When the Big Ten proposed adjusting scholarships to include more cash for cost of attendance, the reaction was diverse and wide-ranging. Some saw it as the best way to help student-athletes get a little extra spending money (anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 per year for things outside of books, room and board, and tuition). Others, most eloquent among them being Basketball Prospectus's John Gasaway, saw the plan as the quickest way to torpedo what little financial equality college basketball's mid-major teams currently enjoy.
Whatever its various drawbacks (and I find Gasaway's point wholly convincing), at least the idea was a step in the right direction. But what direction is that, exactly? What's the endgame? Could revenue-producing college athletes ever really be compensated according to their market value? Could they ever receive sponsorship money? NCAA president Mark Emmert seems determined to maintain the status quo; his public comments reveal a dedication to the idealistic concept of amateurism that the NCAA has held for over 100 years.
But what if you took the NCAA out of the equation entirely?
That's the bold idea John Calipari presented on Kentucky Sports Radio Tuesday morning. Radical thinking in long blockquote form ... begin:
"My thing was, there's only one way you can do this," Calipari said. "This is the only way I can see it. You have four super-conferences. A West Coast conference with 16 or 18 teams; a northern conference, you know, where the Big Ten area, of 16 or 18 teams;a southern conference, like the SEC teams, 16 or 18 teams; and an eastern conference like the ACC teams, that have 16 or 18 teams in them. Now, I say 16 or 18 because you could [have] 64 or 72 (teams) and be fine. Because, in football, you'd have nine in each division. They have a playoff championship in their league, the four leagues. Those four winners would be semifinalists for the football championship, and then there'd be a national title game, and the others would play in the bowls. All that television, all that revenue goes back to the 64 or 72 teams -- only those teams. Then you have a basketball tournament with those teams. Those 64 or 72 are in the tournament. Everybody's team is in the tournament."
It's a pretty interesting idea ... but, no. Sorry, but no. Sure, the NCAA tournament's beauty has a lot to do with its structure, and I'm sure people would still tune in, but it's hard not to feel like something essential would be lost. Namely, mid-majors. Underdogs. Cinderellas. If every team in the non-NCAA tournament was a monied high-major from one of the four superconferences, well, what fun is that? And what do the rest of the non-superconference teams do? Wage a skeletal NCAA tournament of their own?
If Calipari's right -- if this is the only way college student-athletes can ever be paid -- then maybe the NCAA's status quo, for all its warts and inequities, isn't so bad after all.
Now that we're talking about it ... anyone have a better idea?