College-Sports...Corrupt Goldmine

The rank hypocrisy and patently obvious corruption connected with college/university sports “programs” (once called “teams”) is being shown currently via the huge publicity in the media, local and national, concerning the hallowed rite of spring called the “declaration for the NBA draft.” It entails the pronouncements of tall and fast players announcing the earth-shaking fact that they’re headed for the riches of the pros after having served their apprenticeship at the expense of the taxpayers, never mind all the hoopla about the “totally separate” athletic departments furnishing the costs. That’s called “cooking the books,” since the AD money could be applied to actual academic enterprises.

A similar phenomenon applies to football and baseball, relative to the NFL and MLBs, respectively, but on a scale much smaller, at least in Kentucky, where basketball is roughly equivalent to a Catholic Mass in importance and dedication, not to mention a worship activity fit for the archangels. This, however, is not a condemnation concerning the athletes, who can’t be faulted for “going for the gold,” amounting in many cases to signing-bonuses alone in the seven figures, not to mention the multi-millions annually in salaries and endorsements for providing the public with spectator sports-activities that garner billions of dollars for club-owners and television.

Baseball at least funds its own minor leagues, which are what for basketball and football the universities fund – minor leagues in the guise of educational endeavor. At the University of Kentucky, basketball coach John Calipari makes it publicly and abundantly clear (at least that’s honest) that his “program” is designed to take on high-school all-Americans and prepare them in one year for the jump to the pros and the cash. The critical element in the process is in recruiting the best athletes. The most important element, then, is not so much coaching as it is in convincing the players that team play is the way to success, which it is, not the hot-dogging individual stuff for which they are practically worshiped in their high-school years.

Part of his argument to the players could be that teamwork pays off in dollars and cents down the road, not only for them in getting to the big leagues but also for their post-pro years, when they head into coaching, business, or whatever, ergo, be unselfish in the university in order to make big bucks later. One- or two-man teams are not likely to gain the greatest success in the NCAA-tournament venue, but five guys playing together unselfishly – as was the case at Kentucky this year in winning it all – can win big, even if fueled by freshmen, three of Kentucky’s starters this year, along with two sophomores – seven years experience altogether as opposed to a team of three juniors and two seniors, for instance, at 17 years experience. All five of Calipari’s starters have declared for the draft.

Calipari can claim that the proof is in the pudding, of course, giving himself as the perfect example of how to turn playing games into millions of dollars…and largely off the backs of other people, in his case, his players. His base salary at UK is $400,000. This is augmented by endorsements, broadcasting, etc., to the tune of $3.4 million, making a total on the ground of $3.8 million, not bad as an annual salary, certainly way beyond the salaries paid in academia, millions more than even the head honchos in the med-school.

Shrewd operators – coaches and athletic directors, most often abetted by university presidents – contrive contracts designed to make everybody well…off the backs of others. For his team’s winning the Southeastern Conference regular season title, Calipari picked up a bonus of $50,000. For making the NCAA “sweet sixteen,” “elite eight,” and “final four,” Calipari picked up a cool $100,000, $100,000 and $150,000, respectively. For winning the NCAA championship on the backs of his players, Calipari collected another $350,000, for a total of $750,000 in bonuses to add to his $3.8 million, for a total wage of $4,550,000 – not bad for one year.

The athletic director (base salary $600,000 plus cars, club memberships, etc,) got his cut from the goodies, too, to the tune of $65,000 (men’s events plus $15,000 courtesy of the women’s basketball team [SEC regular season title]) for doing absolutely nothing. The women’s basketball coach, with a base salary of $250,000 + $375,000 for broadcasting and endorsements, also picked up a cool $145,000 in bonuses off the backs of his players. His total for the year: $770,000. The main job of the athletic director is to hire enough smart people to make sure the school doesn’t violate any NCAA rules or at least doesn’t get caught.

The latter is important, especially at UK, where there’s a history! For instance, for the 2010-11 season, Calipari brought in a ringer (height 6-11) from Turkey, who had played professionally (for [gasp] pay) in Europe and was consequently anything but an amateur. For about the entire season Calipari and the AD, Mitch Barnhart, tried to get the guy approved by the NCAA but had no luck. The team didn’t make it to the hallowed Final Four but the actual winner was a player who probably wouldn’t have played ten minutes a game (and been “discovered” by the NBA) if the Turk had made it. Ironically, the substitute made it to the pros.

This is what one of the NBA-bound UK freshman was quoted in the local paper as saying: “We all did a lot for this school and I’m going to miss it.” That just about says it all…he did a lot for the school that, while paying its faculty and others peanuts by comparison, made it possible for him to become a millionaire overnight at age 19. The profiteers: coaches and the athletic director. The miscreants: the board of trustees that allows this stuff to happen. The unknown/covered-up: all the goodies delivered “under the table” lest the NCAA notice. The losers: the upper-class players left behind to watch the new class pass them by on their way to the gold.