GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Shaquille O'Neal started off his keynote question-and-answer session with National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert by making a confession.
"I used to get a free bowl of jambalaya before every game," O'Neal said. (Such an exchange would constitute a violation of NCAA rules, as athletes are not allowed to receive any extra benefits because of their status.) Luckily for O'Neal, Emmert said, "it's past the statute of limitations."
O'Neal returned to the joke several times throughout the luncheon -- "I respect you because you didn't penalize me for those violations," he said to Emmert -- and while it's unclear whether the doctorate-holder and 15-time National Basketball Association Player of the Year was actually kidding, the crowd here at the annual NCAA convention ate it up anyway.
Shaq and Emmert go way back -- Emmert was chancellor of Louisiana State University when O'Neal returned to school to earn his bachelor's degree. LSU's two-time first-team All-American went on to earn his master's degree from the University of Phoenix and his doctorate from Barry University, in Miami.
Emmert asked the "compulsive degree taker" what he thinks of "one and done" -- in which talented basketball players put in one season at college because the NBA mandates it, then enter the draft. O'Neal, who's involved in myriad business ventures and quotes Dwight D. Eisenhower, said he understands why athletes do it -- "it's the only way to provide a better means for their families" -- but said they should be required to put in at least three years in college. Shaq owns 40 24-Hour Fitness operations, 155 Five Guys burger joints, and numerous Las Vegas nightclubs. He's currently an analyst on "Inside the NBA" and plays a role in the upcoming Adam Sandler film "Grown Ups 2."
"It's not about how much money you make, it's about whether you're educated enough to know how much you can keep," he said, recalling that he spent his first million dollars in 30 minutes before getting a wake-up call from his banker. "We as athletes have to realize we can't play sports forever."
A question submitted by reporters -- on whether college athletes should be paid -- was not, alas, selected for asking.