For Athletes, For Fans: 3 Changes the NCAA Must Make Immediately

After a few bold words from UCONN women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, a hot debate circling the Final Four this weekend is whether or not men’s college basketball has lost its appeal. Geno says:

I think the game is a joke. It really is. I don’t coach it. I don’t play it, so I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it. But as a spectator, forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke. There’s only like ten teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you’d like to watch. Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it.

Yesterday I took to this debate. Has college basketball become a joke? No. Rather, we need to start asking the right questions (and finding answers) to find out how we can turn college basketball into the next multi-billion dollar industry. Even more importantly, we need to find out how we can set a new standard for our *student* athletes.

In order to find answers, we need to start asking the right questions. I propose that if we answer these three questions, college basketball (and college athletics) can become a more profitable and beneficial system.

  • How can we make the gameplay keep us on the edge of our seats?
  • How can we create a more even talent distribution?
  • How can we make sure that our student athletes don’t become both millionaires and bankrupt before they’re legally allowed in a bar?

Gameplay

How can we make the gameplay keep us on the edge of our seats?

While March (and April) provide us with thrilling games, entertaining matchups and a tournament that holds even our grandparents interest, there is something that needs to be done about the excitement in college basketball.

Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay in college hoops isn’t what is holding back the industry from blowing up. But, there are changes that I believe can be made to improve the excitement of the game.

Restructure gameplay from 20 minutes to 22 minutes

One of my biggest issues while watching college hoops is how frequently the game stops. With TV timeouts happening every four minutes, not only does it frustrate fans, but it has to frustrate players. In my glory days of AAU, we played 20 minute halves with a running clock. More times than not, it would take several minutes of gameplay for my team to get any sort of groove going. With the gameplay stopping every four minutes, it restricts teams from performing at peak levels. These guys don’t need a rest every couple of possessions. Let them play.

Increasing the game time by 4 minutes would allow for a more fluid game flow. Keep your four TV timeouts, NCAA, but let these guys get going. It will maintain fans’ interest and let the players play.

Take the shot clock from 35 seconds down to the NBA 24

I don’t need an explanation here. In 2015, 35 seconds of ANYTHING scares people. This change is obvious and inevitable. I’m sick of watching teams sit on a lead for the last 5 minutes of a game. Change it.

Give everybody 6 fouls

I’m so sick of watching guys pick up two quick fouls and then sit out the rest of the half. Sure, sometimes the fouls are deserved and you’re just S.O.L.. Often times, though, the refs have too much influence on the outcome of the game. People want to watch the best players play.

Talent Distribution

How can we create a more even talent distribution?

It’s no secret that this year’s Kentucky team has a lopsided roster that seems unfair. As I mentioned yesterday, we love “Super Teams”. While Calipari’s teams have been unique to this idea comparable to most programs, this is a trend that we can adjust to create a more even playing field going forward.

So what needs to happen?

Adjust the minimum age limit to get into the NBA from 19 to 20 years old

Several years ago, the NBA implemented the minimum age limit in an effort to restrict immature (both on and off the court) teenagers from making millions out of high school. The thought? Go to college for a year, develop your game and learn how to become a professional. My question? How is 19 that much better than 18? Well, what has it done for both the college game and the NBA?

  • Increased the talent pool in college basketball
  • Filtered out unworthy high school basketball players from the NBA
  • Drove NCAA revenue growth through superior teams and talent
  • Created a new movement of “one and done”

The increase in age from 18 to 19 has had nothing but positive effects on the game of basketball. It makes the college game more enjoyable for fans. It has strengthened the professionalism in the NBA. It has made both organizations more money.

What would another year add to both college hoops AND the NBA? I see four main factors.

  • It would eliminate Super Super Teams

Yes, teams will still find a way to stack up. The best players will still want to play with each other. But, the top recruits will not want to go to Kentucky to compete for a job at the risk that they hurt their NBA draft stock.

  • Instead of only 10 teams having a legitimate chance at a title, I project that number would at least double

Yes, Geno was right. With this system in place, there are only a handful of teams that can truly compete at the highest level. By increasing the age limit by one year, not only will top recruits be forced to disperse among more top programs, but they will be required to stick around for a second year (I would guess that once players realize that they aren’t first round draft picks, they would stay even longer). Instead of Super Teams having one year to win a championship, coaches can recruit with a long-term plan (“long”). They can create teams, not star-studded lineups. Teams win championships.

  • Almost no 19-year old is ready to take on the responsibilities that come with making NBA money and fame

On-the-court performance aside, I couldn’t imagine being faced with the responsibility of managing upwards of $5 million dollars. What would an extra year in school do to help these guys professionally in order to help them avoid getting into the trouble that a far-too-large proportion of them get into? Having the right mentors in your corner (like many college coaches are) for even just one more year would push these players in the right direction off-the-court.

  • College Basketball would become more marketable and more valuable

This is simple. More talent, better teams, better competition = more $$. Imagine a league in which Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker & Andrew Wiggins were all competing, night-in and night-out. If these future “superstars” were playing on ESPN every night, in electric environments like Cameron Indoor or Rupp Arena, wouldn’t you be tuning in?

Educating the Student-Athlete

How can we make sure that our student athletes don’t become both millionaires and bankrupt before they’re legally allowed in a bar?

Lastly, but most importantly, what are we doing to make sure that student-athletes aren’t using basketball (or any other revenue-generating sport) only as a stepping stone rather than an opportunity to get an education they otherwise wouldn’t be qualified for?

I want to see a statistic of top 100 recruits who truly care about receiving a “free” education in exchange for playing division I basketball. Yes, I do believe that athletes should receive extra compensation in exchange for playing other than education (but that’s for another day… and not my argument). I also would like to see a spreadsheet of every top 100 recruit in the last 10 years with their listed major. Sport Industry? Communications? Sports Management?

Yes, those are all respectable majors. But, the truth is that the majority of these guys who become “one and done” don’t even get the opportunity to take major courses before they leave. Instead, they take laughable general education courses in which they can take to simply stay enrolled at the university. How do I know? I’m in these same laughable classes with them in order to boost my GPA. Understandable? Of course. They work 40 hours a week for their team. Beneficial? I would argue no.

So why waste their time and not take full advantage of the amazing resources most universities provide? The system is flawed. While there are many student-athletes who absolutely value the free education, there are also many who simply do not care about attaining it.

A Sports Illustrated article quotes, “78 percent of NFL players face bankruptcy or serious financial stress within just two years of leaving the game and 60 percent of NBA players face the same dire results in five years.”

What’s wrong with this stat? How in the world should athletes, who make millions of dollars (especially the top level players), ever go broke? Why aren’t we doing a better job of educating our students while they’re also performing their athletic duties?

Why waste their time in 1000 level classes going through the motions for a year (or two), when they can be proactively learning what they NEED to be successful, regardless of their basketball future?

That’s why I propose a new major be implemented that focuses on:

  • Personal finance
  • Investment strategies
  • Professional development
  • Leadership
  • Elective classes emphasizing practical personal & business decisions

While I do not want to put athletes on a greater pedestal than they already are, the truth is that our current system advocates a flawed hierarchy. Do you want fair? Then admit me into Duke with the same academic resume as Jahlil Okafor. Oh, that’s not possible? Then lets stop pretending that players like him should have to abide by the same academic curriculum as me.

I’m calling a spade a spade. NCAA, do the same and maybe we will see a change in our system.

 

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