Clark Kellogg On NCAA Compensation & Zion’s Decision

Clark Kellogg will be on NCAA Tournament Coverage for CBS and Turner Sports in the New York studio with Ernie Johnson, Greg Gumbel, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley.

I caught up with Kellogg at CBS & Turner Sports’ March Madness Media Day, and here is some of our conversation:

Jason Schott: What progress have you seen from the NCAA in terms of compensating the players?

Clark Kellogg: I think there’s certainly a groundswell for change. I don’t think we’re ever going to see pay-to-play. I do think you’re going to see continuing use of the revenue generated by the NCAA to fortify what’s provided to the student-athlete, in programs and education and additional benefits, but the flat out employee-employer relationship, pay-to-play, unionization, I don’t see that happening. There ate a number of court cases pending that will determine what the amateurism model looks like going forward, and I think the NCAA is now being forced to seriously re-evaluate what that looks like. There are some tenets you want to hold to.

I firmly believe in the combination of education and athletics. The big business aspect has really clouded and muddied the waters, but there’s great value in the educational component of athletic competition. Extracurricular activities are what athletics is – for the very few, it’s a potential livelihood, the very few! I don’t know exactly what the number is of NCAA student-athletes are, but I know the percentage is less than one that are playing pros after they leave, and the thousands and thousands and thousands that have benefited from a paid-for education and the other ancillary benefits you get as a result of going to college are worth continuing to provide that.

I’m a parent of three scholarship student-athletes – all three played sports and graduated with no debt and a meaningful degree, and I’m not the only parent of those kind of people, and they’ve gone on to be productive, impactful people wherever they’ve landed, and that’s times-ten thousand over the decades. So, I’m a huge proponent of the value, but I’m also understanding of everybody’s house needs some refreshing.

The NCAA needs a bit of an overhaul in some areas, but I’m not ready to castigate the NCAA. It’s a member-led organization. Institutions determine the policies, they need to be revisited, and court cases are going to cause that to be dealt with. How it plays out I don’t think will land in pay-to-play – it will land in more benefits and more up-to-date ways to balance the scales for what student-athletes provide and what they get in exchange for their athletic abilities.

JS: You touch on the education component of what students get. Isn’t the NBA’s one-and-done rule, where players enter college knowing they will only be there for one year, a contradiction?

CK: Oh yeah, it can be a farce. It can certainly be a farce. If they’re not there for the purpose of moving towards a degree, then yeah, it can be a farce, and I would say in some cases, that’s true, but of the 30 to 50 one-and-dones across the country every year, I would say maybe half of them are fully engaged in college while they’re there, which is valuable, and the other 20 or 30 may not be as engaged, and that’s farcical and unfortunate, and to their loss, but I think it can be done for those, and again, it’s a small population. I was one of those guys, I wasn’t a one-and-done, but I left after my junior year, it’s a small number compared to the big ocean of student-athletes. A small number. It gets the most attention because CBS and Turner pay hundreds of millions of dollars to cover it, so I understand it, but you have to have context. Again, I’m not taking the NCAA off the hook for some of their mundane, archaic rules, some of the inconsistencies and unfairness – that needs to be addressed, and these court cases are causing their feet to be put to the fire, and I think the NCAA’s leadership is ready to make meaningful changes that will lead us to a better place, but this groundswell and constant noise of ‘they need to be paid, they’re being misused,’ that’s only half true, man, that’s not the real story. You’ve got to look at the big picture, the whole picture, and understand, yes, there’s some imbalances, no denying that, but this is not some ogre of an organization that’s not doing good things for the student-athletes that are part of its membership, by and large, and that needs to be balanced with all of the other noise.

JS: Do you think this also is brought on by increased activism from athletes?

CK: I think all that’s fine, empowerment, education, and when you bring things to the forefront, oftentimes, it takes that type of noise, that type of activism, that type of protest to bring about change because power structures or status quo don’t necessarily see themselves as they are and it takes sometimes both from within or outside to say, ‘hey, you’re missing the mark on some of this stuff,’ and then good leadership says, ‘you know what, they’re right, we need to make some adjustments.’ Clearly, I’m sure that’s part of it, and that’s good to see athletes being engaged, informed, and then from their information and education, engage and making their voice heard. I’m all for that, one-hundred-percent for that

JS: There has been debate about whether Duke’s Zion Williamson, who suffered a nasty ankle injury when his shoe exploded, will play again this season, risking more injury before the NBA Draft. Do you think Zion could be influenced in this way, by the noise that he’s not being compensated fairly?

CK: I hope not, I hope he’s influenced by his own counsel and whoever he trusts to give him counsel, that’s what I hope he’s influenced by. I hope he’s not influenced by the noise around him. I hope he’s influenced by his head as he consults those closest to him, and his heart, what he wants to do because that’s what our lives are about at some point. If you come of age, you can’t run somebody else’s race, you have to run your race and do it based on your convictions and your values and your desires and your faith. You can’t allow – that doesn’t mean that you don’t hear it – but you can’t allow other people to dictate how you’re going to go about your journey, so my hope is that he does whatever’s in his heart and head to do for Zion, for Zion – whatever it is, I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s him, seeking his counsel and the counsel of those he trusts and that’s what’s in his heart, I’m down with it 100.

I would love to see him play, but that’s only if that’s what he wants to do – only if that’s what he wants to do. Happy if he decides he wants to shut it down because that’s what he chooses to do…We’ll find out when we determine what it is he’s going to do – and that’s for any kid in any situation. When you’re of age, there are times you have to make your own decision, and even when your parents are advising you otherwise. There was a time when I was in college, I’m contemplating, I’m frustrated, things didn’t go as well as I wanted to my sophomore year. My dad is encouraging, or at least thinking, talking to me about transferring, but guess who’s got to make that decision? I’ve got to make it because it would be me that’s transferring, so it would me that would sit out a year, it’s gonna be me that would have to leave the lady that would become my wife. So, that’s what I’m saying, I was 19, 20, but that’s a decision I got to make.

My high school son’s an excellent soccer player back eight, nine years ago. He enjoyed and loved both sports, soccer and basketball. People were telling him ‘you should probably choose one’ – in eighth grade! Ninth grade, you should pick and choose, I said Nick, ‘this is what I’m going to say to you, whatever you want to do, you choose it and be convicted about it. Don’t let your coach, don’t let any family members, don’t let any friends tell you what to do in this decision. If you want to play soccer and basketball, you do it with all of your heart and I’l be at as many games as I can be at in both, and that’s exactly what he did – played soccer and basketball until he was a senior in high school. When he knew he was going to play college basketball, he decided to sit out his senior year of soccer, had been to the state finals two years in a row in soccer, gave it up his senior year, and they won the state championship, and he wasn’t part of the team other than having been with those guys two years before, but that’s a decision that he made. Nobody made that decision for him, so while we were at the game and he went down on the field and celebrated and wished he could have played at Crew Stadium in Columbus, because that’s where the (Ohio) State Championships were, he had made a decision that he was going to live with – with no regrets – that’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s about, and it’s the same for Zion or anybody else, and it doesn’t have to be an athletic decision. It could be school, it could be extracurricular activities, and again, age-appropriate, I’m not talking about a 12-year-old – I’m talking about 17, 19, 20, moving toward adulthood.

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