April 21--Perhaps you've found yourself mildly entertained by the start of the NBA playoffs the past couple of days.
The road team winning three of the first four games can do that to a person. Especially when one of those unexpected winners in the opening game of the best-of-seven formats are your No. 8 East seed Atlanta Hawks over the supposed East beasts, the Indiana Pacers.
(Was it just me or could the Pacers' public address announcer be heard shouting, "Anyone got Jeff Teague? Anyone?" as he watched the point guard score a playoff career-best 28 points on Saturday in Indy?)
Anyway, good as these early games have been, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver envisions a far more polished NBA in the future, one filled with players who have apprenticed at least two years in college rather than the current unsatisfactory one-and-done model.
To which we shout, "Hooray!"
And to help back in the NCAA into a much-needed corner, he's demanding that college athletics' governing organization take better care of those players financially while they wait out their two-year purgatory.
"If we're going to be successful in raising the age from 19 to 20, part and parcel in those negotiations goes to the treatment of players on those college campuses and closing the gap between what their scholarships cover and their expenses," Silver noted late last week.
"We haven't looked specifically at creating a financial incentive for them to stay in college. That's been an option that has been raised over the years but that's not something that is on the table right now."
If you're NCAA chief Mark Emmert -- whom the NBA's owners hosted this past week at their annual two-day spring meeting -- the ball is now firmly in your court, which is exactly where it needs to be. You spent the Sunday morning between the national semifinals and final discussing the need to change with the national media. Now is the time to back up those words with actions. The sooner the better.
But as Emmert himself has noted on occasion, the devil is in the details. How can an NCAA already far heavier in have-nots than haves when it comes to healthy finances allow its super conferences -- the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern -- to pay its football and men's basketball players as much as $8,000 a year when its University of Tennessee at Chattanoogas, even its Fresno States and Toledos, would collapse under such obligations?
And what of Title IX? How do you successfully navigate those waters without running afoul of the law?
Here's one solution wrapped up in many parts. First, it's time for the NCAA, the courts and individual athletes to recognize that those who make the money get to somewhat make the rules. Kind of like the real world.
So while the star quarterback or point guard shouldn't necessarily drive a Porsche, drip with more bling than Nelly and arrive at the stadium in a stretch limo for home games, there should be a system in place by which both the NFL and NBA assign a value to the best players while they're in school.
The initial reason is merely to insure them against injury. For instance, on the first day you arrive on campus, an independent board assigns you a worth. For most players, this would be a blanket rate. At mid-season, a player could appeal for a re-assessment. So let's say a Herschel Walker starts with a $50,000 policy but it re-evaluated for a $2-million policy at mid-season, the school covers both policies.
At the end of each season the player can also apply for a loan through an independent lending institution that's been cleared by the NCAA.
Take Tennessee post player Jarnell Stokes, who just declared for the draft, for instance. He might have been allowed to borrow up to $50,000 during his time at UT, with the money being returned to the bank with interest as soon as his first contract is signed. Should he fail, he'd still be on the hook for the money, though the athletic department could pay for him if it chose to do so. The loans would be capped at somewhere between $20- and $50,000, depending on the player's earning potential.
As for the stipends of $5,000 to $8,000 per year, those would be need-based and only available to athletes whose programs make money. However, athletes from other sports could apply for no-interest loans through an NCAA program funded by the hundreds of millions of dollars made from television contracts.
Beyond that, when it comes to college basketball players, they need a realistic evaluation period -- including an open camp in front of NBA scouts -- before they can't back out of the draft. Same for football. Give both parties a month to go through the process -- rather than the 12 days they have today from the time they get a written evaluation only without a workout -- to get a true evaluation of their draft status from league experts, then make an intelligent decision.
And as for medical insurance, use yearly evaluations to buy Lloyd's of London-type policies for the best athletes with the schools footing the bill. It's a small price to pay to keep a Peyton Manning or Anthony Davis in uniform for an extra season.
Will any of this happen? If Emmert and the rest of the NCAA is as smart as they think they are it will. And rather quickly.
"There are things that need to be fixed," he said at the Final Four.
The NBA being willing to fix one-and-done with a little help from its NCAA friends is a marvelous place to start.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected].
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