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Dick Vitale thinks it’s time college basketball players get paid

A conversation with the broadcasting legend ahead of the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Dick Vitale didn’t even need to be prompted to bring up the hypocrisy that underscores college sports in the middle of a conversation about the NCAA tournament last week.

“I’ll tell you this, kids like Zion (Williamson), they deserve to make some money,” Vitale told SB Nation. “There’s no doubt in my mind. Want to get rid of all the sleaziness? Want to get rid of the agents behind the scenes? All the wheeling and dealing and nonsense we read about? It’s very simple.”

Vitale has had a four-decade career in broadcasting after coaching both at the college and NBA level in the 1970s. Months ahead of his 80th birthday, Vitale continues to be one of the sport’s biggest and most visible cheerleaders. When even Dick Vitale can see the sham of athletes going unpaid while billions of dollars shuffle hands below them, you know the NCAA has a problem.

“The NCAA can’t pay the players,” Vitale continued. “Don’t have enough money they say to take care of every athlete in all sports. If a kid is good enough, and an agent wants to give him money, let them give him money. If Zion wants to get an agent, what’s the big deal? What about if you make an appearance, and do endorsements, why not? Let them do it. Let kids do that.

“If Taylor Swift was on campus as a student, she’d be allowed to do concerts and make millions. Certain kids in every profession, be it the corporate world, the legal world, people on the top and people on the bottom, can make those dollars. Why should we deny them? It would get rid of all the sleaziness because now you don’t have those sleazy guys operating because it’s legal.”

Vitale talked to SB Nation about the favorites in March Madness, his way way of getting more mid-majors in the NCAA tournament, and his love of live music all while promoting paper towels and dishing out recipes with Bounty. The following is our conversation with Vitale:

SB NATION: How many teams can you see winning this thing? Is it a year where only three or four teams have a real shot, or is it wide open?

DICK VITALE: I think it’s wide open, but when push comes to shove I see about eight teams that win six consecutive games. I think the ACC has three legit teams that can win it in Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina. You go to the SEC, three heavyweights, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU. Gonzaga is in that mix as well. Michigan and Michigan State, as well.

Right now, we’re looking at a scenario where there’s a lot of upsets happening early, a few surprises as we get to the Sweet 16, and then reality sets in.

SB: The biggest story of last year’s tournament was Virginia getting bounced by a No. 16 seed in the first round. How do you see them bouncing back?

DV: I think they have a chip on their shoulder. That was shock city. Not just that they got beat, but the way they got beat. One thing about Virginia, they have three guys that are as good as any collegiate threesome on the perimeter. You got Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter, who is a tremendous defensive player as well.

Tony Bennett knows how to win. He had the misstep last year, but he’s been sensational. They’re still a great team defensively, and they’re better offensively than people give them credit for.

SB: Curious what you think about Michigan State. The last couple years they’ve had a lot more pro talent, but couldn’t make a tournament run. This to me is a lot more of a classic Tom Izzo team.

DV: They’re in a great place. You look at that club, they lost (Joshua) Langford, he averaged 15, 16 points per game, when you lose a player like that while playing in a heavyweight league, and then they lose the kid (Nick) Ward, their best inside presence, and they’re still having success.

Cassius Winston has been terrific. He’s one of my super seven players in the country. He’s been brilliant all year. And then Izzo, great motivator, the players love him, they play hard for him, they’ll never lose because they aren’t giving effort. He’s a Hall of Famer on the sideline, combine that with some outstanding talent, and you got a chance to win.

They have some depth there. They may not have the Jaren Jacksons of the world, but they have very good, quality players.

SB: Any potential Cinderellas you think can make a run this year?

DV: You bring up something very near to my heart. What makes the tournament special is having the little guy play the big guy. What we need is more little guys in the tournament. We need to reward greatness instead of mediocrity. If you go three or four games under .500, you don’t belong over a team like Belmont that goes 26-5. Or Lipscomb, who goes 25-7. Or Hofstra at 27-7. These are teams that had great years. Reward greatness.

My plan is very simple. The Dickie V plan. We have 36 at-large berths. Give 28 of them to the power conferences. Give eight of them to mid-majors. Give me 1-8 the best mid-majors who don’t qualify by winning their conference tournament. We’d have some beautiful matchups there that people want to see. It’s about rewarding greatness over mediocrity.

Losing 14-15 games, losing several more games than you won in conference, do you really belong in over those mid-major kids who had the type of year that they had? I don’t want to hear about Quad I wins, they get so many opportunities.

What makes March Madness special is those matchups, with the Davids and Goliaths.

SB: You’ve been crushing the concert scene lately, Dickie V. I’ve seen you at Gwen Stefani and Boyz II Men this week. Where does your love of live music come from?

DV: My wife and I are fanatics. A lot of people think I’m 24/7 basketball, but I’m a music junkie. All kinds. Whether it be Garth Brooks, who I spent a little bit of time with recently at spring training. Whether it be Kenny Chesney, who I love. He helps support my gala every year for kids battling cancer. He’s been to my house. I’ve seen Taylor Swift. I love Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson,

Whenever my wife and I go some place, the first thing we look at, what concerts are in the area. In between the West Coast Conference tournament, I went to see Stefani, I went to see Boyz II Men, and Celine Dion. It was a packed four days, but I love it. What I love about it, I love seeing people that have control of a crowd in the palm of their hand. It’s beautiful for me to see.

I do a lot of motivational speaking in front of crowds, so I learn from some of these people. I really do, even at my age. I want to continue to learn because I plan on being around. I love what I’m doing. I enjoy life.