What Calipari Understands That Jim Boeheim Doesn’t

Edit by Dalan Overstreet

Earlier this year I wrote about compensation for NCAA athletes, to the effect of it should definitely happen so let’s do it so we can talk about something more interesting.  It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that these topics are cyclical. Given that we’re quickly approaching a new College Basketball season, a high point in recruiting, of course it was due to come back around. This time, Klutch Sports is the catalyst.

To summarize, Darius Bazley, a five-star high school prospect and McDonald’s All-American, originally planned to attend Syracuse, but decommitted in March. A month later, he signed with Rich Paul-founded Klutch Sports Group, which represents the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with plans to play in the G-League. Bazley recently changed his mind once again and signed on for a $1 million internship with New Balance, deciding to train on his own rather than go to the G-League.

Even with having over six months to cope, Jim Boeheim, Syracuse coach for God only knows how long, still seemed a bit salty. Earlier this week, after an exchange with LeBron and a response from Ben Simmons, who is also repped by Klutch, the discussion took a predictable turn towards player pay and Boeheim gave a familiar answer.

“I don’t think we should ever compensate players. I think we do as much as we can for players. The cost of attendance is good. They get more meals now so they can keep their meal money. I think those are all good things and I think more of those things should have been done. But I don’t think you can compensate players straight out. What’s the salary? How much? Do you pay football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball? We got a great lacrosse team, do we pay those guys?”

He continues, “And everybody says, ‘The coach makes this and the players (don’t make anything).’ The player is 17 years old. I’ve been working my whole life. There’s a lot of 17-year-old kids that don’t make money. Most of them. These 17-year-old kids are getting a $75,000 scholarship. And they compare that to a coach making all this money. What’s the comparison there? I’m a grown man. I’ve been working for 50 years. That’s just not a comparison. It makes no sense. You might as well say that NBA players aren’t making enough money because the owner’s worth $2 billion. So the players should be making more money. It just makes no sense.”

First, the following is the answer key to those questions:

  1. Whatever terms they negotiate with schools, like most jobs of this kind
  2. See answer above
  3. Yes, Yes, Yes
  4. Yes, you pay the Lacrosse guys as well

secondly, unless you yourself are willing to work for meals and housing instead of actual money, you can see why someone would not be so eager to do so themselves.

Third, any 17 year old with a job are salaried employees. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 73, labor should be met with fair compensation. People on academic scholarships are getting a free ride because they also excelled, but they can seek compensation in other forms. I doubt Boeheim would approve of that for his players and commits.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that most of these players are 18, not 17, when they arrive on campus, so they would be old enough to serve on a jury, vote, be charged with crimes as adults and join the military. Sometimes people of an older generation are inconsistent when determining adulthood.

Okay, I think I’ve railed against him enough. Back to the actual point.

It was announced that the G-League would offer the one-and-done types a “professional path” to the NBA. The path would include a $125K contract and access to NBA resources. Who knows if this will attract elite players, but it is at least something new.

John Calipari is another high-profile coach to speak on this recently. In the past, Cal has been pretty dodgy on this topic, but struck a pretty different tone last week, days before the G-League’s professional path announcement.

“I’ve got the solution. The NBA, you want these kids in the G League, you want to do all this? Everyone that goes in the G-League is guaranteed eight semesters of college education if you don’t make it. You give them a signing bonus, you pay them. And then if they don’t make it after two years, the NBA pays to have them on my campus. They have to sit out their first year, to prove they really want to be in college. So you can come to college, the NBA is gonna pay for it, for eight semesters. You come back, sit out a year to prove you really want to be in college, then you start playing and your clock starts.”

I get where Calipari is going with this idea. He seems to believe this may hinder a young player’s development, so the league should offer a safety net. This is far from a perfect solution, because it is more complicated and less fair than the NCAA and schools just paying players, but it puts Cal on the better side of this conversation, one that signals to prospects that he will align with their interests.

What Cal understands that Boeheim doesn’t is simply this: It will happen anyway. I am not sure on the statistics or exactly how many people are in favor of paying athletes. However, what I do know is its’ advocates are getting louder and bolder. Calipari is adjusting and in doing so can somewhat shape the dialogue. Boeheim digging in his heels will only alienate five-star guys in the future.

Sometimes, it’s better to just change with the tide…especially if the tide is right.


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