Calamity, Corruption & Collusion: Repairing The Fantasy Of Amateur Basketball

University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller (via Arizona Daily Star)

Don’t blame Dwane Casey. 

Casey, the Toronto Raptors’ longest-serving and winningest head coach, who is enjoying a notably good season. He recently celebrated his 300th win with the franchise and is seen by many as as a top contender for the NBA’s Coach of the Year. But at one point, he was an assistant at University Of Kentucky, where he had played for and captained the National Champion Wildcats under Joe B. Hall. Then a Fed Ex envelope addressed to a recruit split open mysteriously revealing $1,000. Though the University and Casey both denied that they had any role in this incident, the NCAA banned Casey for five years and he would spend his basketball exile in Japan, where he coached for 6 seasons all the while expressing no remorse, and claiming it was a set-up. Coaches all over the country took umbrage and most immediately took the opportunity to remind their base that “we do it the right way,” even as their top players tooled around campus in new luxury autos, including one notable freshman who arrived in a drop-top Ferrari, fully loaded with a sticker price of 89K and not an eyebrow raised.

Maybe it was Chuck Taylor, the great basketball player of the early 1900’s who would, after his playing career ended prior to the existence of the NBA we know today, convince a sneaker company to put his name and a star on the side of their shoes. He would become synonymous with basketball and one of the most recognized names in America as he spent the next forty years criss-cross in America selling sneakers out of his car to teams, while simultaneously running  clinics on each campus. What we know today is that Chuck used these clinics to develop relationships with the top high school athletes and coaches. Taylor became the de facto agent for these high school All-Americans, and if your University wasn’t wearing Converse, and running Chuck Taylor clinics annually, you had no shot at the top players. But don’t blame Chuck, I just like get to play the begat game, and Chuck fathered Nike, Adidas, and ultimately the seven figure shoe deal that provides generational wealth for the athlete whose skills and personality are marketable to a global audience of “sneaker heads” hungrily buying these iconic shoes via the Internet, and lining up hours before the shoe is released to drop a paycheck for them.

Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Power Memorial High School (via Getty Images)

Pay to play, despite the phony outrage accompanying each new disclosure, isn’t new! We’ve all heard tales of families wooed by street agents when their teenager reaches 6’5″ in 7th grade. You’ve heard the rumors of certain schools who suddenly have a national ranking because of one amazing freshman who changes the arc of a mid-major school while everyone wonders why they chose Anonymous U. Think back to 1969, when a 7-foot phenom out of Power Memorial High School in NYC turned down a million-dollar offer from the ABA to sign the next day with UCLA. Yes, they had a incredible run of NCAA titles and the legendary John Wooden at the helm, but today we know that Sam Gilbert, a wealthy booster, matched the ABA offer to Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and had been doing so with other players throughout the course of the “dynasty” shepherded by the “Wizard of Westwood.” Not to single out UCLA, but just to point out the fallacy and fantasy of the “clean” and amazingly successful college program. Everyone is dirty. Believe it or not, they all cut corners, otherwise they wouldn’t recruit a player who they KNOW is only staying for a season, with no pretense of being a student-athlete. The entire team wouldn’t be wearing sneakers provided by one company in exchange for “promotional consideration” and coaches wouldn’t have contracts that are far more lucrative than the university’s president.

Meanwhile, the NBA sits atop this conspiracy. The collusion, calamity, and criminal acts committed along the way all have the same end goal. While we knew that the odds of all the manipulation, shenanigans, and flat out deceit that are perpetuated along the way are paying off at about a million to in, it hasn’t stopped it. In fact, the basketball community has mostly been able to turn their heads away as long they weren’t getting caught themselves. The NBA cannot. Their desperation to maintain control over the entry and distribution of talent into the league has been massaged, manipulated, and re-fashioned as they felt necessary to stay one step ahead of the courts. From the “hardship rule” of the 70’s to Moses Malone and Bill Willoughby coming straight out of high school, to today’s 2-round edition. The National Basketball Association has exhibited a deathly fear of a player challenging the draft’s legality, (highly unlikely, considering it would wend its way through the courts for years and an athlete would be finished by the time he won) and having their process abolished. What other professional cannot choose where they hone, or practice their craft? Engineer? Pharmacist? Sanitation Worker? Nurse? Nope. Their ability as a league to slot their picks and control their location and income is something most fans take for granted, but the league doesn’t. Not for a moment. The NBA owners, watching the cost of contracts skyrocket over the last 3 seasons to ridiculous levels, need desperately to control entry level costs. Which also drives the value of the first ten picks in the draft. It’s a complicated but simple machine that’s lead to where we are today. Kids, parents, coaches and hangers on committing criminal, selfish acts to preserve and further the NBA dream. Can it be fixed? Yup. I’ll do it now. Here at N THE ZONE NETWORK we play chess, not checkers.

Arizona freshman standout and potential #1 overall NBA draft pick DeAndre Ayton (via USA Today)

Here’s your solution. Thank me later.

Eliminate the fantasy of the “amateur” NCAA basketball player. The NCAA and it’s member teams are raking billions of dollars off the play of these teenagers. It’s time to compensate them, thus eliminating the possibility and/or necessity of them being corrupted. Here’s the scale. Pretty simply, each athlete on scholarship would receive a monthly stipend based upon the cost of living. THAT plus their academic scholarship would allow for a comfortable collegiate life equal to that of their on-campus academic peers. When they’ve graduated or completed, whatever commitment the player made to the university, they would receive a check equal to the tuition average of every member school on the NCAA times the number of years they spend academically eligible in school. This guarantees that every school’s compensation is equal, eliminating any incentive to go where the payoff is better. This ensures and encourages the kids to work towards a degree, while being able to do so without financial pressure. Simple way to finance. Each member school donates 5% of their basketball revenue to a pool. When a school wins an NCAA tournament game, 10% of their winnings go into the pool. Do the math. You could build a league. No one is going broke in this machine. Time has come to stop pretending and fix what has been broken for years on end. The NCAA also will contribute. The TV contracts are ridiculously lucrative. Thus, we’re going to need this association of dedicated institutions to kick in 5% of the TV money, and a share of the commercials featuring these kids in their promos. That money can buy an island and start a league now and no one has missed a meal. But we’ve gotta compensate these kids above the street money.

Here’s where the true payoff comes. Now that we’ve figured out how to pay the elite, and those who we know are in it only for basketball, let’s address the true student-athlete. Each member school will be required to maintain 4 roster spots for walk-ons. Those kids for whom a scholarship was not offered, who may never play but are more reflective of what the collegiate athletics experience is alleged to be. However, once this kid makes the roster he’s compensated the same as the McDonald’s All American. Graduates and receives the same check from the same financial pool as the kid who’s going first in the draft. Now we’re making progress.

Sports agent Christian Dawkins (via NY Daily News)

Finally, it’s time for the NBA to right their wrongs. Step in and help fix what’s so horribly broken. Here’s what the league can do. Expand the draft from two rounds to 7. Why? Because we’re going to open a true developmental league. I’m not talking about that “G” League that’s going now. But every NBA team will have a farm team. They can choose their geographical location. But the team must underwrite it 100%. Stop whining. The NBA’s new TV deal is worth 29 billion dollars over 8 seasons. That’s 3.5 billion per team spread over the length of the contract. That’s more than enough to stock, maintain and develop a roster of 12 “minor leaguers” and actually utilize the opportunity to refresh their talent pool from within, and just maybe find and build a late round gem instead of whispering “go to Europe, call me in 2 years, work on …….” Each player will receive 100k per season plus insurance and housing. This will prevent kids from having to schlep around Europe, China, and other foreign outposts to keep their NBA dream alive. The deals will all be uniform. Two years at 100k each, team and player option for year 3. I don’t see how this isn’t successful. Now we’ve provided a landing spot for all the kids dedicated to getting better over the course of their college careers and beyond, lessened the need to be “one and done” and disrupted the narrative that a player who stays four years in college isn’t NBA material. You can graduate from your school, play two years in a “REAL” developmental league and still be just 24 years old and ready to contribute to an NBA franchise. This is progress. Will it eliminate all the problems, kill off the parasites? Probably not.

Here’s the final step.

Keep it real.

Create a real ZERO tolerance policy in NCAA.

It goes like this. If you get caught cheating, your basketball program is closed for three seasons. Period. That’s progress. This is my solution and I believe it is viable. Simple, yes, but that’s just what we need to create an umbrella that protects everyone, establishes an environment of healthy sports at the collegiate level and not a dumpster fill if used up broke 20 year olds wondering “what’s next for my life if the NBA can’t use me.”

Your thoughts are as always welcome, but that’s my theory and I’m all in with it…..

Follow me on Twitter @MtAiryPhil

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