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Volume 21 No. 1


Editor’s note: This is part two of our sports media roundtable from the Final Four. For part one in our previous issue, click here.

Seven of the most respected authorities on intercollegiate athletics gathered in Phoenix during the Final Four to form SportsBusiness Journal’s first sports media roundtable. They came from TV, digital and print. Some used to play the game. Some have been covering the games and all the trappings of college sports for 30 years or more.

What they all have in common is that they have a passion for the future of the enterprise, which came through loud and clear during the 90-minute roundtable discussion. In this two-part series, the topics range from athlete compensation and LaVar Ball, to the NCAA’s investigation of national champion North Carolina and the coach and athletic director you’d want if you were starting a program.

We finish with Part 2 in this edition, following Part 1 in the April 10 issue.

Podcast highlights from the discussion:

JAY WILLIAMS: You guys are lucky my partner (Jay Bilas) isn’t here. (laughs)

LEN ELMORE: The first question is the terminology compensate. To me, this is not an employer-employee relationship. It’s benefactor-beneficiary. The last time I checked, there was no right to play college sports. Essentially, it’s a privilege and it’s done by contract. Do we need to balance the equities from an optics standpoint? Absolutely. But when you start looking at things like cost of attendance, room, board and other things that are honestly taxable — the IRS just turns its head. And there should be more. I’m a big believer that there’s no right to play, but you still have your natural rights, and rights to name and likeness is one of them. If you’re going to use an athlete’s likeness to promote a sport, you need to compensate for it. But beyond that, salaries, pay-for-play, I think would obscure the educational mission and ultimately be a distraction for them.

WILLIAMS: Isn’t there a way that a portion of the revenue that program generates can be put in escrow so the athletes could capitalize on that at the end of their eligibility?

ELMORE: I’m trying to understand why, with the free education and all the other stuff …

WILLIAMS: But that still pales in comparison with what these programs are making.

ELMORE: Quantify room, board, books, tuition, the cost to practice every day in a world-class facility being taught by world-class teachers, as much food as you can eat …

DANA O’NEIL: Nutritionists.

ELMORE: All of the medical benefits. All over a four-year period. And what you, as an athlete, have to do is give your best on the court and in the classroom.

WILLIAMS: Twenty years ago, I would have said OK. But the money is so ridiculous at this point. Len, I hear what you’re saying and I agree on a lot of it. …

The panel addressed issues facing college sports for 90 minutes. Below at right: Washington Post writer Chuck Culpepper; At bottom: SBJ’s Michael Smith listens to Len Elmore.
Photos by: DARRYL WEBB

ELMORE: I know what you’re going to say. I know what you’re going to say. Look at how much coaches are getting paid. But we also need an antitrust exemption so we can rein in spending on facilities, so we can control coaches’ salaries. I don’t begrudge anyone getting paid, but we’re at a point now where the optics are out of whack.

PAT FORDE: This makes me a bad columnist, but I see both sides to this. I was firmly in your camp, Len, for a long

time until 2010, 2011, when realignment blew everything up just for the sake of making more money. I was like, “Screw it, this is ridiculous.” It’s such a greed grab, how can the players get such a small percentage of it. I’ve got two kids that are student athletes in college right now and a third going next fall. They’re getting a really good deal. They’re swimmers, they’re not generating any money. Programs that do, I have a hard time.

ELMORE: Who’s supporting them?

FORDE: Football.

ELMORE: You start paying players, the money’s got to come from someplace. It’s going to come from the nonrevenue sports. Pay them all and let’s cut tennis, golf and swimming. That’s the world we live in.

DAN WOLKEN: I lean more toward Len’s view, but I also think the image and likeness … why is it even a debate. I don’t know why schools would not allow the athletes to capitalize on their marketing power while they’re in college, many of whom will have their maximum marketing power while they’re in college.

ELMORE: You’re talking about 1.8 percent in basketball (playing professionally). Maybe 2 percent in football. For the rest of them, when it’s over, it’s over. The right to your likeness is a natural right and nobody should have to abdicate that. If you could find a way to put money in a group licensing pot and distribute it upon graduation, I’m all for that.

WOLKEN: I covered the 2008 Memphis team and only one has had a long NBA career, but I guarantee you every one of those kids could have gone out and gotten endorsement deals when they were still in college. That point in time was the high end of their popularity.

WOLKEN: There’s far more openness to the name-and-likeness debate now than there’s ever been.

ELMORE: The biggest move the NCAA could take is the antitrust exemption, but it’s a political football. Right now, the NCAA is dying a death of a thousand cuts with all of these cases. Settle this, settle that, legal fees. They need to get rid of all that. It’s like the wild west. When Tombstone was in trouble, what did they do? (laughs) They called a strong marshal and gave him all the power to clean it up. That’s what an antitrust exemption would do. Now the games might actually have to be in jeopardy before Congress wants to act, but conceptually that’s the way to go.

WILLIAMS: I’ve always wondered if kids would have the moxie or the awareness to boycott the Final Four.

ELMORE: Have you looked at the faces of these kids?

WILLIAMS: No, I get it, you get lost in the pursuit of a championship.

ELMORE: You’re going to tell these kids that you finally get here and “OK, guys, we’re going to boycott.” You’ve got a lot of activists out there who are pushing. I sound like the FBI: “You’ve got these agitators out there.” In a sense, that’s what we have. We’ve got agitators who have no understanding of the feeling to get that far, to play for a championship. And most of the kids, not all, but most would say they were treated well. There’s no way you’d get anybody to boycott that.

CHUCK CULPEPPER: That right there, the feeling versus American capitalism. The reason I think it’s been discussed for so many decades is that it’s the hardest issue I can think of in any realm of life that’s so bloody hard to figure out what to do about it. I mean, we’re the weirdest people on earth — 100,000 people go watch students play. It’s grown like it has and now we’ve got all of this money sloshing around. Harbaugh is going to Rome. How do you sort it out? In part of my mind, I think Reggie Bush deserved a house, running around the Coliseum in front of 90,000 people. Get him a house, please.

PAOLA BOIVIN: Well, it’s like Pat was saying. In our jobs we want everything to be black and white, but it’s hard to come to a conclusion on this.

WOLKEN: It’s this American thing that we all love capitalism unless it comes to sports. When it comes to sports, we like socialism. I’m of the belief that if you threw out the NCAA rulebook and it was the wild west, all of the best basketball players would go to Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke. And in football, Alabama, Florida State. The same powers would still be powers. There might be some school that might have an opening for the entrepreneurial spirit to invest in players. Part of me thinks there would be nothing wrong with that, and I don’t think people would turn off the games because of that.

ELMORE: What about going to school, what about education? That’s the component we miss when we talk about college sports.

O’NEIL: You’re allowed to go to class. People act like they’re not there to go to school, but they can. I know they’re there to go play basketball, but they’re given an opportunity to get an education and better your mind for free. Why not?

FORDE: With a ton of academic support.’s Dana O’Neil and commentator Jay Williams fall on opposite sides of the college athlete compensation argument.

O’NEIL: There was this thing in Time magazine a few years ago about Johnny Manziel and it had all the money that the school was making. I wanted to do the opposite and look at all the money the school was putting in with the strength and conditioning coach and the nutritionist and the academic adviser and the facilities and the food. There is an investment on the other side.

WILLIAMS: You also see multiple reports about student athletes who wanted to major in certain majors and they’re told not to.

ELMORE: See, they need student-athlete advocates.

WILLIAMS: I agree 100 percent. What you hear is the curriculum is too difficult, the class load, the schedule doesn’t work out with the travel schedule. I hear countless stories.

O’NEIL: That’s disgusting.

ELMORE: You know, we sit there talking about exploitation and what burns me is when a Ben Simmons comes out and says, “The NCAA is whack.” He didn’t want to go to class second semester. “But I have to go to class and the NCAA is exploiting me.” Are you kidding me? You’re from Australia first of all. Go to the D-League and play against better competition. Or go to Europe and play against better competition. No, you chose to go to LSU because it would build your brand. That’s where I hear LaVar Ball and all these other guys talking about: “They’re exploiting my son.” If you’re so involved, you shouldn’t let the exploitation happen. You shouldn’t exploit the situation, either. … The one-and-dones and the two-and-dones are the ones exploiting the system as much as the system is exploiting them.

FORDE: We’ve got two all-time great basketball players (on this panel) who have gone on to do great things besides playing basketball. If you didn’t take advantage of your education, like a lot of these guys don’t …

ELMORE: That’s because we keep talking about the money. The money will solve everything, just ask Antoine Walker.

Editor’s note: This is part of our sports media roundtable from the Final Four. For the main portion of part two, click here. For part one in our April 10 issue, click here.

ELMORE: This is where the dads speak up, right? I think it’s a little bit of both. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with publicity. But at some point, the pressure is going to get to that young man. I don’t know when because the son is such a cool customer. If the stories about what happened with Lonzo’s high school coach are true, to me, it’s tragic to belittle, to degrade a teacher. I just think the dad’s got two beings on his shoulder — an angel and a devil, and every once in a while the devil shows up.

FORDE: I think the devil shows up too much. It really bothers me that he’s treating his children like commodities instead of like children. Support him, that’s great, but to be so heavy-handed to the coach in high school, and him constantly being in the media … these kids are 18, 17, 16, whatever. Let them reach some level of relative adulthood before you turn them into Big Ballers Inc. It bothers me a lot.

LaVar Ball, father of Lonzo Ball and two UCLA recruits, has been pushing the Big Baller brand.
WILLIAMS: The first thing I thought about when I saw (LaVar and Lonzo) walk onto the “First Take” set — Lonzo was the adult, and LaVar was the one acting like a kid, high-fiving everybody while Lonzo shook hands. I think it’s a gift and a curse. Spending so much time in grassroots basketball with some of these shoe agencies, from Nike to Adidas to Under Armour, his marketability has raised exponentially. It’s almost like the Kardashians of the college basketball world. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad, we’re still talking about the father and the kid. I think it’s unfortunate for the kid because I think he’s got a target on his back now. Guys like Steph (Curry) and LeBron (James) will take that on personally, and it just adds fuel to the fire. I don’t think the other two kids are going to be as good, but he’s created quite a stir.

O’NEIL: That’s what I worry about — the other two brothers. I feel sorry for them. The bar has been set so high and if you’re not even remotely decent, comparatively, you’re going to be an epic failure because your father has set you up. I also wonder if Lonzo goes into the NBA … you can’t be LaVar Ball, over-involved dad, in the NBA. You’re going to get cut off. You’ve got to stop. Is he capable of that? I don’t think he is. He is a marketing genius. We’re all talking about him and paying attention to what he does. A lot of people are very smart shills and that’s exactly what he is.

WOLKEN: If Lonzo was his only kid, LaVar would essentially disappear once he goes into the NBA. But we’re going to be dealing with him for years because he’s got more kids coming. I think we need to figure out how to handle him, as far as the media. It’s like the same thing with Trump last year, where you ascribe genius like he’s playing three-dimensional chess all the time and manipulating the media just by seeking attention. We need a better strategy for how to deal with, basically, a carnival barker.

Podcast highlights from the discussion:

BOIVIN: But at the expense of his kids. As a parent, that’s where I draw the line. I turn on the TV and I want to watch, but as a parent, my first thought is, “Oh my gosh, how is that affecting his son?” Lonzo has this very stoic presence on the court, but at some point it has to get to him.

ELMORE: Vicarious living has its limits. From a media standpoint, I think we need to rethink how he’s covered. It’s one thing to document it when he makes news. But we can’t make news around him, and that’s where it becomes a problem, when we’re asking his opinion on things that don’t relate to his son. Without his son, who is he?

WILLIAMS: It resonates because there’s a tendency with a lot of the younger kids now, they don’t want to read or watch shows about things that are intellectual. They want to see car crashes. Everybody rubber-necks. So when this car crash is created, there’s a natural tension, which is a shame, but it’s the way of our culture.

ELMORE: Again, once the car is crashed and we document it, now are we ambulance chasers?

O’NEIL: We want to tell the news, not create it, but we keep putting microphones in front of his face and he keeps saying things because that’s who he is. At what point do we decide there’s no reason to put microphones in his face because there’s nothing newsworthy here. He’s probably going to make news if I do, God knows, but there’s no obvious value in it.

FORDE: He has a very limited window of expertise, to his own kid. He doesn’t know about the NBA.

O’NEIL: He doesn’t know about the other kids on the UCLA team, probably.

ELMORE: But from a TV standpoint, a social media standpoint, just having his face out there …

O’NEIL: Of course, click, click, click.

Commentator Len Elmore addresses the LaVar Ball topic while Paola Boivin listens.

CULPEPPER: I do think about Trump whenever I think about him. Is it something in our culture? It’s like the Brits always say, “You all are really good at razzmatazz.” Yeah, I guess that’s what we’re about. The spectacle and the fireworks and … why does this work so well? He gets traffic. It’s in the “most-read” section every time he says something. It kind of reminds me of Richard Williams with Serena and Venus. I used to love running up to him and hearing the next thing he was going to say. But after a while, maybe we have to stop.

FORDE: Is there a LaVar saturation point?

WILLIAMS: It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with LeAngelo because he’s nowhere near the talent of Lonzo. He’s going to be a four-year guy.

ELMORE: The gauntlet has already been thrown down. Have you seen the video of LeBron (mimicking Lonzo’s shot). That’s the beginning of it.

FORDE: I covered the Kentucky-UCLA game and I wrote about De’Aaron Fox just massively outplaying Ball. The comments on the story were just ruthless. People now are excited to see him fail because of what his dad has done.

O’NEIL: We like nothing better than to break down people. That’s what we do as a society: build up somebody and then tear them down, anybody and everybody.

WILLIAMS: We don’t think of them as separate individuals, either. We lump them together, which is so unfortunate because Lonzo, when you talk to him, he doesn’t want anything to do with all of this. He’s very respectful of his father, but he doesn’t seem to gloat.

CULPEPPER: If you’re sitting in an NBA office, does the father give you pause?

ELMORE: I don’t think so. NBA teams deal with distractions. There are worse distractions in the NBA. And if he becomes a real problem, they have means to quiet him down. They can give him a job, they can ban him from the locker room, there are a lot of things they can do on the professional level.

BOIVIN: Here with the Suns, we saw the same thing happen with Amar’e Stoudamire’s mom. The team has people to take care of things and keep them at a distance.

WOLKEN: What’s the market for it?

O’NEIL: If he becomes Steph Curry, sure. No.

WOLKEN: But even with Steph, Under Armour’s stock is down like 40 percent this year.

ELMORE: From a business standpoint, it could be a flash. But I also think you could see the competing companies buy them out. But this thing about wanting $100 million, that’s crazy talk, but that’s what we’ve come to associate with him.

FORDE: Razzmatazz.

WILLIAMS: When you play 82 games, you look for any type of motivation. Guys get tired. But when you come up against a guy you’re fascinated with, you take on that challenge. So if you’re hearing all these things the dad is saying, it becomes extra motivation. Steph Curry, by the way, he’s an assassin, he likes competition, too. Don’t think for a second that maybe the best shooter we’ve ever seen, when he gets a chance to play against Lonzo, isn’t going to take that personally. Or that LeBron isn’t going to take that personally. Or any other guard who’s trying to make it in the league.

WOLKEN: Lonzo just doesn’t seem to be that kind of villain.

WILLIAMS: He’s not.

WOLKEN: But when you put up numbers like a Curry or a Devin Booker, don’t they come to embrace it?

ELMORE: I don’t know. I’ve seen Lonzo face challenges and take them on. He got burned against Fox, but if you watch that game, he shut Malik Monk down. … To what Jay was saying, in the NBA you’re going to have nights where you’re just too tired to chase guys around. But if you have a Lonzo Ball, hey, “This guy is not going to kill me.” Or, “I can make a headline.” That gives you energy.

Editor’s note: This is part of our sports media roundtable from the Final Four. For the main portion of part two, click here. For part one in our April 10 issue, click here.

■ WOLKEN: Everybody talks about the facilities arms race and I understand that. But these schools spend far more money on amenities and facilities to attract non-athletes on their campuses. I don’t blame athletics for doing the same thing. The problem I have is that, more and more, these facilities are being built literally to attract the student athletes every hour when they’re not in class. That’s where you rob people of the global university experience. Clemson wasn’t even coy about it. They said they wanted a place for our players to be every second they’re not at practice or in class. Well, why are they in college? That’s not what college is.

ELMORE: It’s the new segregation.

BOIVIN: And academically they’re taking online classes. They’re all building their schedules around online, online.

WOLKEN: I was at Stanford last week talking to a football player about his lifestyle there. Part of the reason he wanted to go to Stanford is that when he’s not doing football, he doesn’t have to be around other football people. He’s just amazed at kids from other countries, and his neighbor just sold his company for $18 million. That’s the kind of thing college should be about, but Stanford is the exception.

FORDE: Stanford is the exception. My daughter is going there in the fall (as a swimmer) and her roommate will not be an athlete. First year, you live with a non-athlete. I think it’s great. Could be somebody from Africa, Asia or Palo Alto. I wish more schools would consider doing that. What’s the phrase for them — NARPs, non-athletic regular people.

WILLIAMS: (At Duke), I loved integrating with other students. It’s just funny watching kids these days, there’s such a hesitation because of this (phone), they don’t have the luxury of making those same mistakes a regular student does make. So, how close do you let somebody in your life?

Podcast highlights from the discussion:

A tweet on athletes and student life by USA Today columnist Dan Wolken sparked discussion.

ELMORE: Not only that, the star athlete who has been coddled from the beginning, there’s an insecurity beyond sport. Integrating into a community, there’s an inferiority complex. … (At Maryland) I stayed at one dorm because I wanted to be away from the basketball players who had a floor in another dorm. As soon as I heard they were moving to this dorm, I said, “I got to go to this other dorm.” It happened to be the co-ed dorm. But I see these guys enough. Guys from that team are the closest of friends, but I broadened my circle of friends and I learned so much from having a diversity of friends.

O’NEIL: We’re doing a disservice by segregating them. Even if they go into a professional sport, they’re going to have to deal with all kinds of people. If all you’ve ever been around is other basketball people, you’re not adequately prepared to be a professional athlete. Players I talk to are so excited to talk about things besides basketball.

WILLIAMS: There’s a huge egotistical piece to this too … because you’re constantly being asked about yourself. It’s difficult to break from that mold.

O’NEIL: And you’re 18 and you think you have all the answers and frankly you have none.

BOIVIN: Can you imagine having your life scrutinized that way at 18?

O’NEIL: I tell athletes all the time that I do not envy you, in the age of these things (phone). It’s got to be exhausting.

WILLIAMS: Grayson Allen, I feel for him. The kid tripped somebody and he was wrong. I don’t know how I would try to help a kid like that. When you see the amount of venom spit at him …

O’NEIL: In his defense, every time he did something wrong, he showed up in that locker room and answered questions. I give Krzyzewski credit. He has to face that music; that’s part of growing up. How many people would have said, “Hide him.” Eventually (Duke) did circle the wagons and lock the doors.

CULPEPPER: The other night I was at a dinner and Wayne Turner, the point guard on the 1998 Kentucky team, said our beat writer wrote a story about his (shooting form). For a season, he was scared to shoot because of this one article. Suddenly I realized, “That’s what it’s like for them.” Very strange.