Going to College Coaches for Opinions on NCAA and Pay Isn’t Helping


Journalists annually turn to college basketball coaches for their thoughts on the perceived wrongs of the sport. We do that while already knowing the response going in. All of us need to take a different approach.

A long, now tired trope is a media member asking someone (who has long profited off the current NCAA model) what they think about it, as if the coach literally making money off the back of unpaid labor will have an opinion without bias.

What happens next isn’t a coach’s fault, either. They view the landscape of the sport through a particular lens, albeit one that lacks perspective one from outside the coaching bubble. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is the latest example.

It is fitting to point this out as the FBI remains looming in the shadows. Plenty of programs often praised for doing it “the right way” — whatever the hell that means — are now caught up in an investigation that will certainly break a few hearts across the country.

There is no right way, mind you, to go about operating within the sport. There is only one way; the lone, sole reason any coach remains employed for a substantial amount of time. That way is winning.

Nothing else matters. Nothing. Not in a way that results with impact.

Let me be Camp Crystal Lake clear: Other things CAN matter to a coach. Whenever I drop one of these categories of columns, I am immediately hit with the “you don’t get it” or a “coaches care” reply. I am NOT saying ALL coaches fail in those areas, or even most, but what I am screaming at the top of my lungs is that a coach’s value is in winning first and nearly only that. Everything else comes a distant second.

If a coach is trying to put winning secondary — instead embracing all those narratives of character-building invoked to deify them — they aren’t employed long enough to make real impact.

Save for a program coming off a monumental scandal, no coach is keeping his job for legitimately turning kids into future productive members of society. A coach simply won’t stay employed while losing 20 games a season only because his players do well in school.

Winning trumps all. People who pretend otherwise are a part of the problem.

The idea that any of that has ever been a part of college money-sports is rooted around the same foundational area of folk who want to turn sports into some sort of morality play. It should go without saying that — though, apparently, it needs to be said often — bad people could have a good jumper, good people might not be able to jump over a phone book, and there’s a complexity involved that shouldn’t inherently result in someone being painted as good or evil.

People from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs can be good or bad or somewhere in the middle and none of it alters how good that person is at their job.

Let’s marinate on that thought for a second:

When someone in any walk of life does something the public deems as wrong, critics are quick to pounce, especially public figures. Removing that person’s entire lifespan, destroying any possible context, the characterization of an athlete or coach often comes down to his biggest misstep.

It is unfortunate, yet people are being define for their most public acts, good or bad.

We’re walking around void of nuance in conversations that need to be had with it. This is largely why asking a paid laborer, in a sport founded off the backs of powerless unpaid talent, what his thoughts are in regard to a model so incredibly broken it needs massive overhaul, is counterproductive.

What does anyone expect to happen after a loaded question is poised?

Can some insight be gained as to what Roy Williams thinks of the system? Of course … provided he is as squeaky clean as he claims to be and we don’t later learn he’s in on the tomfoolery of taking advantage of a broken model.

The thing is, as it often is within a system attempting to keep the powerless from obtaining any, the earnest and most valuable thoughts will come from the people who have been exploited. Here being the student-athletes.

Here, again, we hit yet another critical impasse, as it becomes a complicated situation we have long purposely ignored. The sort that I wish we did a better job when sifting through other polarizing topics in everyday life.

One person in a subset group does not speak for all. This applies to the student-athlete, coaching brethren, military and so on. For every coach longing for the outdated model to thrive, there are others who appear counter-culture, but still view the spectrum of the NCAA with an agenda pressing at their back. For every Jim Boheim who only speaks in half-thoughts, there is a John Calipari who bashes the system in a way that directly benefits him.

Merely because one member of a broadly defined group says one thing, that person’s belief system isn’t speaking for everyone. A wider, more encompassing canvass of the group is needed to better serve our desire to know what people are truly thinking.

Small-sample sizes are only that. More so, if we’re only grabbing from a certain pool for a sample, we shouldn’t be shocked when the responses come back exactly as to how we all thought they would.

When we turn to coaches, both on the pay-to-play side and those not, we aren’t going to get even a slight hint as to what the problem is. Not because those men are entirely hypocritical (many of them aren’t), but because they all have too much to lose by being bluntly honest.

For those who have little to lose at this point — a Jimmy Boheim, Coach K, etc. — it would behoove everyone for them to take the path of sincerity, but when they do, it often comes with ideals attached to it that no longer work in a multi-billion dollar collegiate sports atmosphere.

More bluntly put: As outdated as their ideals might be in a modern society, even worse is their lack of education on a world that has clearly passed them by.

“Any kid that would get an endorsement will get his money when he goes to the NBA,” Boeheim said recently said. “The other kids that aren’t going to end up in the NBA probably aren’t going to get endorsements in college anyway.”

Here is one of the sport’s largest legends. A coach who has a voice that echoes and resonates. A man who has often belittled the media in a public way, failed in evolving in nearly every philosophical way, speaking about something he clearly does not understand. Something, in actual fairness to him, he has no business even discussing.

But here he is, discussing it as if he were speaking fact.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize most college basketball players would go without a shoe deal during their time trotting about “amateur” hardwoods. At the same time, people like Boeheim fail in understanding the appeal an even-only-OK guard at Duke or Kentucky or even some random mid-major can have toward a local company.

If you don’t think an Anthony Lamb of Vermont would make a few extra bucks helping to sell some used cars or local restaurant’s food, then please explain the existence of local celebrities constantly popping up to shill something on my picture-box.

Would it create a potential festering ground of haves and have-nots? Naturally, but the idea of fair-and-competitive balance being a thing in college sports died around the same time some blue-blood programs were able to ofter upwards of $7 million per year for a coach while the have-nots are barely fielding a coaching staff.

This is where the disconnect always is. Terminology. Ideals. An NCAA model that relies on both to hang on to a system born upon its shores with possibly altruistic intentions, and with the governing body now attempting to pretend those pebbles of amateur-sands remain untouched by the passage of time and growth within the industry it operates.

If you are for the student-athlete/amateur/current model, the terminology the NCAA hurls at us is important to you. You see value in a “free education” (that isn’t free because a kid has to apply a trade to earn it); you believe the education is enough compensation despite the value (not financial) of a scholarship decreasing alongside TV rights deals going up; etc.

Fine. There is no moving you from your position. It is yours and it is firm. Maybe because you were born into it, like a religion, without having a chance to know better. Or, possibly, with even a lesser benefit of the doubt attached, you operate in a world where your jealousy over other’s successes leaves you with no other options but to say that those who have earned something (anything really) do not deserve it because of {insert your tired, lazy and mostly fictitious narrative here}.

This can tie into the now-dying art of national broadcasts putting a player’s GPA up when he is shooting a free-throw. No one actually cares if Larry McJumper has a 3.4 GPA while studying engineering, but it makes it more digestible for the fan who wants the sport to feel pure and untouched by the “greed” they think has taken over the NBA.

All far more polite ways of saying a lot of the appeal of college basketball, at least to some, is coded in uneducated thoughts on what is best for others, while really only wanting what is best for you.

Alas, there are dopes like me on the other side. Those who consider themselves “enlightened” enough to see all the wrongs happening withing college sports, but instead of taking tangible stands to correct the course of the NCAA’s abuse of labor, we lament to each other about it.

All talk. No action.

Do I have ideas on how to fix all the unjust things happening in big time college basketball? Sure as shit, yes I do. I will let you, my friendly reader, in on a little secret: At the same time, it doesn’t matter what I think. Or what you think. Or what anyone thinks. Not really. Not as long as we keep asking the same people the same questions we keep getting the same answers from.

We’re all a part of the NCAA’s model of insanity. We all continue to do the same thing, day in and day out, and somehow expect different results.

Asking a college coach what he thinks about the NCAA, even if it seems like an answer “different” than what we’re used to, isn’t actually all that different. We have been doing this song and dance for a few decades now. For those of us who want actual, real change, maybe it is time for a different approach.

For those who don’t, this is, even while taken subconsciously, a tactic that’s long worked for them.

We bother because we care (no matter the side). This conversation, however, hasn’t evolved in 20-plus years. Not because it hasn’t deserved to evolve, but due to the fact we keep attacking the issue from the same front.