Picker Picks Florida for NCAA, Warns About Unionization

College basketball analyst Billy Packer predicted the University of Florida will win the NCAA basketball championship, and he called for a special investigation into “out of control” college athletics.

Packer, who was the lead college basketball analyst on CBS Sports for 27 years, said he based his prediction on the experience of Florida coach Billy Donovan.

“I think that the number one team that has a chance to win it is Florida, and for the simple reason that Billy Donovan has been there before,” Packer said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.

Florida is playing the University of Connecticut in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament’s Final Four competition in the Dallas area today.

The winner will play the victor in today’s other semi-final game, between the University of Kentucky and University of Wisconsin, for the championship on April 7.

A Florida win would give Donovan, 48, his third college basketball title, which would make him the sixth coach with three or more championships.

Packer, 74, also said college athletics in general are “completely out of control.” He said a special panel should be created to investigate and make recommendations on the future of college sports.

Special Committee

“I’d like to see a committee headed up by guys like Bill Bradley,” he said, referring to the former all-American college basketball player at Princeton University, professional for the New York Knicks and former U.S. senator from New Jersey.

As an example of his concerns, Packer cited the Ohio State University athletic director receiving a bonus from the school for one of the college’s wrestlers winning the NCAA championship.

“If I’m a student athlete there, I’m saying you’ve got to be crapping me?,” Packer said. “He didn’t recruit him, he didn’t coach him, he doesn’t even know him and he’s getting a bonus on championships.”

Packer questioned the feasibility of college athletics unionizing after the National Labor Relations Board ruling last month that would allow football players Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to create the first union for college athletes.

NCAA Reaction

“If I was the NCAA, I would applaud it and I would say, ‘OK, we’re going to make the 500,000 kids that participate in intercollegiate athletics employees,’” he said. “So they’ve got to understand what an employee is. It’s a person that can be fired. It’s a person that -- that basically gets paid based on performance -- and it’s also a person that we withhold taxes on them.”

The NCAA should “just take a ridiculous position to show those student athletes that there are ramifications to following somebody like the United Steelworkers,” he said.

In college basketball, Packer opposes the “one and done” rule that allows players to attend college for only a year and then turn professional. He said the rule has hurt professional basketball even more.

“In the last seven years, there have been 59 kids that have gone one and done,” he said. “Of those 59, 14 of them are now starters in the NBA, seven, you could say, have star status and nine of them aren’t even in the league,” Packer said. “The NBA has really been hurt by the one and done.”

Dominant Teams

With the one and done system, he predicted that college basketball soon will be dominated by five or six teams following the model of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who frequently recruits high school basketball all-Americans who play only one year and then go to the NBA.

He said this model has caused particular problems for perennial basketball powerhouse Duke University, the Durham, North Carolina-based school that Packer noted has been knocked out of the NCAA tournament’s first round in two of the last three years.

He also said the Atlantic Coast Conference, to which Duke belongs, in general has been hurt by the one-and-done rule.

“The ACC really hasn’t made that transition as well as some of the other conferences,” said Packer.

Although picking Florida to win, Packer highlighted Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who is set to make his Final Four debut after leading the Badgers to their 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Packer said that while Ryan, 66, doesn’t get the national attention he deserves, he’s one of the most respected coaches in the college ranks.

“He sticks to his fundamentals,” Packer said. “He recruits toward his program, as opposed to going out and trying to recruit stars. And he does an incredible job getting guys to play his style of basketball and the consistency by which he coaches is something to be admired.”

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