Mark Emmert. Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.

Why John Feinstein is wrong about John Calipari and Mark Emmert

In a recent Washington Post column, one of the greatest sportswriters of our time, John Feinstein, attacks Kentucky head coach John Calipari and NCAA president Mark Emmert.  The column is titled “NCAA Tournament final: Mark Emmert, John Calipari are two of a kind.”

Feinstein is not a fan of the NCAA because Calipari and Emmert make millions of dollars while the college athletes do not receive monetary compensation.  He ends the column saying, “If Kentucky wins, Emmert will present the trophy to Calipari. The two men will embrace. As they should. They deserve each other.”

In a weird way, it seems Feinstein wanted the Kentucky Wildcats to win to prove his point that the NCAA “needs blowing up.”  However, the UConn Huskies won, and showed Feinstein it is possible to succeed doing it the right way.  The right way, according to college basketball purists, is that you build a team that relies on juniors and seniors who will graduate college.

Kentucky builds their team differently, and in my opinion, also does it the right way.  Coach Calipari convinces the best recruits that he will get them NBA ready in one-year while contending for a National Championship with the best fan base in college basketball rooting for them.  The “best fan base” is part of Calipari’s recruiting pitch, not mine, I’m a UConn fan.

Feinstein goes after Emmert for being against the unionization of college athletes, and believing they should not be paid.

Personally, I am shocked to learn that almost every major sportswriter and talking head, i.e. Jay Bilas, believe college athletes should be paid.  They try to convince you that there is no reason to say a free education and world class coaching are good enough.  However, they are unclear how much the athletes should be paid, and do not address which athletes should be considered professionals.

Are we really going to open it up to a free-market system?  Do the (insert non-revenue generating program) get paid too?

To me, the best answer is this: getting your education partially or completely covered while learning life skills that will help you at the professional and personal levels is the student-athlete’s compensation.  Why must we downplay what it means to receive a college education and how important the coaching lessons are from programs like Kentucky and Connecticut?

For example, Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie taught his players to buy into something that was greater than the individual, and each player accepted his role and followed through.  They proved winning a National Championship is possible even when everyone counts you out.  After last night’s win, I am inspired to achieve something great because as long as you believe, anything is possible.

Feinstein also makes a vague reference to the limited rights of student-athletes, “Or perhaps Calipari is an admirer of Mark Emmert, the NCAA president who goes about his work like a used-car salesman. Emmert believes if you refer to football and basketball players as “student-athletes” 4,000 times a day, people will believe everyone playing in this tournament is going to get a degree in rocket science and there is no reason to grant any of them any rights at all.” (emphasis added)

To say that the student-athletes have no rights at all is ridiculous.  Feinstein means to say that they have no right to monetary compensation.  They have every right to go to class, get an education, practice hard, and realize their potential on the field.

This debate is not over.  A great counter-argument is that most of the Kentucky freshman will be leaving for the NBA after only one year of college.  I think the best way to avoid this is to make a two-year minimum for playing college basketball.  The players will have the opportunity to go to class, and after two years, they will make the choice if college is right for them.  We need to help these young adults realize the benefits of getting a college degree.

The purpose of writing this response to John Feinstein’s column is to let people know it is OK to believe student-athletes should not be paid.  I don’t understand why so many influential sportswriters want the athletes to be paid, but I am open to good, honest debate on the subject.  Please convince me otherwise.  Tell me why I’m wrong that I want these players to focus on getting a degree and developing into mature adults through college sports.

It is a privilege, not a right, to be a student-athlete.

Tags: John Calipari Kentucky Wildcats Mark Emmert NCAA NCAA Basketball UConn Huskies

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