LEXINGTON, Ky. --- John Calipari, Mr. "Players First", envisions a 4th division being created in the next couple years within the NCAA for larger universities, followed by a complete separation from the NCAA by those schools. But right now? The governing body of intercollegiate athletics is as dysfunctional as Congress in the midst of a government shutdown.
"I hate to say it," Calipari said. "It's kind of like our government right now. It's not working. For our government, it's not working for the people. For the NCAA, you're not working for the kids."
This is where I differ with Calipari. He is fond of calling his players kids, which is fine. But for the record, college football and men's basketball players are adults responsible for generating the revenue in a $6 billion industry, regardless of whether you believe they are student-athletes or disenfranchised workers not receiving adequate compensation.
Calipari believes the latter and is forecasting great change to the college sports landscape:
"Here's where I see this all going. I said four years ago in front of all the cameras...they're going to go to a 4th division. There are going to be about 80 schools in that 4th division. You're going to have to have certain requirements to be in the 4th division...I think the 4th division will come in the next year or two."
But that's just the beginning of Calipari's prediction. At some point, he sees the end of the NCAA as we know it, after the creation of a 4th division.
"Then those commissioners and presidents and A.D.'s are going to look at each other like, ‘Why are we giving this back to (the NCAA) when we can do this ourselves?' And there's going to be a separation. That's what's going to happen. And then after that they'll see, ‘What are we doing?'"
It's not until such a separation from the NCAA happens that Calipari sees greater reform for college players in the revenue generating sports. Recently, former Tennessee and current Houston Texans running back Arian Foster came out and said he received money on the side in college and recalled a time where he demanded his coach bring players food. Either that or he'd "do something stupid". The coach brought 50 tacos.
Calipari says let them eat tacos.
"I'll give you an example," he said. "Our kids go to eat after practice...you can't take stuff in a box up to your room. That's an extra benefit. You'll be put on probation, and your coach will be fired for taking more food. Where did that come from? What is that? ‘You're going to overfeed them.' Oh, we're going to make them fat. That's what our deal is. How about you let us feed them what they need to be fed?"
Bottom line: Calipari doesn't see an overhaul on the horizon within the confines of the current NCAA structure of rules.
"Trust us that we're going to do it right. So those are the kind of things that the only way they get changed is you just say this is so whacked-out."
Calipari went further than just silly NCAA rules about how teams can and cannot feed their players, delving into the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, College Licensing Company (CLC), and video game maker Electronic Arts regarding the use of players' likenesses.
EA and CLC have since settled with O'Bannon's group of former and current college players over the unauthorized use of players' images and likenesses in video games and various merchandise. But the NCAA has vowed to fight until the end.
"We're prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to," Donald Remy, the chief legal officer for the NCAA recently told USA TODAY. "We are not prepared to compromise on the case."
In the end, Calipari says Remy and the NCAA will lose the lawsuit and lose badly...a hundreds of millions of dollars type loss.
"The suit that was won, or paid off, by EA Sports? The next one's going to be ridiculous, and those are all players that are suing the NCAA, and they're going to win. They're going to win."
Calipari used the Johnny Manziel autographs controversy as an example of the broken system. He left the conversation over paying players or covering the full cost of their scholarships open for debate. However, for high-profile players like Manziel or eventual first round NBA draft picks at Kentucky, Calipari introduced an option that wouldn't require anybody to pay high-profile players at all, while still allowing them to have extra cash flow.
"All those kind of stuff - stipends...If they're family wants to take a loan out against their future earnings, why wouldn't we be able to set that up? What's wrong with that? There's something wrong? Okay, so now you want the kid going out and signing footballs and making money. Why don't we just do this the right way?"
It's not a bad idea - a loan. If a bank decides these college players are worthy of an advance on their future professional earnings to enhance their college experience, who is the NCAA to say no? How is that different from the student loans people like me received? I won't lie to you. Not all of my student loans went towards tuition and books. Some of that money went towards extra pizza and beer to improve my quality of life in college. And now I'm paying those loans back.
I'm not saying these college football and basketball players don't have it good. They live like kings in college at these big-time athletic schools. But there are still too many silly, outdated rules and standards that no longer apply in a world where these players are the workers helping athletic departments turn unprecedented profits.
According to the University of Louisville's 2012 NCAA report, Louisville football made a $4.99 million profit. The Louisville basketball program turned a $26.9 million profit. Last time I checked, the Kentucky men's basketball program sells a lot of tickets too.
Now, most of those profits go towards supporting the rest of a school's athletic department. But do the math. There are 85 scholarship players in football and 13 in men's basketball. Multiple that by an extra $3000 per player. That's $294,000...less than 1% of Louisville's profits from football and men's basketball in 2012. And I'm sure it's similar for Kentucky.
It's even less of a percentage if you factor in the TV contracts revenue schools like Louisville and Kentucky make annually.
According to the National College Players Association (NCPA), the latest contract between the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports for the NCAA Tournament television rights netted an extra $225 million per year alone in new revenue. But the NCAA can't afford to compensate players a little more?
If you believe that, then you believe big banks cared about home owners during the mortgage crisis too.
"Until this all clears out, you're not going to be able to do all the stuff," said Calipari. In other words, while the NCAA still has the curtain drawn, it is still the Great and Powerful Oz.
"There's all kinds of things we can do to make this a better environment for these players. Well that's, ‘You're making them different than the other students!" I would say they are (different)."
Agreed. Other "student-athletes" from non-revenue sports aren't turning record profits (not to mention donations) for their athletic departments, while still getting the same ol' full scholarship compensation they have received for decades.
John Calipari does speak as a coach that has been burned by NCAA regulations twice.
But he is the face of "Players First" in college athletics, and he is no longer part of the fringe in that department. It is becoming mainstream. Jay Bilas, the ‘All Players United' player protest, etc...
If 2012 was the ‘Year of Realignment' in college sports, then 2013 has been the ‘Year of NCAA protest'. In that sense, Coach Cal represents the loudest voice yet in what more and more people view as complete and utter NCAA dysfunction.
"Again, players first. How do you do right by them? And then let's make this work, without losing our minds. But I think people coming together will figure that out, and I think we're moving in the direction that I've said years ago, that I said four years ago, that this would happen. It is now happening. And where I see it going forward? 4th division...do it ourselves, and that's where I see it going."
We'll see how accurate Coach Cal's crystal ball is in time.