Cranky Calhoun and the Dirty Business of College Hoops

University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun has been all over the headlines recently regarding his remarks during a press conference last Sunday. The story goes that a blogger named Ken Krayeske was able to get a press pass that allowed him entrance into the coach’s post-game session with the media. Krayeske started to ask Calhoun a question regarding the coach being the highest paid state employee with a salary of $1.6 million (and UConn being a public university) in the midst of a $2 billion Connecticut state budget deficit, before Coach Calhoun interrupted him and…basically wigged the fuck out. Peep the video below:

Okay so it wasn’t so much of a wig out as it was Calhoun making some bad arguments (“It’s got nothing to do with state funds!”–Uh, it’s a public university, Coach, meaning it’s got a little something to do with state funds) and arrogantly displaying his sense of entitlement in regards to his wealth.

And then things got heated.

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell called Calhoun’s rant an “embarrasing display,” and some Connecticut lawmakers want him reprimanded.

Calhoun got his 800th career win the other night with UConn’s win over Marquette, but the Marquette fans were ruthless, chanting “How much money? Not a dime!” during the game and calling Calhoun a “Greedy scumbag!” and “Greedy piece of trash!”

Many mainstream media outlets of course have sided with the Coach (the rich have to look out for their own, right?), as I heard commentators on ESPN defending Calhoun, citing how the men’s basketball program does bring in over $12 million to the University and a ton of exposure.

My problem with this rationale is that it overlooks the larger issue at play here, sports as a business, and might even distort Calhoun’s real position in the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Calhoun. He clearly revealed himself to be the arrogant, cranky, old rich white guy that he is. But in the realm of sports economics, the college hoops coaches are like “mid-level managers.” Calhoun’s taking in a salary that he bargained for and that the University was willing to pay him. The University is the real “owner” or the “CEO” of the college hoops corporation (that is also totally in bed with the state government even if it isn’t a public school).

The real injustice here is that the players are the labor force and they don’t get to see any of the money they bring in! Not a penny for ticket sales, not a penny for jerseys sold with their names on them, not a penny for anything.

And please, let’s skip all the “it’s not about the money, it’s about the love of the game” arguments. It’s definitely about money. Coaches are trying to get paid; players are trying to go pro and make as much cheese as they can while they are in a position to do so and while their bodies are able to hold up to the extreme stress; and universities and state governments are trying to rake in as much bread as they can.

Now, I’m not saying that college athletes should get paid for everything. I just get sick of hearing these sweeping moral judgments that people like to throw at players (the majority “coincidentally” being young people of color), the workers/labor force, for “lacking character” today because they go pro before graduating from school and are “greedy” and “only chasing the money.” If you saw your coach making millions and driving around in an Escalade while you work your ass off and don’t see a dime of that dough, wouldn’t you be trying to go pro too? I know I would. You could always get your degree later. However, you won’t always have the opportunity to maximize your athletic earning potential, as an athlete is always one snapped ACL away from an ended career.

So yeah, Calhoun’s a cranky, rich fuck, but the College Hoops establishment can often be a dirty business all around, and he’s only one small part of a much larger beast. It always helps me to look at sports today as a labor struggle, and this incident highlights again how labor, in this case the players, are getting shafted by management.

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