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ESPN25 Q&A on future of college sports: Part 1


Aug. 30, 2004
More from Vitale: ESPN25 Q&A (Part 2)

I participated in an interview with ESPN's Rece Davis (and college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit) to discuss several topics involving the future of college athletics in conjunction with the ongoing ESPN25 series celebrating ESPN's 25th anniversary on Sept. 7. Below is Part 1:

Q: Will underclassmen defections to the pros increase, or will college presidents and the pro leagues finally get legislation to prevent underclassmen defections?
I'm hoping for reality to set in and that maybe they sit down at a table and realize that -- for the good of the game, both on a collegiate level and the NBA level -- it would be better to make certain they stay in school.

For example, I'd like to see them adopt a plan, very simple ... designate five guys a year out of high school they really want to go on to the NBA. Have a committee sit there -- a committee of general managers like Jerry West -- and have those people sit there and say, "Hey, these five guys are ready." And if they want to go like a LeBron James, let them go.

For every LeBron James, there's three Lenny Cookes.
But once a player enrolls in college, let's go the route of what they do in baseball. Let a player stay for three years before he's eligible to be drafted. I think that would help the game, would help everybody involved. I'm hoping and praying that exists...

For every LeBron James, there's three Lenny Cookes. People don't even know who Lenny Cooke is -- a high school player didn't make it. Bottom line, it's not good for the game.

Q: Recruiting always is an issue, and scandals at Miami and Colorado have led the NCAA to take some quick action to try and clamp down on some of the enticements like private-jet travel, underage drinking, use of strippers on campus, drug use and so worth. Will the NCAA be able to legislate and control this problem, or will Congress have to get involved?
Well, I don't think Congress has to get involved. The NCAA will be able to handle their own situation. I think for every scenario that you point out, like Colorado and Miami, there are so many [schools] that are doing it the right way. But unfortunately the headlines are glorified big-time when it involves something of a negative stature like that.

I think the bottom line is ... the NCAA does a pretty god job of evaluating. Also, when you think about it, coaches out there have so much to lose when you think about the dollars they're making today, the unbelievable shoe deals, why would they want to jeopardize all of that because of the recruitment of a player or two?

I think it gets down to character, the kind of player you recruit.
But saying all that, you always have somebody, whether it be the law profession, the medical profession, whether it be the corporate world, always somebody trying to get that quick hit. Trying to get there quicker than they should and maybe trying to go the wrong route.

However, as I said, that's in the minority. Keep it with the NCAA, and I think ultimately we'll see the scenario get better and better rather than worse.

I think it gets down to character, the kind of player you recruit. If you recruit someone with character who comes from a great family background -- when you think of a Grant Hill, a Tim Duncan, a David Robinson -- you have no problem.

Why? Because of their great background at home. You have guys from the day they were in the crib, they got the necessary love, the guidance, the direction and they didn't allow themselves to be a piece of meat that's going to be utilized in a scandalous situation.

Q: Will the ever-increasing television and marketing revenues lead to players being paid, or will NCAA regulations preventing student-athletes from getting gifts and money for their services continue?
I could never understand or comprehend the kind of situation that exists right now. I know everybody says that room, board, books and tuition is a great gift -- and it is.

But let me tell you, from an example from my daughters who went to school at the University of Notre Dame -- those kids, they earned their scholarships. My daughters had tennis scholarships at the university. And from the moment they arrived on campus, with the practice time and all the time you delegate to your situation, it is really tough on them.
Student-athletes don't have the opportunity to get jobs like other students do.

Student-athletes don't have the opportunity to get jobs like other kids do, the normal students. I really think that in many situations a youngster should get more. I hope in 25 years they come to some reality.

You know, I'm a dummy economically. I'm not as bright as you, Rece! I'm not as bright as Kirk. I'm a dummy! But $6 billion for the rights to the NCAA Tournament paid by CBS, that's a lot of cash. Why not keep $5 billion and take $1 billion and share it with those student-athletes?

The bottom line is, these kids put in time, effort, energy. They bring unbelievable pride in many cases to the schools they represent. They help in many ways at the university in revenue-producing scenarios involving merchandise and everything else involved.

I hope and pray that in 25 years, though I may not be there to see the moment, I hope that it's room, board, books and tuition and maybe a little bit -- like $200 per month -- as a stipend. Hey, years ago, they got $15 a month.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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