Charles Barkley held court at a table with several reporters for 30 minutes, and almost none of the conversation pertained to the basketball court. When asked what he would discuss in the New York Studio with Johnson, Gumbel, Anthony and Smith, Barkley noted he would reflect primarily on the lack of education many college basketball players receive.
Barkley sought a green light from Turner to discuss what he feels is the mistreatment of college players—by agents, by the AAU, by the NBA and by TV networks.
“We have an obligation to graduate these players,” Barkley said. “We can’t just keep making money on these players and not graduating them.”
He expressed his admiration and love for Turner Sports, and all the opportunities it’s afforded him, but he was explicit in his motivations compared to his employer’s intentions. “My bosses are here to make money,” Barkley said. “I can’t just be in it for the money. That’s not cool.”
The basketball part of the analysis will take care of itself, according to Barkley. He didn’t provide a game plan for how he will balance the basketball analysis with his opinions on how colleges can ensure their basketball players graduate. Instead, Barkley said he’ll speak up early and often; he claimed he wouldn’t have accepted his part on Turner’s NCAA Tournament coverage otherwise. (In typical fashion, he made a point later in the other direction by saying he told Turner he would serve whatever role he could to help their tournament coverage.)
To be clear, Barkley’s main points were that college players need to graduate, and that there isn’t enough being done on their behalf to ensure that happens. College players leave school early for the NBA—often ignoring much of their academic responsibilities—and he said the NBA isn’t better for it.
“I hate that one-and-done shit,” Barkley said. “These kids ain’t ready for the NBA. The player’s union gets mad when I say it, but I don’t care. They don’t ever look at the big picture. We all making a lot of money, but we’ve done a disservice to these kids.”
Barkley turned down the suggestion that players should be paid by schools. He’d rather see a player get paid from his agent.
“I’m very adamant that I think players should be able to borrow money from agents. The tricky thing about paying players is who do you pay? Do you pay the football team? Do you pay the basketball team? Do you not pay the woman’s basketball team, the woman’s lacrosse team? I understand that’s a tricky slope for players. I’m not sure there’s a way to do that. But I don’t see any competitive advantage from borrowing money from agents, to keep a kid in school longer.”
The quotes might have been new, but Barkley’s stance is one which he’s repeated for years. The amateur basketball system in the United States is unfit to set up its players for future success. This will be a point made again and again by Barkley during NCAA Tournament coverage.
For your reading pleasure, here is a cornucopia of quotes from Barkley, with explanations for the context in which the statements were made:
On whether he’ll criticize college players on-air: “They’re kids, they’re not making $10 million per year. I’m not going to criticize college players like I [do] NBA players. That’s not fair.”
On why he won’t stick to just basketball analysis in his studio role for the NCAA Tournament: “I’m not coming here to pump up anybody. I’m on the NBA’s ass, too. They need to keep these kids in college longer. I want two years [before they can enter the NBA].”
On one reporter’s suggestion that players should take responsibility for graduating (Barkley later acknowledged that point was “well-taken”): “You got to make sure those kids go to school. You can’t be giving them those basket-weaving degrees. You know, these colleges have an obligation to make sure they’re going toward graduation. You can’t just put them in classes to keep them eligible.”
On why he thinks college players have been used by others: “The problem is we’re all pigs. College is just trying theirs, the NBA just trying to get theirs. Agents just trying to get theirs. That’s what I mean by they’re all pigs. Everybody is concerned about their thing.”
On whether college head coaches should help ensure players to graduate: “The coach’s job is to win games. Some of these coaches have great graduation rates. I’m not gonna sit here and berate coaches about not graduating players. Listen, there are a couple coaches I know who had great graduation rates who are looking for jobs. The system is what it is. They gotta win. They got families, too. But these guys who we are working with now — I don’t think I’m asking too much to graduate these players.”
On the understandable double standard of his alma mater, Auburn, going through rumored violations with Cam Newton: “I went to a bunch of Auburn games and I saw 20,000, 30,000 Cam Newton jerseys. And y’all are bitching because he supposedly [gives quotation marks] got $200,000. And as I’ve said to y’all, if he got $200,000, he was grossly underpaid.”
On his confusion about Kyrie Irving being a highly-projected draft pick (Barkley had been discussing how few impact players there had been in recent NBA drafts): “They got the kid at Duke going second or third. He played eight freaking games. How the hell can you tell me this guy’s one of the five best college players.”
On the AAU (a reporter had asked if Barkley agreed with the sentiment that amateur players partake in so many games through AAU ball that they care less about winning): “Don’t get me started on that AAU shit. That’s a travesty. They’re playing too much basketball. That stuff is so corrupt. I just hate that.”
On college basketball analysis for the NCAA Tournament (Barkley pointed out that if a Martian had watched the recent Cavaliers-Lakers game, then the Martian would think the Cavs were the best team in the NBA, solidifying his thought that judging a team off of one game doesn’t work): “I’m not gonna watch 100 college basketball teams play. That’s bullshit. I’ll probably watch 30, 40 teams play. The rest, I’ll have to get my college coach friends and other college analysts [to offer their insight]. Look, you watch them play one time, you don’t know them.”
On Turner Sports: “Turner’s been great to me. I love my job and the people I work with and work for. I said I would do whatever you want me to do.”