A message to the NCAA: reform or be replaced

The NCAA is about to implode, or at least Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari thinks so.

In recent weeks, the NCAA has come under fire with more universities, players and coaches calling for college sports’ governing body to reform.

One of the most publicized instances of this debate is the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling that Northwestern football players are employees of the university, and therefore have the right to unionize.

The Wildcats will vote on whether or not to go ahead with the union on April 25.

Should Northwestern decide to unionize, what would stop other universities from following suit?

This would turn college sports on its head, and Calipari seems to think a wake-up call is necessary.

In his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” released on Tuesday, he likens the NCAA to the Soviet Union in the late ‘80s.

“It was still powerful. It could still hurt you. But you could see it crumbling, and it was just a matter of time before it either changed or ceased to exist,” wrote Calipari.


To many, including myself, the comparison seems extreme. Yes, the NCAA needs to reform, but to liken it to a dying Cold War superpower is a stretch. Calipari has a point, and though many people share his opinions, he goes too far.

There is a slew of legal action directed against the NCAA right now, including an antitrust lawsuit brought on by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon.

Players and coaches, Calipari included, clamor for player compensation and a change that would allow athletes to transfer schools and play immediately if they are affected by a coaching change.  

Is Calipari on to something? Is the NCAA on its last leg if it can’t compromise?

It doesn’t seem likely.

NCAA President Mark Emmert agrees change is necessary. But he is vague on what will change, and how.

Emmert announced his support for including athletes in legislative processes and giving them a larger say in policy decisions but denounced unions as a “grossly inappropriate solution” and the ruin of collegiate athletics as they exist today.

Perhaps ironically, Calipari also announced his support for a change in the rules that would discourage or disallow the “one-and-done” phenomenon in college basketball.

Calipari, who takes full advantage of marketing Kentucky as an institution that fosters the jump to the NBA after one season, is often seen as sleazy for his recruiting practices based around this concept.

The Kentucky “one-and-done,” or as Calipari likes to call it, “succeed-and-proceed” is a brand.

John Wall, Anthony Davis and even Derrick Rose, back when Calipari was coaching at Memphis, have taken their talents to college, made a Final Four and moved on.

So to hear Calipari argue in favor of a change to the rules, or a two-year college requirement, comes as a slight shock.

The pressure on the NCAA is immense, but college sports are so institutionalized that a major overhaul to the governing body is not a plausible alternative.

What if, instead of the NCAA — a national administrative body — collegiate athletics were governed by Calipari’s suggested “superconferences,” each responsible for its own enforcement?


Instead of a suspiciously selective NCAA, each conference would be subject to its own rules, obliterating a sense of order and consistency.

There would need to be a body to oversee the superconferences, which is what the NCAA attempts to do now, in its current state.

Does the NCAA need to take a good hard look at what is necessary for a modern student-athlete to thrive?


But the need for reform doesn’t render the NCAA useless.

It means change is inevitable, but probably not on the scale Calipari anticipates, crumbling Soviet Union and all.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @arynbraun.