Always a lover of his team’s chances come March Madness, University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari predicts the conclusion of a different kind of madness in the foreseeable future: The end of the NCAA’s regulatory power over big-time college athletics.
The 53-year-old Calipari told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News that before he has retired from coaching, he sees the NCAA being usurped by four super-conferences that will not be subject to NCAA governance.
Calipari’s criticisms of the NCAA are not without merit, but his vision of the future is not the solution at the moment — at least not for the majority of NCAA member schools.
In June, Calipari discussed this plan in more detail to Lexington, Kentucky, media, explaining that 64 to 72 teams would form four regional super-conferences, consisting of the teams from the present “Power Six” conferences. The teams in these conferences would regulate one another and would also pay annual stipends to every athlete, something the NCAA and smaller athletic programs have vehemently resisted.
Calipari also alluded that the NCAA will inevitably meet its end after enough people become frustrated with the organization’s selfish approach in caring for the welfare of its business partners and administrators before the welfare of the student-athletes who helped make the NCAA $845.9 million last year.
However, retaining the NCAA is vital. Yes, that would be the same NCAA that has muted the public’s call for a reformed college football playoff system in favor of bringing us the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl every year. And yes, that would be the same NCAA that tries as hard as it can to convince everybody that the first part of the moniker “student-athlete” really does come first and foremost.
A governing body, such as the NCAA, overseeing all schools, especially at the Division I level, is necessary to regulate the money that flows into big-time college athletics. Otherwise, big-time athletic programs would create a trust (of sorts) on collegiate sports, swallowing any relevance smaller schools might have had thanks to the NCAA trying to create an equitable framework.
Naturally, Calipari’s proposition would be most lucrative to his own school — the University of Kentucky — and those schools similarly situated because they wouldn’t have to share profits with the other 250-plus Division I schools, those minnows which lack the same economic footprint as the major schools’ athletic departments.
But in the interview with DeCourcy, Calipari said his idea of four super-conferences is met with resistance because of the NCAA’s desire to maintain parity, which is “why [power conference schools] have to separate.”
But parity, particularly in Calipari’s sport, has arguably been the most important factor in propelling the NCAA Tournament to the top of many fans’ sports hierarchy as the greatest annual sporting event.
Implicit in the current NCAA structure is that some schools will be in a better position than others. That’s an unfortunate reality. Explicit in Calipari’s plan is the express shunning of any smaller school from at least trying to reach a level playing field as the power-conference teams.
It’s why the early makings of super conferences for the purposes of football (ahem, money) this fall didn’t seem kosher. Conference realignment rippled through the nation, and conferences sacrificed tradition and pragmatism to allow, for example, a team in Boise, Idaho, to travel thousands of miles east to begin a rivalry with the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers.
Reforms to the current NCAA system are obviously needed, but Calipari’s call for super-conferences seems premature and a likely death knell of the small-time athletic programs which go on to become our favorite Cinderella teams.
This time of year reaffirms that anything can happen in the landscape of college athletics. And the Madness is only beginning.
Photo Credit: Tennessee Journalist