By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
It’s been another glorious week in college athletics.
Alabama’s Nick Saban finalized a new contract worth nearly $7 million a year, only to get one-upped _ or should we say million-upped? _ by Kentucky’s John Calipari, who’ll make even more on an annual basis with his seven-year, $52.5 million deal (at least until Saban’s next raise).
Then, on Friday, came a report in which former North Carolina star Rashad McCants claimed he took a bunch of sham courses during his time with the Tar Heels, supposedly with the full knowledge of coach Roy Williams.
All in all, a good reminder of what’s really important in our alleged institutions of higher learning.
Clearly, it’s got nothing to do with learning.
Looking solely on the amount of money their teams generate for the respective universities, Saban and Calipari are undoubtedly worth their obscenely large salaries. They certainly didn’t draw a gun on their bosses, demanding the keys to the vault. All it took was some very well-timed (wink, wink) interest from other potential employers to ensure their compensation would keep going up, up, and up.
As for Williams, he quickly issued a statement denying the allegations that McCants made on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.” He didn’t address those pesky transcripts, which showed more than half the classes McCants took in three years at the school were in the sham African-American Studies program.
These latest developments emerged while the NCAA’s most lucrative conferences are pushing for more autonomy from the NCAA, suddenly all worried about those poor student-athletes who have never come close to receiving fair compensation for their efforts. Of course, a skeptic might say that those conferences are more motivated by the rising activism of those they seek to help than any true sense of altruism.
You think they’re a bit spooked by those efforts to unionize college athletes?
Well, forget the minor overhaul that these behemoth leagues seek to impose, which is nothing more than an attempt to preserve the status quo in an era of ever-skyrocketing revenues. The Southeastern Conference, for instance, just doled out a record $309.6 million in revenue to its 14 member schools, a figure that should increase significantly in the years to come as the league rolls out its own television network.
Time to think outside the box _ way outside the box. Here’s a few ideas:
TAKE THE STUDENT OUT OF STUDENT-ATHLETES. We’re not naive enough to think that American universities are going to do like the rest of the world and divest themselves of big-money athletic programs. But when it comes to football and men’s basketball, let’s quit trying to turn talented athletes into something many of them are not _ legitimate college students. These teams should be like a fundraising arm of the university, bringing in revenue and visibility, with fairly compensated players who have the opportunity to take classes if they like. Most of them will. There are surely a large number of athletes who see the value of a college education. But enough of the clustering, fake courses and other tried-and-true tactics that have been used to keep athletes academically eligible, while doing little to actually educate them.
COACHES, NOTHING MORE: Boy, are we tired of coaches pretending they care as much about As and Bs as they do Xs and Os. What a bunch of malarkey. Saban earns almost 14 times as much as the University of Alabama’s president because he wins games, not because he’s turning out Rhodes scholars. His athletes are far more successful on the field than they are in the classroom (the Crimson Tide, according to federal statistics, has graduated roughly half its football players during Saban’s seven-year regime). Calipari, as we know, has pretty much acknowledged he’s running an NBA boot camp, targeting players who have no intention of staying in school long until to get a degree. Frankly, we’d have a lot less issue with their exorbitant salaries without the classroom charade.
THREE AND DONE: No one who is old enough to die for his country should be delayed a shot as his desired profession, just because the NFL, NBA and NCAA are in cahoots on these de facto farm systems. If a high school graduate wants to go straight to pros, let him. If he flops, that’s on him _ and the team that drafted him. But if he chooses to go to college, he has to stay at least three years. This throws a bone to the universities, mainly in basketball, since they’ll be losing out on some of the top prep athletes. Those that choose the college route won’t be as well-paid, but they’ll get some valuable experience against athletes who are of similar age and mindset.
McCants summed it up best when describing to ESPN what college athletes really are: “You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”
Time to acknowledge that reality.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963