Monday notes

1) Rick Pitino comes out in favor of letting players bypass college for the NBA (or the developmental league). Here, here. Pitino has, to be sure, his own self-interested reasons for doing so, specifically the fact that Louisville’s fierce in-state rival Kentucky seems to have nearly cornered the market on elite one-and-doners. But that doesn’t make Pitino wrong. All of the supposed ills of the one and done “culture” and its deleterious effect on college basketball (wildly overblown in any case) can be laid squarely at the feet of the NBA, which guaranteed this outcome when it decided to force elite high school players to go to college for a year, even if they were NBA ready (which, again, plenty are).

The age limit will be the subject of collective bargaining when the new CBA is up for renegotiation in 2017. The owners and both David Stern and Adam Silver have said they want to push the age minimum for NBA draft eligibility to 20. I’ve discussed in detail before why I think this is BS. What’s interesting is that the NBA players’ union itself is now making some noise about pushing back against the current age limit – 19. In doing so, it was especially refreshing to see one of its lawyers compare basketball to hockey:

“If they were white and hockey players, they would be out there playing. If they were white and baseball players, they would be out there playing,” Kohlman said. “Because most of them are actually African-American and are in a sport and precluded from doing it, they have to go into this absurd world of playing for one year. That’s just total complete hypocrisy.”

Bemoan the playing of the “race card” here all you want. But try to explain why the NHL is perfectly delighted to have 18-year olds playing its game, whereas the NBA (without evidence) considers it a disaster.

2) President Obama has been speaking up about the need for NCAA reform. As he did on marriage equality, he seems to be “evolving” in a welcome direction in the case of the NCAA. Sensibly, he recently said that the athletic scholarship should be guaranteed, regardless of injury and that the schools have a greater responsibility to meet the medical needs of injured college athletes than they’ve taken on. Some conferences are adopting language promising “lifetime” scholarships, but the devil remains in the details about how that gets implemented. If a player is not in good academic standing because he couldn’t keep with his school work while meeting the demands of playing football, for example, does it follow that he should not have an opportunity to get back on track and finish his schooling once he’s no longer competing on the field? Especially, since, as the NCAA likes to tell us, most athletes are going to go pro in something other than their chosen sport?

Obama is still hesitant to pay players, and for the usual bad reasons articulated elsewhere. In particular, the President said he is worried about a bidding war for athletes. Leaving aside the fact that programs won’t pay more than the money they have available to field a competitive team, it’s worth asking this: what does Obama imagine the consequence of such a situation will be? That college sports will become corrupted, overrun by a win-at-all-costs mindset? Does anyone really believe that this isn’t already the reality at the big-time programs, whether we’re talking say, about Kentucky basketball, or Alabama or OSU football? The problem with this discussion is that folks are comparing an admittedly unknown future not to present reality, but to a fantasy version of present reality. To take the Kentucky example for the moment – since the program is snatching almost every elite high school player it goes after now, what is the likelihood that paying players will increase the Wildcats’ advantage? I’d say a much better argument could be made that they’d be less able to stockpile elite players than they are now.

In any event, a future in which players are more widely recognized as employees, especially in the profit sports, is also a future in which all manner of issues – including limits on individual pay – could be collectively bargained.

3) the dean of football writers, Peter King conducted a long interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the bulk of which is up at King’s MMQB site. There’s not much of note in the interview – it’s a combination of pretty boilerplate discussion of possible rules changes, franchise relocations, blather about the NFL’s commitment to safety and defensiveness about what Goodell mishandled during the long 2014 season. The fact of the interview is, itself, a reminder of the perils of access. In 2010, when the storm clouds of an impending NFL work stoppage were brewing, King wrote at length for Sports Illustrated about the negotiating flashpoints between the players and the owners. In the guise of an even-handed discussion, King wrote what amounted to a propaganda piece for the owners. Uncharitable? Well, let’s put it this way – it was obvious in 2010 that the owners, as they always do, were misrepresenting their finances and the profitability of their sport. Even dullards like me could see that clearly. King is a smart man who knows the issues a hundred times better than I do. And yet, he managed to sound as if the owners had real concerns about their long-term economic prospects. Come to find out, as every postmortem immediately acknowledged, that the owners simply fleeced the players.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is not hindsight. It was plain to see, unless you’re compromised because of your desire for access, especially with the commissioner’s office.



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