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NBA AM: Can They Really Pay College Players?

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Unintended Consequences:  Congratulations to the University of Connecticut and all their fans and alumni on their National Championship win over the University of Kentucky. They were truly the better team last night, and for UConn coach Kevin Ollie, it was a sweet victory for one of the nicest guys to grace a NBA locker room.

As the curtain closes on the college basketball season, there is a looming threat to the Madness of March and the outcome of some actions taking place away from basketball might change forever how we view the college sports world.

If you have not been following the story of the Northwestern college football players, they are nearing a decision that could change the landscape of collegiate sports fairly significantly. After successfully winning a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, the group at Northwestern has won the right to unionize, which is the first step towards having collective bargaining power and ultimately winning a path to compensation for players.

The NLRB ruled that an athletic scholarship is two separate situations. The student portion, which comes with a requirement to attend classes and maintain a certain grade point average, while the athlete part is in essence a 50-60 hours a week job and that athletes are in essence employees of the school they play for, which would entitle them to the right to unionize and receive compensations and benefits.

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On the surface it’s easy to say that paying players is only fair, especially given the billions that are generated on college athletics, especially in football and basketball. Pulling out $10 to $20 million for a general compensation fund wouldn’t cripple the sport, especially when you have coaches and athletic directors earning high six and seven figure salaries.

However, the fight and debate over compensating college athletes is complex, there are a couple of unintended consequences looming that could have a spiral effect.

Some schools use their athletic revenue to fund all of their sports programs as well as back fill education and facility initiatives. For every power house athletic school like LSU or Kentucky, there are Grambling States. Last year Grambling made news due to the horrendous conditions of their facility that included crumbling buildings filled with mold and mildew. The school cited a lack of funding for the state of their program and their facility.

Not every school makes money and a lot of the smaller lesser talked about programs lose money on athletics, even at the dollar amounts generated. The big schools get a larger share of the pie (that’s been negotiated) and the bigger conferences get more of that pie as well (also negotiated). Taking dollars out of that system would have a cascading effect that would take some programs out of the picture entirely.

Some schools have already said if compensating players comes to reality, they would consider dropping out of Division 1 sports or shuttering their programs all together.

Equally, if compensation for players is tied to profitability of a program, you’ll see an amassing of players at the power schools that would make the inequities in some sports even worse than it is now. If you think school are doing unscrupulous stuff to win players now, wait until there is money on the line.

If schools are forced to compensate players, and that’s how it will happen, there is no doubt that secondary programs that are not profitable will get shut down.

It’s easy to say pay the players, there are millions on the table, but those millions go to fund golf programs, swimming programs, lacrosse, sports that don’t generate the interest or the revenue that the major programs do. In turn when the “next level” goes away, will that kill those programs at the high school level? Is there any point in having a High School Lacrosse team, if there isn’t a next level to obtain?

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How many non-professional athletes have gotten their college education by way of an athletic scholarship for a second tier sport? Is that what the goal is? Kill the other sports and the other opportunities they provide to compensate players that generate revenue?

Universally, the players who are saying they want compensation are not saying they want professional level compensation. Most are saying they want the gaps in the current scholarship system closed. They want the ability to have some money in their pocket and to have the same level of benefits that non-student athletes have in terms of earning money in a job while attending school.

So is the answer that every student athlete gets to punch the clock at minimum wage?

This is a massively complex situation that is bigger than just pay the players. Despite the money generated, all of that money is accounted for. Recreating the system is a scary proposition because of all of the things we don’t know about how it’s applied.

If the professional side of sports has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how much you make, there is always a desire to make more. Can the college economic system survive what may start as a small stipend to players without destroying the entire system at some point?

It is easy to say pay the players. That sounds fair. That sounds like something that should happen. The problem is all the things that will cause elsewhere.

If players unionize eventually we’ll get to the point where players strike to get the leverage they need to gain ground in negotiations.

Are we ready for our college athletes to strike, to sit out the National Championship game in order to gain compensation? That’s what comes next in the conversation about how to pay players.

On the surface it’s a great idea, but at the next level its vastly complex and will impact other things in ways no one has envisioned yet.

The Northwestern players are expected to vote on becoming a union on April 25. If they vote yes, the college world is headed into a scary and uncharted place. The unintended consequences could change college athletics forever.

Lakers Shoot Down Calipari Rumors:  Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman caught the twitter world by surprise yesterday suggesting on Twitter that win or lose, that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was leaving UK for the LA Lakers and that it was a “#DoneDeal”. What makes the tweet more interesting is a few hours later Chapman tweeted a picture of himself and longtime Calipari power broker William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley.

While the story was fun and certainly created some intrigue, both Calipari and the LA Lakers have tried to shoot down the notion that Coach Cal was headed to LA.

»In Related: NBA Rumors: Calipari and the Lakers?

The Lakers told inquiring reporters that there was zero truth to the report, throwing their support behind current Laker coach Mike D’Antoni.

Calipari was asked to comment about the report during his post-game press conference last night; he also sort of denied the report, with his standard answer regarding the NBA.

“The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I have the best job in the world,” Calipari said. “I’m not even going to dignify that.”

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Calipari signed a multi-year contract extension in 2011 that locked him into to Kentucky through the 2019 season. Calipari’s deal pays him roughly $4.6 million per season with an additional $850,000 a year in bonuses and incentives. Calipari’s buyout is only $1 million.

By way of comparison, the LA Lakers signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year deal worth $12 million in 2012, which has a team option on a fourth year. D’Antoni has one more fully guaranteed year left on his deal.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.