There’s no doubt that the last few weeks having been trying times for the sport of college basketball and those of us who love it. Back on April 25th the “Rice Commission,” an independent group that was put in charge of evaluating college basketball and calling for changes, released its results. And no matter how realistic some of those changes were, the simple fact remains that change, in some form or another, is coming to college sports.
Still the hit parade on the NCAA hasn’t stopped since then, with more and more people continuing to call out the governing body of college athletics. The latest to do so? Kylia Carter, the mother of Wendell Carter, who just completed a one-and-done season as a basketball player at Duke.
Mrs. Carter (who in full-disclosure, I interviewed a few years ago and really enjoyed chatting with) spoke on Monday morning, and – to be blunt – made some shocking comments on the state of college athletics as a whole.
Here is her full quote, with the last line in particular standing out:
“When you remove all the bling and the bells and the sneakers and all that, you’ve paid for a child to come to your school to do what you wanted them to do for you, for free. And you made a lot of money when he did that, and you’ve got all these rules in place that say he cannot share in any of that. The only other time when labor does not get paid but yet someone else gets profits and the labor is black and the profit is white, is in slavery.”
Ummm, wow. I mean, I get that the NCAA is a flawed, imperfect entity. Most are. But to compare it to slavery? Are we sure that’s the analogy we want to use here?
For starters, let’s get a few facts right out in the open, the most basic of which is this: No one forced Wendell Carter to go to Duke, or for Mrs. Carter to send her son there. As we all know, the one-and-done rule is an NBA rule and not a college one, meaning that no player is forced to go to college, they are just not allowed into the NBA until a certain point. Her son had no tangible obligation to go to Duke, and if it were simply about being compensated for his talent, there were plenty of options for him. He could have gone and played in the G-League, or gone overseas and easily gotten a contract for a couple hundred thousand dollars. At 18-years-old, he could have made more money in one year than most of the entire world’s population.
However, once Wendell Carter’s family decided to go to Duke, they basically agreed to an unofficial contract which basically said the following: “You won’t be compensated financially for his basketball skills, but instead, compensated in other ways.” One of the ways you’ll be compensated, is with an education. That was something that very important to the Carter, as Wendell chose Duke over Harvard.
That’s also why the Carter’s chose to push their son into the evil, awful NCAA system in the first place: So Carter could begin on his path towards a college degree before going to the NBA. Sure, the family was giving up money from Carter’s basketball skills to play college basketball. But they were also saving money on an education that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if their son wasn’t a world-class basketball player.
And ultimately, that is the deal that every athlete makes when they decide to play college sports: You’re giving up money on the front end, for access to a lot of different things on the back end.
For everyone, it’s the chance to earn a college education, something that – let’s never forget – the vast, vast, majority of players will need later on in their lives. For every one Wendell Carter, there are hundreds of college players who won’t make enough money playing basketball to support themselves the rest of their lives and will need their college degree. Let’s also not forget when Wendell Carter signed up to play for Duke (again, with his parent’s consent), he was also given access to the best health, nutrition and medicine available, 100 percent for free. Those are other perks that college athletes get, that the vast majority of students don’t. Things like free housing, multiple free meals a day (at a place like Duke, those meals are catered to their exact, dietary needs) and access to some of the best doctors and trainers in the world.
Does that sound slavery to you? It doesn’t sound like it to me, and by the way, I’m not even totally sure it sounds like it to Mrs. Carter.
And you know how I know that it doesn’t sound like slavery to Mrs. Carter? Because let’s never forget, She wanted her son to… STAY AT DUKE!!!
Yes, I’m being 100 percent serious here. The same system which Mrs. Carter referred to as slavery on Monday was one that she didn’t want her son to leave just one month ago.
“After the season happened, and I started thinking about it. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. If you came back, it would only make you a better person,’ ” she said. “It would improve your quality of life. It would improve your relationships. It would be about you. It wouldn’t be about basketball. So this is really something to think about.
“Of course, as a mom, I started thinking about it, so I told him: I want you to come back.”
She actually said that! And I can’t lie, I’m a little confused. If college basketball really is this terrible, awful, insanely exploitative system that is supposedly like “slavery” who the hell would want their son to stay around for another year? Who would want their son to stay at all? Wouldn’t she have pulled him out Day 1, Hour 1, Minute 1, if it was so bad? Or at the very least, rushed him out the second that the season ended? That would seem like the only logical thing to do. Instead, she actively campaigned to keep him there for another year.
And ultimately that’s my biggest gripe with Mrs. Carter’s comments. You can’t publicly endorse a system one day, actively push your son to be a part of it, and then three weeks later call it “slavery.” That’s just not how it works.
And it’s a shame really, because if you read the rest of Carter’s comments, she brings up some really interesting points. Specifically she calls for schools to better educate their players, and to better implement a structure where, when the best players leave after one or two years, they can continue their education in the NBA. It’s something that some schools like Kentucky take seriously, but not all schools do. To Mrs. Carter’s point, if these schools really are about “educating” kids, they need to do a better job of following through on that promise.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that while the NCAA is an imperfect system, with obvious changes that need to be made, it is still a system that benefits the vast majority of student-athletes. A system where thousands of kids – not just in basketball, but all sports – exchange their athletic gifts for an education, an education most of which they will need to use going forward.
Admittedly, there are plenty of logical changes to be made to the NCAA system.
But the one thing the NCAA isn’t, is like slavery.
Not even close.
Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at [email protected]. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”