NEW ORLEANS – If the nine months leading up to Monday night’s national title game between Kansas and North Carolina proved anything, it’s that college basketball and the entirety of college sports are changing.
Whoever is shaping all of these changes—and it won’t necessarily be the NCAA—will help determine whether the next decade grows into efficiently run business or descends into chaos in this multibillion-dollar ecosystem of sports, entertainment, and education. Both is a possibility.
The NCAA has struggled with the rules and results of efforts to pay players, ensure gender equality, ban the newly relaxed transfer portal, streamline an increasingly messy system of violations, and of course, the long-discussed “One and Done” rule. rule to finish .
And while the Governing Body all but waves the white flag when it comes to figuring out many of the transformative changes these issues bring, there is a growing sense that this might not be a bad thing.
“This is not the time to look at knitwear and parts,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday, a day before his loss to North Carolina sealed his retirement. “It’s time to look at the whole thing.”
At the top of the to-do list is developing a workable system for Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals.
Players can now earn money from sponsorship deals. It’s a tremendous shift in the overall collegiate dynamic, a business where players generated millions through March Madness, but most of that went into coaches, new stadiums and weight rooms, and kept the rest of the varsity athletic department going.
“I’m definitely looking forward to putting some money in my pocket,” Duke guard Trevor Keels said over the weekend.
However, some argue that NIL is a distraction from what really needs to happen – which is getting schools to pay players directly for their work.
It’s happening in a roundabout way anyway, as donors and others pumping money into athletic programs are now shifting some of the money to school “collectives” that create sponsorship opportunities for athletes.
The workaround feels acceptable enough for now. But the NCAA has ceded all control of it, depending on state laws, school boards, and maybe an eventual federal law to settle it all.
“It was and still is that Congress must help us find a single legal model” to govern NIL, said NCAA President Mark Emmert.
Under the current mishmash of regulations, there is very little public information about who does what and who pays the bills. The concept of millions of dollars floating around with no transparency seems like the best business model to anyone for a sport filled with athletes in their teens and early 20s.
“One of my biggest concerns isn’t even for the players that are participating in the campaigns or getting paid,” said Barbara Jones of Outshine Talent. “It’s about them giving away too much or promising too much and not even realizing it.”
Another issue is the gender difference. Congress held hearings on the issue during the tournament. Last year, the differences in the way men’s and women’s games were handled were highlighted by a video captured by Oregon’s Sedona Prince in the lame weight room at the women’s tournament.
The NCAA commissioned a task force and a panel made recommendations. Most of the changes felt like window dressing. These included adding four teams to bring the women’s group to 68, moving the women’s finals from Tuesday to Sunday, and branding “March Madness” on the women’s tournament in addition to the men’s tournament.
Meanwhile, the NCAA still owns a grossly undervalued women’s media contract, the details of which paint the NCAA’s image as a deadbeat bureaucracy that doesn’t change with the times. The shortcomings are all the more apparent as this is the 50th anniversary of Title IX legislation, which was designed to create equal opportunities for women in sport.
“I call it hot dogs for the girls and steak for the boys,” said Stanford trainer Tara VanDerveer.
Elsewhere, the new transfer rule is an attempt to correct one of sport’s greatest hypocrisies – namely that coaches could switch to the highest bidder without restrictions, but players weren’t given the same freedom. Now they are, but when combined with NIL it threatens to create a sort of free agency system that many in the college game would like to avoid.
The complicated and inefficient rulebook has also made the NCAA look like it’s stuck in concrete.
Emmert almost conceded that the moves to set up an independent committee are not working well. As a result, he came to New Orleans with the prospect of presenting the title trophy to coach Bill Self, whose Kansas program has been overshadowed by a complex half-decade-old investigation that still threatens the Jayhawks’ future.
“It’s common knowledge,” Self said. “We’ve been dealing with some things off the pitch for a while.”
As with most troubled schools, Kansas’ problems center on recruiting top talent, attributing it to the NCAA’s longest-running problem — the “One and Done” rule, which allows players to go to college after a year.
Emmert’s well-worn trick with this rule is that it’s technically part of the NBA collective bargaining agreement, so what is the NCAA supposed to do? But when it comes to working out the details and how they affect collegiate play, Krzyzewski said he’s had more contact with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver over the years than anyone in the NCAA Bureau.
As Krzyzewski leaves the coaching in the rearview mirror, he notices how many decisions are made by NCAA boards and committees that don’t deal with the issues at hand on a daily basis.
He’d like to see a less centralized NCAA — one that allows men’s basketball to rule its own problems, and maybe the same with women’s baskets and every other sport.
Whether a new model looks like what Krzyzewski envisions or something else, there’s a growing sense that big changes are on the horizon for varsity sport.
“Anything you work on, or whatever you do, it’s never just the status quo,” Self said. “We need to evolve”
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