Is John Calipari Onto Something?


This is a 2-part series. Each part is a specific view and opinion on the topic. The second part will be written by Mark Knight, the Lead-Editor of

When you really stop to think about it, why are there varsity sports at colleges and universities?

It may sound like a blasphemous question from an admitted sports junkie. It’s always been that way, more or less. But, when you start looking around elsewhere in the world, you realize something… no other countries have university sports teams! Sure, they may have a club team in handball or rowing, but there is no such thing major colleageate athletics in Europe, in Asia, anywhere else. We in American are almost programmed to accept that college teams are the defacto minor league system for the NBA, NFL, until recently soccer, and even to a minor degree Major League Baseball.

But, over in Europe, universities are institutions of higher learning, period. If you are an athlete interested in pursuing a professional career, you don’t go to college, you sign as a teenager on a professional club team. You spend your early years surrounded by employees of this club teaching you fundamentals. They work you up through junior leagues and reserve squads and have a vested interest in your success. All the while, you are being paid (right Enes Kanter?) to develop your skills.

What is blasphemous in the minds of most college fans is the idea of paying the players who represent our universities. They already get college scholarships worth $30-60K per year. For many of them, that is as much or more than they would earn as a professional on a club team at that stage in their career. However, where there is exceptional talent that would be earning significantly more, such as a Marcus Camby or OJ Mayo, there is plenty of reason to believe they are making up for it elsewhere.

But, here is what you have to ask yourself…why do we need to give them college scholarships at all?

For an athlete in Europe, it really isn’t an issue. You see, if they want to go to college, their tuition is already free in most Western European countries, just as it is for any capable student! That’s right, just like your K-12 education was free here, their education is paid for all the way through college. In fact, my Radiologist friend in Germany had his entire university education paid for all the way through Medical School! So, when he graduated, he had no debt and now is living well as a doctor.

In Europe, an athlete can focus on their skills and training solely while they are in their prime physical condition, without having to fake their way through classes to stay eligible (or struggle with the demands of both if they are a serious student).  If and when their athletic career is over, whether it is by freak injury as a 18 year old, being cut from their team in their early 20’s, or after a long and successful career, they can always go back to school for free.

Which brings me to John Calipari’s idea about having the major universities and conferences secede from the NCAA to form their own league. They could keep all the  revenue from the NCAA’s TV deals and use that to pay stipends to these players who make the obscene money possible.

There is a lot of money flowing out there. Coaches of major universities are making millions.  The players are getting very little of it. However, the major programs have shown time and time again that money follows talent. When that star player from a poor neighborhood shows up with a brand new BMW, when the parents of the player suddenly move into a brand new house across the street from the university, when you see that the handlers, AAU coaches, and hangers-on find “employment” on campus, you know that everything is not on the up-and-up. Shoe companies are already helping to “direct” players to the right schools that have contracts with them. When a coach like Tim Floyd can be caught handing a bag with $1000 to a player and not only does he avoid punishment, but is hired immediately by another university (UTEP), you know it really is all about winning and not about the “education” our institutions of higher learning are supposed to be focused on.

John Calipari knows a thing or two about money, basketball, and working the system. The fans want winners and for many of them, they could care less about the academic quality of the institution. For the citizens of the state of Kentucky, the vast majority of which never graduated from UK (not a knock on Wildcat fans, just a statistical reality of any state), the real focus is always on regional pride and wanting to support a winner. So, while Calipari has had two Final Fours vacated, Kentucky fans will still argue till their death bed in defense of Calipari. Some will even quietly admit to you that they would rather win and have it vacated later than not win at all.

Basically, the top schools are in essence already paying their top players, whether it is directly or indirectly. This is just a way to make it a little more above board. So, you know what? Maybe Calipari isn’t such a bad guy after all. Wait, did huskylenz really just say that?….Maybe he just sees the world the way it is, rather than the way it should be.


First of all, in regards to paying the players, it still will not solve the baseline issues with the top-level athletes. Giving that athlete $3000 more per year will not stop them from taking a handful of cash from a booster. If the Wall Street mess showed you anything, it is that greed knows no limits.

Secondly, can you really give everyone the same amount? Isn’t a QB worth more than a punter? Isn’t your starting senior guard worth more than your freshman center who is redshirting? And what about all the other 1000 athletes you have on campus. Does the softball player and the wrestler get that $3000 too? And, don’t even get me started on the Title IX ramifications.

There are 347 Division I basketball universities. Each school can have up to 13 players under scholarship. That is 4511 potential student-athletes having their college educations paid for. Of those 347 DI schools, 75 of them play for the so-called BCS conferences. You can probably include another 20-30 in the so-called “major” category based on their school size, market reach, and athletic history. So, less than 30% of all of the universities in DI are considered to be major teams and they certainly have the vast majority of the players who will turn pro in any given season. For the remaining 3200 or student athletes who will never play professionally, they have just had 4 years of college paid for (a value of up to $120-200K) and can walk away with a diploma (if they chose to take advantage of it). Not only that, this doesn’t even take into account the 126,000 total scholarships across all sports which are primarily paid for by the revenue of football and men’s basketball. So, that is a lot of men and women benefitting directly from the money we fans are willing to put into the system through our ticket sales and TV viewing.

If you mess with the system, if you allow the major revenue universities to secede from the NCAA, then those hundreds of thousands of hard working students who happen to play sports many of us don’t care about on a day to day basis lose their chance for an education. Calipari says that the extra revenue from his secession plan could go to athletes from non-revenue sports and to balance athletic department budgets. Maybe so, what is you are not at one of those 100 top programs. Certainly the athletes at the hundreds of schools like Northern Arizona, Morehead State, or College of Charleston will be left out in the cold.

In addition, Calipari’s plan will come back to bite you the sports fan too. The U.S. will not be so dominant in the Olympic sports without having that training ground across hundreds of universities for athletes of volleyball, swimming, track, tennis, among others to hone their skills. Major League Baseball will lose a critical talent pool.

So, the key question is this. What do we want the college experience to be. Are universities simply institutions of higher learning or is there value to the student body, the university, and the community at large to also sponsor athletics? If there is, should only the largest and most followed universities keep to keep all the money or should we spread it around to the benefit of the most people?