Guest Editorial: Even basketball is about the power of markets

John Calipari sits at the center of the sports world today. He’s the coach of the University of Kentucky basketball team that won the NCAA title last night against the Kansas Jayhawks.
His team was not only the better team, but it was a team made up of sophomores and freshmen, and Mr. Calipari expects that most of them will not play for the university another season. They will be top draft picks for the NBA.
It’s about the money. Tons of it.
Mr. Calipari signed a $36 million eight-year contract to coach and his job was to attract the best talent, which he has done. He’s simply being honest when he says his job is to find the best, convince them to come to Kentucky, and to keep them for the length of the basketball season. After that, he starts to recruit again, knowing that his one-year team is off to make its own fortune.
And it is a fortune. Top NBA recruits can expect to make an easy $10 million in a year.
These are not athletes looking for careers elsewhere. We’ve created a market for this sort of talent and they have responded. These athletes may not be college graduate material, but they are smart enough to know that they could make more in one five-year contract than most people make in a life time.
Disproportionate? You might say.
But it’s this same preoccupation with markets and money that has led universities across the country to shift from one division to the other. The larger the audience the more money they generate, and with state appropriation levels in decline they need every dime they can scrounge up.
How else do you pay coaches $38 million?
We’re told this is the new normal and to deal with it. This isn’t about student athletes, it’s about athletes who are students for less than a year. In other words, the major programs [essentially football and basketball] have evolved into entertainment. Colleges have their own quasi-professional teams.
(This involves Kansas as much as it does Kentucky, or any of the other storied programs.)
This shouldn’t surprise us. What isn’t for sale?
Minneapolis, Houston, Seattle and other cities are allowing solo drivers to buy access to car pool lanes.
California cities are allowing nonviolent offenders to upgrade the quality of their cells, for a price.
Some big city doctors are allowing patients access to their cell phone numbers and same day appointments – for an annual fee.
There are casinos who will pay you to tattoo their establishment on your forehead; temporary tattoos are worth less.
A sizeable percentage of our military operations are executed by private military contractors.
It’s no longer the case that markets are confined to the task of determining the price of material goods; everything has a price and markets are an effective way to determine that exchange without the civic or moral judgment as to whether it’s appropriate.
But isn’t there something missing when there is no moral judgment as to when markets are appropriate and when they are not?
We would think so.
Then again, we were pulling for Kansas.
By Emerson Lynn
St. Albans Messenger

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