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Copyright 2018 The Evansville Courier Co.
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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)


You start with the understanding that the playing field is not level. Never was. Never will be.

No amount of legislation is going to place Oregon State on the same sports plateau as Ohio State. No matter how much you tweak the rules and strangulate the spending, Kentucky basketball will continue to have more cachet, more tradition, more resources and a bigger fan base than, well, almost everyone else.

The notion that allowing college athletes to be compensated will disrupt the NCAA's delicate balance is founded on a fallacy. That balance does not exist. Never did.

According to USA TODAY's database, the University of Alabama generated $164 million in sports revenues during the 2015-16 school year, nearly three times as much as did Washington State ($58 million). Though both schools are members of Power 5 conferences and ostensibly compete on the same tier, Alabama football reported an average home attendance of 101,722 last fall; Washington State 31,982.

So spare me the silliness that bringing an underground economy above board will irreparably damage the quality of competition. That damage was done decades ago. If college athletics is to regain its relative equilibrium in the face of unrelenting scandal, a solid first step would be to acknowledge that life is fundamentally unfair and that money talks louder than socialism on campus, so deal with it.

Though Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari speaks from the perspective of the privileged few, the solutions he proposed Tuesday were both sensible and consistent with the principles underpinning American capitalism. An elite college athlete should have as much right to earn income from his or her name and likeness as any other teen prodigy. If that athlete's abilities are sufficient collateral to secure a loan prior to cashing professional paychecks, so be it.

"Guess what? This isn't communism," Calipari said. "If you can't get a home loan, guess what? You don't get it. I don't know what to tell you. ... I'm sorry. That's not how it works in our country. So kids that have pro potential and want to take a loan so that their families don't have to deal with it. Why can't you?"

These suggestions would have no direct bearing on university budgets, should eliminate some of the slime that congregates beneath the surface of college athletics and could enable athletes to be compensated without being made to feel like criminals. They deserve serious consideration by the NCAA's commission on college basketball that is due to report its recommendations in the spring.

"Everybody's getting paid anyway," Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball told reporters last week. "You might as well make it legal."

As revenues have risen sharply in college sports, objections to sharing the wealth appear to be receding at a comparable rate. A poll released last March by Seton Hall Sports showed that 40percent of respondents believe college athletes deserve some compensation beyond their scholarships, an 11-percentage point increase since the same question was asked in 2013.

Last August, a Washington Post/UMass Lowell poll found 66 percent of Americans in favor of athletes being compensated when their names and images are used to generate profit.

Opinions evolve. Nick Saban may be worth every cent of the $11.125 million Alabama paid him last year, but the epic scale of coaches' pay packages weakens the case for athletes remaining amateurs and strengthens the argument that they are being exploited.

It's hard to believe colleges cannot afford to pay players when numerous football and basketball coaches make more in annual salary than do entire academic departments at the same school.

The beauty of Calipari's suggestions is that they address the inequity without impacting the budget. It wouldn't cost UK a dime if Kevin Knox or Quade Green were to sign an endorsement deal or take out a loan through a bank or an agent, and it could reduce what the school spends on compliance staff.

Would such an arrangement give UK a greater advantage than it already has? Probably. Lifting limitations on outside income would benefit Kentucky basketball players more than almost any other athletes in almost any sport.

No surprise there. The playing field is not level. Never was. Never will be.

Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650;; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism:

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March 2, 2018


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