Coach K demands action from NCAA on payment issue: 'We must adapt'

In March, during the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, Mike Krzyzewski challenged the NCAA. Prompted by an innocuous question about the future of college basketball, Krzyzewski lit up the NCAA for not being ready for changes in the collegiate landscape: “The NCAA is not prepared right now,” he said.

The comments proved prophetic. In the wake of the passage of California Senate Bill 206 last week, and the flurry of similar bills being proposed across the country, Krzyzewski’s prediction is coming true in rapid-fire succession.

As the world changes in realtime, Krzyzewski issued a significant challenge to the NCAA at ACC media days on Tuesday. He doubled down on his March comments by essentially asking the NCAA to do what it’s been incapable of doing for decades – becoming proactive in the Name, Image and Likeness debate instead of reactive, leading with vision instead of from the fetal position.

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“We have not always responded to the needs and rights of our players swiftly, and frankly, we’re playing catch-up after years of stagnant rules,” Krzyzewski said in a statement released after his comments on media day. He went on to request “a firm plan for implementation at the national level” and “we must adapt.”

Translated, Krzyzewski’s statement said this: Hey Mark Emmert, get off your posterior and actually do something.

Krzyzewski’s words were interpreted around college athletics as verbal shots lobbed at NCAA headquarters. He said that college basketball has had its “head in the sand,” and is “happy” to see the California bill “push the envelope.” Essentially, Coach K did everything but walk into Emmert’s office, stick a finger in his chest and demand action.

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks during a press conference after an NCAA tournament loss in March. (USAT)
Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks during a press conference after an NCAA tournament loss in March. (USAT)

The issue with demanding action from Emmert is that he’s made a career out of hiding behind legislation, committees and outsourcing responsibility to others. How much criticism has Emmert got in the wake of the federal basketball scandal? And the impotent implementations that the NCAA mustered up? Well, very little, as he allowed Condoleezza Rice to lead that poorly constructed group. And that’s why she’s blamed for the clunky legislation that followed.

Next up into the spotlight of Emmert’s subletted responsibility list are Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, who are co-chairs of the working group to examine Name, Image and Likeness issue. Their final report is due this month. That’s after an announcement in May of the group’s formation, a regrettable timeline that highlights the cycle of inertia that defines NCAA process.

“Both of them are smart and have been around the block,” said a source of Smith and Ackerman, who is familiar with NCAA process. “But can they figure out how to do something without complete disruption. How are they going to get their arms around the recruiting piece of this?”

Coach K emerged Tuesday as the highest-profile college coach to throw his full-throated support behind significant change in the Name, Image and Likeness debate. Most of his peers, like Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams, hid behind predictable party lines. Boeheim, who has always clung white knuckle to the status quo, said no one knew a “fair option.” Williams elicited eye-rolls by perpetuating his familiar hokey trope: “We are all talking about something that we don't know what the crap it is,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I mean it's like putting me in charge of nuclear weapons.”

Krzyzewski rose well above that nonsense. This isn’t rocket science, Roy. The world is demanding change from college sports, significant and historic change. There’s no call to pay the players, just figuring out a way for athletes to profit off their own name, something that’s decades overdue. Krzyzewski is demanding that change come from within, as opposed to outside entities. He demanded it during his interactions with the media and reinforced his clear-eyed desire for change by doubling down with a statement after.

It would be disingenuous to hail Coach K as some great freedom fighter for athletes’ rights. While he should be complimented for not ducking the issues, Krzyzewski knows that the recruiting frontlines are about to change significantly. He’s savvy enough to be looking out for he and Duke’s self-interest.

If the NBA changes its draft rules in time for the 2022 draft as expected, Coach K isn’t just recruiting against Kentucky and North Carolina. He’s soon going to be recruiting against the NBA, G League and two-way deals as well. There’s already the new wave of competition that includes full-time workout gurus, the foreign option taken and a sense of uselessness for the sport that’s becoming alarmingly apparent.

For months, Krzyzewski has seen this coming. And on Tuesday, he issued a reminder of just how right he was back in March. Seven months later, the NCAA is still unprepared for seismic change coming to its most lucrative sport.

And instead of asking another committee to set up a subcommittee to issue a report, Coach K demanded more action, more accountability and less rhetoric. With the NCAA playing at a four-corners pace, Krzyzewski unleashed a full-court press.

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