Lately, College Basketball has become even more of a joke than normal. I mean traditionally everyone knows that it is an overrated place for out of shape white people like myself to succeed.
But still, with numerous FBI probes and inconsistent reports on who and what have been violating the NCAA regulations, it is becoming clearer and clearer that to police this organization is borderline impossible.
People will tell you that players shouldn’t get paid with no real solution on how to fix or correct corruption in the sport. There are these vague ideas that traditions and history of amateurism is the most important and therefore we must honor it and yet no one has been able to identify way other than that is the way it is.
Of course, now these coaches are getting paid millions per year. When colleges decided to not pay their players, it was when star coaches made like $60,000 a year (in today’s money too, FYI).
I think it is important to note, before I go any further, that I love college football.
But that’s because it is great. A more limited season, better opportunity for athleticism and creativity to shine, and improved rules like the one foot catch and the way overtime is set up actually make it more entertaining than its professional counterpart.
To be fair, the NFL has also been pretty terrible at developing talent. People have spent the last year why the league has been losing viewership. To most people the fact that is the lowest rated Super Bowl in the last 9 years is worrying.
So why is that? Are the people out on football?
Well no. Because not all of football is hurting. The College Football Playoffs jumped by 18% this last year.
People are going to give you a lot of dumb reasons as to why NFL is losing ratings. The truth is that nothing that popular is sustainable.
The other truth is that that the NFL ratings are dropping because the product sucks. The product sucks because 40-year old Tom Brady is still the best quarterback in the league.
That isn’t a shot at Brady, as a Boston diehard myself, but rather at the other teams and their inability to develop players.
College Football doesn’t have the same problem. Every year has new talent and is exciting.
Similarly, right now the NBA is in a peak. Every night has potential for greatness and the league is working harder and harder to become a 12 month sport, meaning it will be relevant all year despite having a season that only goes 8.5 months.
Prolonged draft conversations, relevant summer league games, and an extended season make All Star break the most boring part of the year ironically.
And that’s because the league has players who play longer and can develop into special talents.
In fact, while reviewing the careers of the players in 2004-2008 NBA Drafts, a five year sample size of the present that allows players to be in the league for at least 10 years, the players that were drafted and made it to their Rookie Contract option, playing at least 3 years, their average career length went from 5.72 to 8.45. An almost 50% increase.
If you can get over your Rookie hump in the NBA you have a strong chance of staying around for a while, which means there is a higher chance for a recognizable talent and superstar to emerge.
When you look at those numbers it becomes clear that the league is extremely top and bottom heavy in years played. 36% of the league played for 2 years or less, and 32% played for 10 years or more.
That 32% is critical. It signifies just how much staying power and influence veterans have in this league. You can truly watch as these players grow into themselves.
Comparing the NF during those years, you find a similar career length. The average for every player drafted is 5.46, a 0.26 difference from the NBA. The real issue is when you start to identify the people at the top, or rather lack their off.
Players who played three to nine years in the league accounted for 58%, while only 16% made it 10 years or higher. That’s 50% less than the NBA.
That means that for whatever reason: injuries, training, declining skill, age, etc. players have a very hard time getting past that hump to be a long-term player in the league. Most people who make it to the NFL have a lower chance of being that mainstay than in the NBA.
What does that mean for the sport?
Well, it certainly hurts narratives. It is hard to develop a relationship with a player if so few of them make it to that veteran mark. This hurts fan’s interest.
Moreover, it limits player development. If Tom Brady only played nine years, he goes from a QB who averages 27 TD’s – 9 interceptions with 3676 yards a year to 22-10 and 2938 yards. Essentially, if he plays for three more years longer than the average player, he is a more efficient Jay Cutler, 19-13 with 2928 yards. Obviously there are certain intangibles that he would possess, but still.
Now that said, Brady is an alien. And he may be right that avocados cure cancer or whatever he and his witch doctor preach. But still, football isn’t designed for longevity. It is too physical of a game for the average player to make it that many seasons. Yet, he became a different player, a more mature and better executing player with the first 8 seasons under his belt.
In the NBA guys get so many chapters: MJ, Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Magic, Bird, Duncan, Nash.
The list just keeps going and the stages are constantly growing. Lebron alone has like 5 chapters: Baby Lebron, 2008-2010 Cavs Lebron, Miami Heat Lebron Season 1, Miami Heat Lebron post losing to Mavs, I’m Coming Home Lebron. I mean he is slated to have like three more before his career is over.
Part of this is fueled by team changes and pinnacle series he found himself in, but most come from a change in his experience and his perspective as to how he is going to play basketball. Most football players just frankly can’t have that. And frankly, without that learned veteran knowledge the quality stagnates.
So the NBA is gaining major steam on the NFL as the most popular sport in America, and is also doing an excellent job cornering the world market.
They may not have as many viewers as the NFL, but they have the conversation.
They have the power.
NBA highlights blow up Twitter and Instagram nightly. Their players are meme-ified and celebrities. They are constantly relevant in the mainstream media.
They also have the power to change.
Basketball has gone through a variety of iterations throughout its history, whether it be the introduction of the shot clock, three-point line variations, hand checking and defensive scheme rule changes, or no longer allowing the paint to be a borderline WWE pay-per-view event like it was in the 80’s and 90’s.
Basketball is fluid. As the game’s interests change, the rules and structures shift with it.
Basketball understands at its core it is entertainment, and it will do its best to consistently up the value of entertainment.
The best example of basketball’s ability to adapt however is the ABA Merger.
For the record, the ABA, or American Basketball Association, is my absolute favorite thing to ever happen in sports.
A mixture of the free spirit and good times of the 60’s and early 70’s mixed with the irrational confidence that cocaine provided during the era, created a makeshift league to become relevant. If not financially, at least in the sports conversation.
Set out with the sole purpose of creating enough competition for the then stale NBA to get bought out, the league opened basketball teams in many smaller markets throughout the country.
More importantly, it brought us the wonderful Red, White, and Blue basketball, which somehow was never patented (again we can blame it on the cocaine).
Even more importantly, the ABA challenged the NBA if not in organization, in entertainment.
From the onset of the league, they instituted the three-point line, which was great because the league was mainly a bunch of pretty good basketball players who maybe lacked discipline, so the promise of the added point was a wonderful distraction and led to stat lines like: Chico Vaughn launching 523 of them during the 1968-1969 despite only averaging 27.7%. Shooters shoot. For reference, he would have been 11th in three-point attempts last season in the NBA.
Also for reference, try telling someone named Chico Vaughn to play more fundamentally sound basketball. The ABA was the best.
It also threatened the college system.
At the time, a player had to be in college for two years, and then was eligible to join the NBA.
The ABA gave a big middle finger to that and signed wunderkind Moses Malone right out of high school.
While the veteran players they signed were not necessarily great, these younger guys were the real bread and butter: Moses Malone, Connie Hawkins (who was blackballed from the NBA at the time), Marvin Barnes, and most importantly Julius Erving.
Dr. J became the poster child for the league in the mid-70’s and transformed it from a rag tag group of guys to a fucking basketball league.
In exhibition games between the ABA and NBA, ABA teams would win. The playground style allowed for more creativity. The three-point line allowed for more excitement. They created the dunk contest which led to more entertainment.
They were forward thinking in all the best possible ways. And the NBA got threatened and merged with them, taking on four franchises: Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, and San Antonio Spurs.
This was obviously amazing for the ABA because right below the surface was an absolute shit show of a league. But still, they did it.
In 2005, the One-And-Done rule was instituted by the NBA forcing players to be at least 19-years old, or one year outside of high school, in order to declare to the NBA draft.
This has led to the worst era of college basketball ever where teams can only develop their star players for one year before having them move on. Moreover, they are now extremely incentivized to pay for these highly touted recruits that will definitely leave them after a year.
What has developed is an awful form of basketball, where mediocre, disciplined players who can be a productive player for 4 years because they are too shitty to get drafted from their schools rise to the top. To help protect these bad players, they institute rules where if you blow on the player in the paint it is a foul. And where a shot clock should be 35 seconds in length because that gives a fan enough time to hold his or her breath and pass out from boredom as opposed to watch a crap product.
Gone are the days of dynasties like UCLA. It is also borderline impossible for the average fan to follow because every year we watch as some new 18-year-old comes onto the scene with hopes of bringing a newfound greatness to his school and the NCAA, only then for all parties to realize that we are putting all of the responsibility for quality and entertainment on a goddamn 18 year old.
Because of these constraints of talent, College Basketball is a worse product. It is a worse product that is still highly lucrative.
This is where the NBA should perk up. They should take control of the situation and not fix it, but rather end college basketball.
When looking at why the people watch college basketball, the first reason people give is March Madness.
March Madness, for even someone who is as staunchly against college basketball as I am, is great.
The single elimination game tournament is something that is not recreated anywhere else. More importantly, for a whole month, they own the sports conversation, which is pretty impressive.
It is also something that the NBA is currently toying with. A few weeks ago, Commissioner Adam Silver said that they were looking at ways to put a stop to tanking, that is losing games purposefully so as to get better draft prospects.
Of all of the ideas floated out there, one of the ones that has come up is a sort of play-in playoff tournament where teams who do not make the playoffs still have a chance to make it to the playoffs. This would in turn, incentivize teams to continue fighting for a spot as more opportunities would be open down the line.
While still in its early stages, having a tournament where teams play in single elimination games to determine a winner sounds an awful lot like Bill Simmons’ Entertaining as Hell Tournament (link).
It also sounds like March Madness.
If the league expanded it and gave real outcomes to the results, they would not eliminate the College tournament altogether, but they would certainly encroach on their territory.
The second reason people give to watching NCAA Basketball is that they like to watch pure, young basketball.
Enter the G-League.
Last year, Gatorade paid HOW MUCH to be the official sponsor of the NBA’s then D-League, changing the name into the great G-League.
The G-League traditionally has been a sort of basketball purgatory, where once touted draft prospects who did not quite pan out make up the rosters with hopes of getting on a couple of 10-day contracts at the end of the season to get a little bit of professional playing time and money.
The reality is, for a league with a dope name, the G-League is pretty uninspiring.
However, with the name change should also come a new era for the league of desperados.
So what do we do?
Get rid of the one and done. Use all of your training and scouting from AAU and High School and draft these players to your franchises. If they are good enough to make it to the pros right away, great put them there, if not, great, welcome to the G-League.
Live, sleep, eat basketball. Study it day after day. Learn about conditioning and how to play a longer schedule than in college.
Create an outreach program where G-League teams train with the NBA teams so they can learn professionalism and what it takes.
Worried about all the people we eliminate? Fine, make a Double A and Triple A like they do in the baseball system. Have tiers.
It would be great. And just like that, the hottest sport in America would get even hotter. With a feeder system, and minor leagues that they could market like College Basketball.
They could even have the playoffs of the G-League be a single elimination tournament like March Madness. I would watch!
Most importantly, the players would be paid.
Of course, the last reason people give for watching college sports is tradition. A loaded word, but powerful nonetheless.
Even if I don’t have a team I watch in basketball, I religiously watch USC football every Saturday with my Trojan friends and family. It is a cornerstone of my sports watching world.
I’m also not naïve enough to say, despite my constant slandering of NCAA Basketball, that NCAA Football doesn’t have the same issues.
It is corrupt. It is wrong.
These kids sacrifice their time, bodies, and brains, just for our amusement. Sure it can be lucrative in the future for some, but more often than not, it is futile.
Looking at all of those drafted players, also cued me into all of these players who never got their chance. Who got drafted, but didn’t see a single game. Or only made it one year. Or who sacrificed all they had for the college game, who we cheered for and the schools made money off of, but who never got their chance in the pros.
Sure, maybe they got a taste of money, but at what cost? Significantly increased chance of CTE, an abridged version of college both as an education and as a place to be young. For anyone that says that the scholarship is enough compensation didn’t go to school with these kids. They wake up at the crack of dawn, practice twice a day, travel every weekend, and have to go to class. They don’t have time to work and get some pocket change, and they don’t have the energy to truly study.
There was a running back who had a breakout year my Freshman year. We were chanting his name in the student section. He was a little undersized and ended up getting asked to a practice camp, it was his senior year. He got cut. My Junior year I saw him back in South Central, wandering into a smoke shop.
It’s fucked up all around.
So let’s take it away from them. Let the NBA do it before the FBI does for not being able to systematically follow the rules that they preach so deafeningly.
Of course, the NCAA could also keep their players and their league. They could continue the tradition. They could retain what they have.
The solution is easy.
All they would need to do is cut the bullshit.
Pay your players.