Ex-Duke star's mother likens NCAA model to 'slavery and the prison system'

Wendell Carter Jr.
Wendell Carter Jr.

Maybe the NCAA should have appointed the mother of ex-Duke star Wendell Carter to its commission on college basketball.

Had Kylia Carter been involved, the committee might have struck at the heart of the problems facing the sport instead of needlessly dancing around them.

In an intensely personal, often emotional speech delivered during Monday’s meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Carter unloaded on the NCAA’s flawed system of amateurism. She argued that elite college basketball players are not compensated fairly, comparing the economic arrangement to that of slavery and the prison system.

“To be honest with you, it’s nauseating,” Carter said.

“When I pull back the layers, the problem that I see is not with the student-athletes, it’s not with the coaches or the institutions of higher learning but it’s with a system, the only system I have ever seen, where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do while those in charge receive mighty compensation. The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place are slavery and the prison system. And now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

Chief among Carter’s complaints is that a successful basketball team can be worth tens of millions of dollars to universities yet elite players aren’t fairly compensated for their services. They don’t receive a portion of the revenue their schools make, nor are they even allowed to profit off their name, image or likeness under draconian NCAA rules.

A scholarship to Duke may be immensely valuable to an average student, but it’s of less importance to a future lottery pick who never intended to be in college for more than one year. What value does a one-and-done-caliber talent like Wendell Carter receive from enrolling in a semester or two of classes at Duke while waiting for the NBA to deem him old enough to enter its draft?

“At the end of the day, the talent is being purchased, but the talented are not receiving any of the benefit,” Kylia Carter said. “The colleges are only recruiting the talented kids for their talent. They’re not recruiting them because they will excel academically at their institution. So (why) is that the benefit of them going to that institution?”

Carter’s indictment of the current model of college athletics humanized an otherwise tedious meeting that focused on last month’s recommendations made by the commission on college basketball, which was chaired by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. NCAA president Mark Emmert formed that committee last October in response to the FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.

While most of the speakers at the Knight Commission meeting were former players, coaches and high-ranking administrators, Carter brought a different perspective. She told a crowded conference room about her grandmother working on cotton fields in Mississippi, about her experience playing college basketball at Ole Miss and about her son’s difficult decision between spending his one year of college at Duke or Harvard.

There’s a lot of truth to what Carter said Monday if you can get past the misguided analogy comparing the NCAA model to slavery. Slaves certainly didn’t receive the perks pampered college athletes do, nor did options to bypass a system stacked against them. If elite basketball prospects don’t want to go to college, they can turn pro after high school and spend a year playing overseas or in the G-League.

Strip away the slavery comparison, however, and Carter is spot-on about pretty much everything else. She recognizes what so many college presidents and NCAA administrators either don’t realize or don’t want to admit — that top college basketball players are worth more money than the NCAA’s deeply flawed amateurism model allows them to receive.

As long as that inequity exists, a river of dirty money will continue to flow through college basketball. Coaches under pressure to make the NCAA tournament to keep their jobs will still try to attract top talent by any means necessary. Shoe-apparel companies who pay tens of millions of dollars to prominent universities will still steer prospects to their affiliated schools in hopes of protecting their investments. Agents and financial advisers eager to land potential clients will still pay for the influence of people in a prospect’s inner circle.

The NCAA can’t bend the laws of economics. It can only decide whether it prefers those transactions to be aboveboard or to take place in secret.

The commission on college basketball had a chance to address that problem head-on last month, but it instead chose to make recommendations strengthening the existing model.

Perhaps the NCAA should have invited Kylia Carter to be part of that committee. She knows how the system works and she’s unafraid to voice her opinion.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!