November 20, 2010

Explain this: Millionaire Parker can play, but Kanter can't?

The NCAA didn't misapply its rules last week when it made Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter permanently ineligible. The fact is, Kanter made some money in Turkey. It's instructive to note that he used it for education expenses, not to buy a house or a car, but money is money. A pro's a pro.

The NCAA followed its rulebook. I have no problem with the NCAA's interpretation of its rules.

I have a problem with the rules themselves.
Maybe you're calling me a John Calipari shill, so let me say this: Biggest difference between me and some of the clowns who pass themselves off as "unbiased" media today is that, unlike them, I tell you my biases. Right up front. I do like John Calipari -- but this story, and this NCAA rule, transcends that bias.

Plus, I'm right.

If this were a game of poker -- me vs. the NCAA rulebook -- I'd win. It happens in about 14 seconds, so pay attention, because I'm going to slam down my royal straight flush. Here you go:

Kyle Parker.

He's a professional athlete -- a millionaire -- who signed a $1.4 million pro contract with the Colorado Rockies two weeks before the 2010 college football season. He's also the starting quarterback for Clemson.

Sometimes, a pro isn't a pro.

Which is why I'm confused. Not angry. Not steaming mad at the NCAA for its treatment of poor Enes Kanter or John Calipari or the Kentucky basketball program. All three will survive. Kentucky has the best freshman class in the country, with or without Kanter, and Calipari makes winning look easy because, for him, it is. He's a natural in college, a force of nature, a recruiting monster who is respected by the best coaches in the business -- Tom Izzo and Mark Few, to name two -- for his X's and O's.

As for Kanter, even if he isn't as good as his hype -- I'm hearing he'd be a fine college player, but he isn't close to being a 2011 NBA lottery pick -- he'll make a small fortune somewhere, whether in Europe or eventually in the NBA. When he learned last week that he wouldn't be able to play for Kentucky, Kanter wept like the man-sized boy that he is. That's sad stuff. But in the long run, he'll be just fine. As will Calipari and Kentucky.

In the meantime, though, what's with the NCAA's schizophrenic rulebook?

How are professional baseball players -- pro athletes -- allowed to play football in droves after their baseball careers hit the skids? Those are two different sports, and I'm aware of that, so if you're going to e-mail me that I'm comparing apples to oranges, save it. The NCAA clearly has drawn a distinction between a pro in one sport and an amateur in another, but to me that's nonsensical gobbledygook. A pro is a pro is a pro.

When Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy for Florida State in 2000, he was more of a pro than Reggie Bush was five years later at Southern California. Weinke was 28 years old, for god's sake. He had earned more than half a million dollars as a minor-league baseball player and had lived the life of a full-time professional athlete for six years before giving college a try. And that was fine with the NCAA.

It was also fine that Josh Booty was practically a multi-millionaire pro athlete -- he signed with the Florida Marlins for $1.6 million in 1994, then spent five seasons as ballplayer, including parts of three seasons in the major leagues -- when he became the quarterback at LSU in 1999.

Quincy Carter signed for $425,000 with the Cubs in 1996, then played football for Georgia. John Lynch signed for $103,000 with the Marlins in 1992, in the middle of his college football career at Stanford, and stayed in school. In the early 1990s Scotty Burrell was a UConn basketball player in the fall and a Toronto Blue Jays minor-leaguer in the summer. All of that was fine with the NCAA.

It's fine with me, too. My point here is not to argue that Kyle Parker should sit Saturday when Clemson plays Wake Forest. Parker is a millionaire professional athlete in one sport, but an amateur in another? Fine by me. My beef isn't with Parker now, or with the pro athletes who came before him, guys like Weinke, Carter, Burrell or Booty.

My beef is with the NCAA, which did with Kanter what it does too often -- took a brutish, hard-line stance on an issue that required finesse and logic. The fate of Enes Kanter, and future prospective athletes like him, isn't a black-and-white issue. There's nothing here but gray, starting with the culture of European basketball. If a skilled teenager in Turkey wants to improve, short of leaving his family he has no choice but to play for a professional team. He can turn down the contract that will be offered him -- Kanter could be earning more money than you and me combined, right now, had he wanted to -- but eventually some of that money splashing around will spill onto him. Kanter got damp. Not sopping wet, but damp. That was enough for the NCAA to throw him out like, um, a baby with the bathwater.

The NCAA will consider Kentucky's appeal, which centers on the $33,033 in excess European club money that splashed onto Kanter -- literally pennies on the dollar for a 6-11 big man who would have pocketed more than $1 million had he played on the Turkish national team this summer.

Of that $33,033, almost half has never been touched, and Kanter's father -- a doctor -- is offering to repay all of it. This is not family that needed or even wanted to break NCAA rules. This is a wealthy family from Turkey that doesn't speak English and simply didn't understand the massive NCAA rulebook on amateurism.

Hell, I don't understand the rulebook either. Kyle Parker is a millionaire member of the Colorado Rockies organization, but the NCAA says he's less of a pro than Enes Kanter.

By Gregg Doyel National Columnist

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