March 09, 2011
NEW YORK - Charles Barkley has had an agenda for a long time.
He's just never had the crown jewel of collegiate athletics as a forum
to air his complaints about the NCAA and what he sees as its lack of
commitment to educating student athletes.
But if the NCAA suits in Indianapolis are holding their collective
breath in anticipation - or fear - of what the outspoken Barkley will
say during broadcasts of the NCAA Tournament, they have no one to
blame but themselves.
Barkley said that before he agreed to be a part of the new NCAA
broadcast partnership between CBS and Turner Sports, he needed a
meeting with NCAA staff to air some private grievances and get
assurances that he would have the liberty to air said grievances
publicly during the tournament, while the games were being televised
"I told them these are some things that I want, because I don't have
to do this job," Barkley said yesterday at a media forum about the new
partnership. "I'm concerned about [the NCAA] not graduating these
"We met with the NCAA and I said, 'Let's have a dialogue about you
guys not graduating these players. We just gave you a check for $11
"They aren't paying the players. I'm not going to go on a rant about
where the money goes, but you have an obligation to graduate these
players. This ain't the first time I've talked about this, but this is
the first time I've had a dog in the fight."
Call it the "Power of the Chuckster."
In his role as an NBA studio analyst on Turner with partners Ernie
Johnson and Kenny Smith, Barkley has become one of the most popular
voices in basketball. His fearlessness to say what's on his mind, damn
the consequences, have made him a favorite who everyone knew had to be
a part of this venture.
I'm sure the NCAA did with Barkley the same thing it does with anyone
who questions the integrity and hypocrisy of its actions: It listened,
smiled, conceded that things could be looked at, and then walked out
of the meeting smiling.
But Barkley is the type of wild card that establishments hate to go
into business with.
The NCAA knows it has nothing to hold as leverage over Barkley. He's
not necessarily out to overturn the boat, but he will rock it. That's
the hard-to-calculate cost of wanting to benefit from his services.
"The only reason I'm doing this is because I wanted to talk to the
NCAA about not graduating players," Barkley said. "That is my concern.
I told them I'm not going to just jump on the bandwagon and let you
all make all this money on these kids and not say anything."
That's the Faustian deal the NBA learned it had gotten into when
Barkley joined Turner in 2000. Jovial Barkley was great for ratings,
but serious Barkley was never far away to take snaps at things he
didn't like about the professional game.
He never worries about subtlety: "I'm on the NBA's [butt], too,
because they need to do things to keep these kids in college longer,"
And what did the NCAA tell Barkley after their sit-down?
"They said, 'We understand your concerns,' '' he said.
I'm not sure they understand Barkley's commitment when he has a cause
he believes in.
"I'm going to talk about [it]," said Barkley, who revealed that he has
written checks of $1 million each to his high school, his college -
Auburn University - and another unnamed college to create education
endowments. "This is the first time I've had a platform in the
situation. [The NCAA] is very aware of where I stand. I'm not going to
Hold on. Hold on. It's not as if Barkley will hit you over the head
with a soapbox when you turn on the NCAA Tournament Tuesday. He's just
saying that his education stance is something that needs to be brought
up at some point.
Barkley knows that March Madness is a magical event, and he's not out
to take away from it.
It's why his broadcast partner and friend says people should have
little concern that Barkley might attack NCAA players and teams in the
way that he has been known to go at NBA players and teams.
"People may not realize this, but Charles has a way of couching things
even when he's going off on an NBA player or team," Johnson said.
"He'll say, 'So and so, I love you, but . . . '
"He respects the game. He knows these are college kids. He knows these
aren't pros. He's not going to come down on some college kid.
"And that's because that's Charles-being-Charles. He's always felt
that way about the difference between college players and
Longtime CBS host Greg Gumbel echoed Johnson's comfortableness with
Barkley. "The big attraction of him being part of this is that he's
Charles Barkley," Gumbel said. "But Charles is smart, and I think
sometimes people lose track of that.
"Nobody is more aware of the fact that these are kids than Charles
Barkley. You won't find people who played the game just once dissing
kids in this position. Charles understands the nuances, the ins and
outs and the emotions that go into this. You don't have to pull him
aside and say, 'Now remember Charles, these are kids.' He knows it. He
was a kid once in this same position."
Barkley's response on the subject was typically right to the point,
with no qualifiers.
"I cannot," Barkley said, "because they are kids. They're not making
$10 million a year. I'm not going to criticize college kids and treat
them like they are NBA players. That's not fair."
Graduation statistics, however, are an entirely different ballgame.