Bobby Knight's cold, cold heart is in the right place this time.
The head basketball bully at Indiana University thinks the Big Ten should start spending some of its proceeds on the parents of its players. He wants the league to ''be the forerunner'' in underwriting the travel expenses and game tickets of every mom and dad whose son competes in the conference's forthcoming tournament.
Knight has placed himself in two unfamiliar positions - atop the moral high ground; in what appears to be a losing battle. Such are the strength of his convictions and the extent of the NCAA's exploitation.
''I've said for years that the NCAA takes tremendous advantage of these players,'' Knight said this week. ''With all the money the NCAA is bringing in, it's ridiculous.''
College basketball presently operates as a plantation system: The overseers prosper, the labor force sweats. Playing schedules run longer, travel grows more demanding, and classroom time is increasingly compromised. The one constant is that players are still not permitted to be paid for their services. They generate millions of dollars for their schools, and are lucky to have the price of their next pizza.
''I think something should be done,'' said Xavier coach Skip Prosser. ''There's so much money being made by the (NCAA) tournament and often those that do the labor reap the least amount of benefit.
''Taking parents to the tournament, housing them, I think that's a good idea ... But whenever you get into the issue of paying players, a myriad of questions arise.''
''I think the idea is admirable,'' said University of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins. ''I just don't think it's legal.''
Equal opportunities a hurdle
Perks for parents might not be considered direct compensation, but it is a form of inducement that could lead to a large legal mess. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, citing federal Title IX regulations that mandate equal opportunities for women, says the conference could not adopt Knight's idea without extending comparable privileges to parents of athletes in non-revenue sports.
''You can't provide benefits for one class of athletes over another without running into some serious problems,'' Delany told the Chicago Tribune.
Football and men's basketball still cover most of the costs of big-time athletic departments, but efforts to reward the players in those sports are always undermined by the socialist structure of college sports.
Though Danny Wuerffel may win the Heisman Trophy tonight, the University of Florida is forbidden from providing him any benefits it withholds from its cross country team.
All sports not created equal
College basketball coaches do not draw the same salary as their non-revenue contemporaries. They get bigger offices, larger staffs and better fringe benefits. But the NCAA would have us think that all athletes should be treated by the same stingy standard, regardless of their sport or their value to an individual institution. They are campus coolies.
''Everybody says, 'Let's get back to the way it used to be,''' Huggins said. ''I wish they went back to the way it used to be. It used to be you got $20 a month. They called it laundry money. With the way inflation is going, they'd get $175 a month now. You were also able to have jobs. You can't have a job now.
''The way things used to be is you had one AD (athletic director) and maybe a helper. They cut our scholarships, they take opportunities away from kids, but we keep hiring people. We've got two people now in charge of running this building (Shoemaker Center).''
Among the reasons athletic departments are always expanding is that it is considered unseemly to show too much profit. Even at that, the average Division I athletic program showed a $1.2 million surplus last year.
The more money schools make from football and basketball, the more pressure there will be to share the loot with those whose perspiration makes it possible.
What Knight suggests will not end the exploitation. But it is, at least, a beginning.