King Kaufman's Sports Daily

You're not going to believe this: The NCAA is all about money. And you're really not going to believe this: Someone has admitted it!


Salon Staff
September 18, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

Shocking revelations out of Indiana!

Gerry DiNardo, the football coach at Indiana University -- could you have named the holder of that job 10 seconds ago? -- says college sports is all about ... you better sit down here: money!

Mona! Get my heart pills!

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In a stunning column in the Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz quotes the coach saying, "We've moved closer to professional sports my entire coaching career. Maybe it's about money."

OK, I don't need heart pills, but I'm not being facetious when I say Kravitz's column is stunning. It really is. Everyone knows that big-time college sports is all about money. What's shocking is someone on the inside actually being honest about it, even if he does use the hilarious word "maybe." This is Kravitz's thesis too. "It's just rare -- wonderful and rare -- to hear someone who is part of the NFL/NCAA culture, someone who benefits from the status quo, expose the hypocrisy and blatant self-interest inherent in the draft rule," he writes.

Kravitz had asked DiNardo about the Maurice Clarett affair in the wake of the suspended Ohio State sophomore running back announcing that he planned to challenge the NFL's rule preventing players from entering the draft until their high school class has been graduated for three years.

"If we have a great musician here at IU, and he or she decides to leave to play in an orchestra, nothing is said," DiNardo told Kravitz. "Hockey players have left school early. For generations in this country, baseball players have gone right from high school to professional baseball, and no one ever mentions, 'What about their education?'

"And yet we take a different attitude about basketball and football players, and I find that unusual. We've moved closer to professional sports my entire coaching career. Maybe it's about money. Maybe the hockey player that leaves doesn't impact the university in a negative way financially. Maybe the baseball player who leaves, or the musician, don't have a negative financial impact."

ESPN.com's Gregg Easterbrook tackles this issue from the other side in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, calling Clarett's threatened legal challenge to the minimum age "a fight the NFL must win." Why? Money.

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"If the NFL starts bringing in teenagers, what will happen is exactly what's happened to pro basketball," Easterbrook writes, citing the NBA's decline in ratings, revenue, attendance and sales in the last 10 years as underclassmen have flooded into the league. "Quality of play -- by far the most important aspect of NFL popularity -- will spiral downward," and with it, profits.

Except when he's writing about uniforms -- he seems to have an unhealthy affection for baby blue, citing the old Chargers and Oilers suits as examples of sartorial splendor, and he wants all teams to wear white shoes -- Easterbrook is a clear-eyed observer who provides insightful observations between cheesecake photos of cheerleaders. But I think he's off-base here. Signing teenagers isn't what leads to a decline in quality of play. Making bad personnel decisions does. If 19-year-old players aren't as effective as veterans in their 20s and 30s, then it's a bad personnel decision to draft and sign them. So don't sign them. You don't need a rule.

In baseball the Oakland A's have shown that, for example, signing mediocre relievers to eight-figure contracts because they pile up a lot of saves is a bad decision. Others are starting to learn that too, but nobody's advocating for a rule against relief pitchers getting big contracts. Every once in a while a Mariano Rivera comes along who's worth all that money, and he should be able to get it. The NFL's minimum age rule, the one Easterbrook says the league must preserve, essentially protects NFL owners from their own poor decision-making.

It's often argued -- not by the NFL, which absurdly talks about encouraging kids to go to college -- that the reason for the draft rule is to protect the current system, where the NCAA acts as a free minor league for the pro ranks. Players arrive trained, and in some cases as fully marketable celebrities, at no cost to the NFL. That's true, but it would still be true without the rule if NFL teams made good personnel decisions.

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I think the pendulum is going to swing away from teenagers in the NBA as teams realize the folly of showering money on callow youngsters who might or might not pay off, and who will make millions learning the ropes for a few years even if they do. The recent turn from American underclassmen to European players is the first step in that process.

If the NFL wants to keep its draft rule to protect teams from their own folly, why can't it, and its boosters, just be honest about it? That's always my question with these issues surrounding college sports: Why can't anybody ever just tell the truth about things? Writing about this stuff, I've felt like Diogenes, looking for one honest man.

Well, Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star seems to have found that honest man.

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"I always go back to this: The right thing to do is to treat a student-athlete as a student first," DiNardo told Kravitz. "Well, students are allowed to leave IU to go to work. But with football players, it isn't allowed. Something is contradictory."

Yes, an entire system built on a lie -- that big-time college athletes are amateurs -- is going to seem a little contradictory.

I hope DiNardo has a lot of success on the field in Bloomington. He can't afford to get fired. He won't be making a lot of friends in the NCAA with this honesty thing.

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