The individual who has perhaps benefited the most from the NCAA’s exploitation of amateurism is now calling out the institution for instability and inflexibility.
Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari said the NCAA reminds him of the “Soviet Union in its last years.”
In a book to be released next week, Calipari compares the NCAA to the former empire: “It was still powerful. It could still hurt you. But you could see it crumbling, and it was just a matter of time before it either changed or ceased to exist.”
Those words themselves aren’t particularly news breaking, but their source certainly is. Calipari has made a career taking advantage of the NCAA system – essentially a professional sports minor league or feeder system under the guise of a nonprofit education institution – to benefit his teams and himself.
This year he coached a team of five freshman starters, all of whom are expected to declare for this year’s NBA draft, to the NCAA tournament finals, losing Monday to a figuratively and literally hungry Connecticut team. In 2012, he led a similar team of NBA-destined players to the national title.
Calipari has made a career coaching “one-and-doners,” freshman talents who play college basketball for a year and use it as a launching pad to the NBA. While the NBA requires individuals to be at least one year removed from high school in order to be draft eligible, the NCAA promotes college athletics (and implicitly deemphasizes academics), incentivizing a one-year stopover for basketball players before going pro.
Former number one draft picks Derrick Rose, John Wall and Anthony Davis are among the talented list of Calipari’s former players. The coach himself has also benefited tremendously from the system, in the midst of a seven-year, $36.5 million contract.
But now, Coach Cal is calling the NCAA out for taking advantage of players and its leadership’s stubbornness, pushing for compromises in player benefits, before the entire system that has benefited him completely collapses.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Calipari’s 13-point plan includes player stipends ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, eligibility for player loans of up to $50,000 against future earnings, the ability to transfer schools without having to sit out a year when coaches leave and money for one round-trip flight home per year. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver has also proposed having the league subsidize NCAA basketball players to encourage them to stay in school longer.
Calipari also criticizes the level to which the NCAA micromanages the relations between universities, coaches and players, prohibiting the exchange of certain food or even Christmas gifts. The same sort of things that occur between elementary school teachers and their students would be violations between a NCAA coach and a four-year starter.
It used to be Calipari that was the one harshly criticized for exploiting the rules, but gradually the consensus seems have realized that rather the system itself is structurally exploitative. Now the man who has been called “everything that is wrong with college athletics” has joined the rising tide of those pressing for reform.