The John Calipari Brainstorms Plan To Reshape College Sports -- Is There A Better Way?

We have several differing accounts of a "Marshall Plan" proposed by John Calipari today on Kentucky Sports Radio earlier today to reform college athletics, but I'm not sure they all heard the entire conversation.  Calipari was trying to come up with a solution to the age-old problem of how to pay players a modest stipend for spending money in addition to their scholarships.

First of all, let's review what Calipari was trying to propose.  I will paraphrase them with bullet points rather than trying to transcribe a 10-minute discussion:

  • According to Calipari here are 360 programs in Division I (actually, I think the number is 347), and each of them has 1 vote each, so whatever is proposed must get a majority of schools to agree;
  • Every scholarship athlete, including the non-revenue athletes like track, etc, would have to be included (This is for practical reasons.  It would be possible to exclude them, but a public relations problem, and schools would be unwilling to go there).  Title IX would have to be respected also for female scholarship athletes;
  • It would cost over $1,000,000 per school to add this stipend. I think he is figuring around $3,000-$4,000 per scholarship for 250+ scholarships in additional funds.  Note that number is pretty variable depending on the number of athletic scholarships a school actually funds;
  • He said that there is no way the majority of schools are going to vote for a proposition that will cost them that much additional money.  The big schools may, but they would be overwhelmed in an NCAA vote, he used the example of 64 yea 300 nay (never mind Cal's fuzzy math, I told you before that details aren't his forte);
  • Create four super-conferences, roughly geographically similar to the Pac 10, the Big 10, The SEC and the ACC with 16-18 schools in each conference;
  • Two divisions of eight or nine teams per super-conference, and these teams would "play off" to determine a division winner, who would then play off to determine a super-conference winner.  The four super-conference winners would become the semifinalists in the national football championship, which would be played out to a final champion.  The other league participants would be picked for the minor bowls;
  • Wash, rinse, and repeat for basketball, sans the bowls;
  • All the money would be allocated equally for all the 64 or 72 teams.  There would be enough money to send some to the school for academics, take care of the stipends including Title IX, and fund improved intramural sports (I find that a bit weird, but okay, why not?);
  • Compliance would be done by one league auditing the other league, with perhaps an oversight body with subpoena power to take care of disputes that could not be resolved otherwise.
  • Perhaps all the schools would have to have the same sports (Lacrosse, anyone? You just know Duke would want that if they were included) and all the sports would have championships just like in football;

I'm sure the question that leaps to your mind is, "What about all the other schools in Division I?"  Well, Calipari's plan effectively relegates them to what used to be known as "Division I AA", now known as FCS.  They would be on their own, presumably under the current organizational structure of the NCAA.


The basic proposal here is to take the 64 or 72 largest programs outside the NCAA, and form their own athletic association.  Calipari isn't proposing disbanding the NCAA or anything else, just removing essentially the 64 or 72 largest schools from the NCAA and forming their own body.  That would remove the necessity for the larger schools to share revenue in order to support the smaller schools' athletics stipends.

So is Calipari's solution practical?  Sure, assuming you could get the requisite schools to renounce their membership in the NCAA and form a competing athletics association, which I expect would be very problematic to say the least.  The main objections I have seen to this have been basketball people hating what it would do to the NCAA tournament, and that is understandable.  But there is really no doubt it would work in theory, and not too much doubt it would work in practice. 

But there are other solutions that don't require such radical surgery, which I'll examine now.

First of all, the BCS would have to die.  I hear not one tear shed for that anywhere in America except in the BCS conferences.  Sorry boys, your days of "grunt, grab and growl" are over.

The NCAA would then form a playoff as in CBS' Dennis Dodd's proposal -- Let's say a 16-team playoff for FBS.  That would be a total of 15 football games.  The logic is that if 5 bowls rake in $193 million, then a "modest playoff" (I am reading that to mean a 16-team playoff) would bring in roughly $800 million, according to Dodd.  Let's accept that number as accurate.

The other bowls would be left alone to do what they do, if they could remain viable.  Otherwise, they would simply cease to operate.  I don't care.  We are solving a practical problem here, and tradition, etc. must be sacrificed on the altar of expediency if that's what it takes.

The NCAA basketball tournament brings the NCAA in excess of $500 million every year, which is distributed back to the schools based on the following general critera:

  • How many sports they play;
  • How many athletics scholarships they fund;
  • Via the conferences based on how many schools they got into the tournament.

Instead, we lump this basketball tournament revenue into the pie with the football revenue. That gives us a total take of around $1.3 billion dollars.  The NCAA then distributes the money as follows:

  • $4,000 for each full athletics scholarship offered by member institutions, up to a maximum of 250 scholarships or $1 million per school.  That money must be applied only to athletics scholarships, or returned to the NCAA.  Assuming a full compliment of scholarships for all 347 member universities, that would amount to $347 million, leaving $953 million in the NCAA kitty.
  • The rest is distributed back to the schools and conferences by whatever formula the NCAA membership deems workable, either as a lump sum or apportioned by percentage of source revenue after the scholarships are funded.

Problem solved.  No eliminating the NCAA and forming a super conference.  No forming a new regulatory body.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Yes, approximately 25% of the revenue is basically raided from the coffers and distributed in a very sort of "collectivist" way, but if you look at the NCAA basketball model, it has elements of that same thinking.

I am also aware that the vast majority of smaller schools would be "free riders" under this proposal.  Again, so what?  In the end, the money is used to fund educational opportunities via athletics, and at least in theory, Division I colleges are supposedly not in the business of making money other than to fund educational and research opportunities.  It is a relatively modest nod to altruism and away from rampant athletics Darwinism. 

Besides, if athlete's lack of mad money is the human tragedy so many seem to think, it would be a small price to pay.  Plus, the overall NCAA revenue would roughly quadruple, and every penny of that (save a few pence for Ceasar and his NCAA henchmen) would go back to the universities by a mutually-agreed formula, roughly as the basketball tournament revenue is distributed now.

Well, there it is.  I think this is roughly what Dodd was talking about, although as a football guy, he only considers football programs worthy of the scholarship stipend, by reading his comments. That can never happen under the NCAA model, it's pretty much all or nothing.

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