Sports have been and continue to be an integral part of American culture. As spectators and participants, we spend countless hours and dollars tending to our sporting interests. As time has passed, however, changes have come, not all of them good. What follows is a series of posts on what I see are the major issues facing America’s “major” sports: college basketball, pro basketball, baseball, college football, and pro football.
With the Final Four fresh on our minds, here is what I would do to improve this grand game:
1. Keep the NCAA tournament at 68 teams Truth be told, I’d like it to go back to 64, but I recognize the need for more revenue, and the additional “play-in” games don’t really do anything to alter what has been an extremely successful model, both from a business and competitive standpoint. Expanding to 96, however, as some are talking about, would be “killing the goose.” Already, we have some legitimate complaints about the watering down of the regular season. To expand to 96 teams would make the month of February practically meaningless. It’s this time of year teams are jockeying for position in conference and NCAA tournaments. Teams that struggled early on are fighting to build their case as an NCAA at-large team. If 96 teams were included, those pursuits would be largely academic. The six game gauntlet is difficult enough for teams to traverse. Adding an extra round would be nothing more than an attempted money grab.
2. Adopt the baseball standard for eligibility The one and done phenomenon is hurting the game and making a mockery of the educational mission supposedly paramount in the college game. The NCAA and the NBA need to get together and adopt the baseball standard for player eligibility. If a player wants to go pro after high school, so be it. Some, like Kobe, Lebron, and Kevin Garnett, can clearly play at that level. Even more have no desire to be a student, but come to campus and survive Basketweaving 101 for a semester so they can play their required year. Let them play in the NBDL, get paid, and work on their chosen craft. For those who choose to take advantage of a free education, they can come to campus, graduate in three years if they’re serious, and oh by the way, get free training and exposure toward getting drafted professionally. But they must stay the three years before being eligible for the draft. If they flunk out, not eligible. If they break the law and get booted from the team, bag some groceries for two more years and play at the Y to stay sharp. There is a huge need to recreate the integrity of the collegiate experience and to rejoin college basketball fans and the players they cheer for. It’s unsatisfying getting to know the John Walls of the world only to see them bolt after a single season.
3. The NCAA should sanction summer league coaches and tournaments The AAU system is taking over high school player development, and doing so with little or no oversight. This has produced summertime “meat markets” where coaches come to watch potential prospects play in tournaments and listen to pitches from their AAU “handlers.” All too often, this involves some quid pro quo between the school and the “coach.” The AAU experience does provide a positive opportunity for players to gain exposure outside the high school season. The NCAA and AAU need to join forces to sanction the coaches involved in these programs. They should be put through training and rigorous background checks. Shoe company representatives need not apply. The NCAA should lend its approval to several events over the course of the summer that are carefully monitored and set up so that college coaches can “court” prospects in a structured atmosphere with actual adult supervision. What is going on now is very nearly prostitution. If a player plays in a non-sanctioned event, he loses eligibility. If a coach recruits at a non-sanctioned event, the program loses a scholarship. This is a pretty simple way to clean up the cesspool of recruiting that is currently in place.
4. No more domes! See my previous post. Let’s let the players play the games in an atmosphere conducive to success. Let’s not sacrifice the nature of the game so more tickets can be sold.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the NBA.