By Matt Norlander
Four super-conferences. Yes, this notion has been tossed around here and there in the past couple of years. I don't know if we'll reach that point in the next two decades, but if the NCAA is to ever pay "living expenses" for its student-athletes (also referred to as cost-of-attendance scholarships), John Calipari thinks having a separate state and government for college superpowers is the only feasible way to make it happen.
(Stop right there. CBSSports.com senior writer Dennis Dodd has a different solution for this issue. Do give it a read.)
Sort of like turning the NCAA into a big game of Risk, I guess. Move the pieces into new territories and take over the world.
Calipari went on Kentucky Sports Radio this morning (hosted by friend of the blog, Matt Jones) and clarified and expounded upon some answers he gave to Dan Rieffer of WTVQ-Lexington yesterday.
The Kentucky coach said he agrees that the living expense/cost-of-attendance scholarship should be implemented into the college game. Certain universities are receiving so much money these days, it's his belief that players should be compensated for reasonable items. In the interview, he harkens back to a few decades ago when buying a player a soda wasn't deemed criminal.
But those days are gone, and since the hard-and-fast rules of the NCAA are so strict when it comes to money, Calipari's only solution to getting student-athletes funding beyond their scholarships is to have major programs break off from the NCAA and start a rogue set of nations. Basically, have the richest schools move to a fairer, more-balanced playing field. Call it the adult table of college athletics, if you'd like.
"My thing was, there's only one way you can do this," Calipari said. "This is the only way I can see it. You have four super-conferences. A West Coast conference with 16 or 18 teams; a northern conference, you know, where the Big Ten area, of 16 or 18 teams;a southern conference, like the SEC teams, 16 or 18 teams; and an eastern conference like the ACC teams, that have 16 or 18 teams in them. Now, I say 16 or 18 because you could [have] 64 or 72 (teams) and be fine. Because, in football, you'd have nine in each division. They have a playoff championship in their league, the four leagues. Those four winners would be semifinalists for the football championship, and then there'd be a national title game, and the others would play in the bowls. All that television, all that revenue goes back to the 64 or 72 teams -- only those teams. Then you have a basketball tournament with those teams. Those 64 or 72 are in the tournament. Everybody's team is in the tournament."
And that's where you lose me. An NCAA tournament that consists of only the teams from the super-conferences? And everyone automatically qualifies? No. A million, billion times: no. But, for clarity's sake, this isn't what Calipari explicitly wants. He's claiming that it's the only conceivable way he can think of to sufficiently and fairly pay student-athletes.
The football model seems judicious on a few levels, by the way. Interesting to hear one of college basketball's most prominent coaches dispense a plan about how college football can expand and improve its product, and to do it in a way that's pretty imaginable, even if far off. Plenty do believe the swells have already started, though, and that more and more universities are gaining more money and power in the hopes of one day splitting from the NCAA and governing themselves in a way that's unprecedented in American collegiate athletics.
On the topic of fairly paying players, though, if this is the answer, there is no answer.
If you'd like to hear the eight-plus minutes of Calipari's half-baked -- but well-articulated -- plan, have at it.