari continue to spout off about breaking away from the NCAA, this may happen sooner rather than later.
The Bigger Question
So should NCAA basketball players play 1 year, 2 years, or should they even have to attend college at all? While Calipari’s comments today seem to center around that question, the bigger, philosophical question has to do with the future of colleges keeping revenue-earning sports as part of their curriculum? With increasingly more young people wanting to play professional sports as soon as possible, and colleges being paid astronomical salaries to win games (regardless of how), we must wonder what waits around the next corner? Is this the opening of Pandora’s Box? Stay tuned….
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