HOOVER, Ala. — Splitting his legs like scissors, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a 15-foot jumper at the Prudential Center in Newark N.J., last March. The shot sparked bedlam and propelled John Calipari’s team to an upset of top-seeded Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
I was behind the Kentucky bench.
Knight’s family, meanwhile, was not in the arena.
“So when Brandon Knight made the game-winner against Ohio State, don’t you think his family should have been there?” Calipari rhetorically asked me Thursday at SEC media day. The coach was on a roll. “They couldn’t afford to be there. So they weren’t there. That’s not pay-for-play.”
Calipari kept steaming ...
“Was it pay-for-play in the 50s and 60s when (schools) gave (athletes) movie money and laundry money? They paid them to play giving them that money? It wasn’t. It was all about dollars, that’s why (the NCAA) took it away. Paying expenses does not make (student-athletes) professionals. That’s what they hide behind. It’s not true.”
As Calipari spoke, the Division I Board of Directors met 500 miles north in Indianapolis to vote on NCAA president Mark Emmert’s proposal to allow the option of adding more money to student-athlete scholarships. It was one of a bevy of reforms on Emmert’s agenda, but easily the issue that would directly impact student-athletes the most. Anyone following the lead up to Thursday’s vote to add $2,000 in aide to scholarship packages knew it would pass.
The question was not if the additional $2,000 would be approved, but if $2,000 is enough.
Calipari, for one, believes the aide should be, “more like $4,000.” That’s a figure that falls more in line with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s claim that studies show athlete pay an average of $3,000 to $4,000 out of pocket to cover costs of living.
The resounding consensus among the SEC coaches gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel just outside Birmingham, Ala., was an athlete's full cost of living should be covered, whatever that figure may be.
“If you are to get a full-ride scholarship, well that should cover everything,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “There are mechanisms in place right now that help address some of those things, but I think it’s something that’s been coming for a while. I think it makes a full-ride scholarship more true to its name.”
To meet Calipari’s proposal that traveling expenses for family members should be covered, that $4,000 figure would fall laughably short, let alone $2,000. He thinks it’s logical, though, for those fees to be covered for students without the means. As is his style, Calipari was wishing for Z while A was being voted on.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, meanwhile, saw the approved additional aide as a deterrent for the cringeworthy incidents plaguing the NCAA.
“We have students selling jerseys, selling items and that sort of thing,” said the Vols’ first-year coach. “We have to take a step back and look at the situation because if I can give an extra amount of dollars to keep them away from doing that, then we probably need to do it, especially if we have it financially.”
Therein lies one major problem with Thursday’s vote. Some schools can handle it financially. Others cannot. That, however, is a discussion for another time. It took nearly 40 years for the NCAA to retract it’s 1972 decision that cost-of-living stipends should be illegal.
If the rule is reconstituted, it should at least be right.
“It should be an amount of money meant for their needs,” Martin said. “It’s not, 'here’s X amount of dollars to go out and have fun.'”
SEC commissioner Mike Slive presented a “proposed national agenda for change” at the conference’s football media day in July that included “aide in addition to the full cost of attendance.” He wouldn’t specifically respond Thursday to whether he believes $2,000 is appropriate.
“You can argue the number, but the important thing is that there’s been a recognition of the need to provide the full cost of attendance and then the additional number,” Slive said.
Sitting alone in the corner of the Wynfrey ballroom, Vanderbilt All-American candidate John Jenkins was asked his thoughts on the bump in scholarship money. The junior smiled, acknowledging he’s only followed the issue on Twitter, but said, “I don’t know much about it, but it seems too good to be true.”
Indeed, the vote to add $2,000 to athletic scholarships is a small victory for the athletes that produce a product worth billions. But Emmert’s push to tackle the quandary of student-athlete compensation may have come up short. If the NCAA is moving to assure that cost of living is covered, then guarantee it can be covered in full. Don’t take a half-step when stretching out for a full step.
No one wants to wait another 40 years.