January 6, 2011

Why Enes will never be free

I tried to post this on another website in order to participate in a discussion there, but I was unable to do so.

Basically I argue that the reason why the NCAA is being somewhat unfair to Enes Kanter has to do with the relationship between the NCAA, the NBA and World Basketball in Europe and Asia. It also has to do with the NCAA's desire that no super-powerhouse be created in college basketball. Kentucky is practically certain to win the NC in 2012, so it's appropriate, from the point of view of the NCAA, that they do NOT win it this year.

I think the frame of this discussion needs to be widened. Some people have talked about European ball players coming to the US. A fairly small number of the best Euro ballers consider that for financial reasons. But if you look on Eurobasket, you'll see the flow is really the other way. There are 600 jobs open in European basketball, which now includes much of Asia so you might as well start talking about World BBall.

So there are quite a few American players who could go to Europe but don't for cultural reasons. (In the last couple of years we have grown accustomed to observing that such and such a player probably can't make it in the NBA but can have a nice career in Europe.)

However, this all shows that demand growth exists more in Europe/World than in the US. It's odd - we've had growth in TV viewership but we're talking about contracting 4-6 franchises. This indicates a revamped business model. The bottom 4 NBA teams may well disappear - but Europe/World, to the NBA, is not just a place to send second-tier players.

The NBA wants TO PLAY in Europe. This is so big and so delicate that they don't want it to be the subject of a lot of speculation. Best case, you could have the NBA "super-franchising" over 100 club and national teams in a world basketball league.

Worst case, you have a turf war in which Euro/World teams stiffen up to prevent the NBA from poaching. Obviously the best thing is to find out how to make everybody the most money. The NBA wants real talent, sure - but not at the risk of damaging prospects for NBA-Europe and NBA-World. Sending NBA teams to play each other overseas could be enormously lucrative. Sending NBA teams overseas to play exhibitions against foreign teams could be enormously lucrative.

Sending foreign players to the US to play in the NBA for a few years and then sending them BACK could be very lucrative. Look at the way star soccer players are tossed from country to country and league to league. The NBA is cachet; whatever says NBA sells tickets; whoever plays in the NBA, the cachet "rubs off" on him.

I mean, this was why they paid $100 million to bring Beckham to Los Angeles even though it could have been predicted he would hardly ever play for them.

Now, into all this comes Cal, and Kentucky, and Kanter. In the abstract, certainly, Kanter deserves more consideration than Selby or Newton. But as in the Bledsoe problem, the key is to know what kind of bureaucracy you're dealing with. Wheatgerm's legalism (going over and over the wording of the regs) is unhelpful, since there are hundreds of solution scenarios that can be made to fit the existing regulations - and even if there were not, they could simply say they need to revise the regs.

The NCAA exists because of tension between competing schools. It is the arbitrator between them. It has been allowed to balloon in size and budget because it has been successful as a name brand of its own, and because it has been successful negotiating TV deals.

If the NCAA brand gets damaged or if it ceases to be the best dealmaker, it can quickly die. So the two must-dos for the NCAA are: (1) arbitrate conflicts between major schools and keep them happy; and (2) find more ways to make money.

In terms of the first point, it looks like nothing can stop Kentucky from winning a championship NEXT year. They're going to be super-loaded. So if the NCAA gives them Kanter this year, it will cause considerable backlash. Giving them Kanter FOR next year might fly merely as regards American school teams, but it can't happen for the following reason.

In terms of the second point, although the NCAA and the NBA are far from the same thing, their interests converge so completely that they might as well be. Nobody wants to create bad blood with the European basketball leagues. By preventing Kanter from playing, the NCAA/NBA is saying "fortune passes everywhere" (that's for you Glenn). A certain philosophical unfairness with regard to Kanter is nothing compared to care being taken in the steps leading up to a world basketball cartel, as it were, with whole new tiers of competition and championships, and a whole new world of television contracts.

Therefore Enes will never be freed. It's not entirely fair, but as many people have said, it's hard to feel too sorry for the young man since his future is assured. I think it's nice that they let him sit on the bench. But the difference is between 2-3 NC's in a row for UK, and ONE NC for UK in April 2012.

I think we need to realize that we have reached the point where the NCAA and major BB powers are sort of divvying up the NC's in order to keep everybody happy. There is a competitive aspect of basketball, on the court. And there is a non-competitive aspect, involving recruiting.

If I am a country and I build 2000 tanks, saying that I have become a "contender" to win a war is not a guess. Likewise, saying that UK is likely to win the NC in 2012 is not a guess, since they should have 2 whole Final Four teams on the roster. You can still have a few shockers, like Northern Iowa last year; but the deck is more stacked than ever against mid-majors and schools that are not traditional powers. In a sense it's not only Kanter but Calipari who is getting screwed. Cal has established such a dominant profile as a recruiter that the other schools have to squash him a little at a higher level, above the point where he can do anything about it. The NCAA is not going to permit another run of titles like UCLA had because THERE IS TOO MUCH MONEY AT STAKE. The NC and the Final Four need to be shared and distributed for maximum financial gain. If this distribution is not achieved "naturally" then it has to be helped along a little.

Still, thinking of the NCAA as EITHER biased toward some schools or dedicated to its own rules as if it were the Catholic Church - both these positions are silly. The NCAA is a bureaucratic corporation that survives by keeping its finger on the pulse of universities, their alliances, and their attitudes. At any given moment there are rebellious forces to be quelled and greedy barons, as it were, to be reined in. "Emmert", as such, is not a person but a function of the above must-dos and if he begins to fail his own bureaucracy will kill him.

All this furnishes the key to the interpretation of the NBA one-and-done rule. Just like the NBA, the NCAA is cachet. John Wall is a perfect example. Calipari constructed John Wall as a commodity. John should really split whatever he makes with Cal, because if Cal had not promoted him he would not have been picked first. Same thing with Cousins.

The NBA wants to experiment with the ticket-selling value of players while they are in college. From a talent point of view, it might be better for them to go straight to the NBA - but not from a cachet point of view. At Kentucky, we found out that John Wall was lovable, with his sleepy, crooked smile. He isn't a thug, etc. (and Cousins is a teddy bear that growls). All this was worth millions.

You might think that people would thank Cal for being a marketing genius. But while he has mastered the business model he's using, he didn't patent it, and Cal is not that far from becoming the Sonny Vaccaro of recruiters. It's time to admit that Enes will never be free, time to stop talking about it.

If Cal throws in the towel on Enes, there might be a pathway toward general acceptance and respectability for him - something which is as much a matter of multi-sided PR as anything else, not a function of the fact that "the NCAA has never convicted Cal of anything".

It is a capital mistake to think like that. Real judges interpreting real law can reach necessary conclusions that surprise the rich and powerful. But NCAA bureaucrats do not have to convict Cal of anything IN ORDER TO SCREW HIM OVER. And Cal is on permanently thin ice - again in PR terms, but PR is reality - because of the two "vacates".

If Cal sets himself to coach maybe 15 more years at UK, then the powers that be MIGHT allow us to win ONE championship beyond 2012. Of course, the 2012 players could decide they want to stay, but we've been through that. And I think that's the most we can hope for. Other schools were happy to see Kentucky sink, under Gillispie. There may never be another Calipari for us.

Of course, since Kentucky has not won the NC for over 50 years without me being enrolled in school, even next year is at risk. I told UK this; but last year, they didn't listen. Will they listen this year?

by creature

1 comment:

  1. I would like for you to post this at my blog. Is that OK? Great Article. Free Enes Kanter