Talk is heating up to expand the NCAA Tournament from 65 teams to 96. The concept is simple: Milk more money from the NCAA Tournament and, at the same time, sell the public on the notion that this is good for fans and, more importantly, its student-athletes. Sure, this will generate additional revenue for the NCAA and its members. In the short run. In the long run, one of the most valuable sports properties will be cheapened by flooding the market with mediocrity.
The NCAA might want to study Econ101: Scarcity is gold. Literally. Intense product demand coupled with limited supply is a proven business model. Great Moments in Capitalism are sprinkled with examples: Cabbage Patch Kids, American Girl dolls, iPhones. More instructive is the housing market. When the market is tight and demand is high, boom. When the reverse is true, bust.
Walt Disney once said: “Always leave them wanting more.” Ironic that ESPN, a Disney company, is the network most likely to offer the most billions for the expanded tourney.
Stephen Colbert once famously said, “The NCAA basketball tournament has everything I like: corporate sponsorship, unpaid labor and blind partisan allegiance.” This might be scathingly funny, but there’s a deeper understanding into what makes the NCAA Tournament so successful. At what point will fans tune out?
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN.com: “If we expand it, you get rid of the end-of-season tournaments, and I’d rather have the end-of-season tournaments. It’s a celebration of each conference. I don’t think we need to expand at all. To keep expanding it would dilute what we already have, and what we have is a great product right now.”
The Sporting News’ senior college-basketball writer Mike DeCourcy was surprised that Notre Dame coach Mike Brey supports expansion: “Taken to its logical conclusion, Brey’s argument that more kids should get an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament would tear down the walls between intercollegiate athletics and intramurals. Why should Luke Harangody get the experience of playing college basketball and Mike DeCourcy does not? Because Harangody is better at it? Absolutely.”
Will Leitch, editor emeritus at Deadspin, sees this as fait accompli: “(Expansion) would be terrible, terrible, terrible. But you watch: They’re gonna try it. Never underestimate the NCAA’s capacity to make the wrong decision, every time.”
Here’s hoping it’s a new day at the NCAA.
Below is my November 2009 Basketball Times article. Reprinted with permission from Basketball Times. To subscribe to the print or online version, check out their website.
The NCAA Manual is 419 pages. On occasion, I’ve tried to wade through it. You can try to get though the impenetrable phraseology, but good luck making any clear sense.
By contrast, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense totals just 48 pages and sets forth a well-reasoned, thoughtful argument for the American Revolution. Paine’s simple style still holds up today. “Time makes more converts than reason,” he wrote. Suitable for Twitter and applicable to the mess created by the NCAA Manual.
The NCAA Manual illustrates just how much the membership distrusts each other. The bulk of NCAA Manual is an attempt to legislate ethical behavior. Recruiting, transfers, the number of pages allowed in media guides, phone calls, text messaging, on and on. There are rules – and there are ways around rules.
So how did we go from the wonderful concept of amateur college athletics to today’s empire builders? To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway from The Sun Also Rises referring to actual, not figurative, bankruptcy: “Two ways. Gradually, and then suddenly.”
The biggest problem is that NCAA rules are open to wide interpretation. There are four general guidelines on what constitutes an extra benefit, but it never precisely defines them (perhaps because they cannot be precisely defined). It’s like the judge who, when asked to define pornography, replied, “I can’t, but I know it when I see it.”
From the sublime to the absolutely ridiculous: Article 3, Section 2, Subsection 5, Paragraph 6: “Reinstatement of Terminated Member.” Are we talking NCAA rules here or healthcare?
Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst and attorney, illustrates the quagmire created by the NCAA Manual: “One basketball program I know uses an interesting system to determine what to do with regard to the NCAA’s archaic rules. When there is a question about an interpretation, three members of the staff separately call the NCAA for an answer. Invariably, there are three different interpretations provided by the NCAA, and the staff then chooses the interpretation it likes the best.” Hey, give this program credit for bothering to call.
Let’s go from the NCAA Manual to the enforcement of these rules. The NCAA rightly points out, it is merely enforcing the rules set forth by its membership. When it comes to enforcement, Bilas paints a bleaker picture: “The NCAA enforcement system is badly flawed. There are no impartial decision-makers and no checks and balances. How does the NCAA determine its facts and make its findings? However they want, that is how. The NCAA has no burden of proof to meet … The NCAA is not bound by rules of evidence and can choose to believe or disbelieve any witness, no matter the lack of credibility of that witness.”
In 1997, Mike Matthews, Pac-10 compliance director, penned something titled, “If the Almighty Ran the NCAA.” It is an imagined conversation between a frustrated compliance officer and God.
Here’s some of what God allegedly told Mike: “First off, focus on the big issues. Not the little things. Quit worrying about that extra dollar in per diem that the rowing team accidentally got. Stop splitting up days in the recruiting calendar so that a dead period ends at noon. Trim down the definition of amateurism so it depends on pay for play and not pay for reputation … Give the coaches and schools the responsibility to make decisions and allow them to respond. Making rules usually creates loopholes and doesn’t close them. Write a limited number understandable rules that are easy to administrate. But swiftly and surely punish those who break them. Encourage them to try to do the right thing without passing another rule … Moses wanted to hide behind the rules. He wanted huge stone pillars with hundreds of commandments on them. Nope. Ten was all he got. And handheld tablets only.”
In 2000, the NABC helped fund the Student Basketball Committee, a group of Division I basketball players, which hoped to create a stronger voice for college players.
Shane Battier framed the problem, which clearly still exists today: “These issues have been on a lot of people’s minds for a long time. It came to a head last (1999-2000) season, with all the players being ruled ineligible because the NCAA determined they received ‘extra benefits,’ sometimes the result of tuition being paid for by someone other than their parents. The NCAA basically is saying, ‘You’re guilty until proven innocent.’ That’s not how a system that is supposed to be fair should work.”
After a strong beginning capped by a news conference at the 2000 Final Four, the group quickly fizzled. It was supposedly an “extra benefit” for the NABC to pay travel expenses of these athletes. Really.
Still, Battier offered a lot of common sense.
Let me know what you think. Post a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The NCAA announced today that Memphis men's basketball will be forced to vacate its 2007-08 record-setting 38 victories, which culminated in a Final Four appearance. Memphis gets slammed by the NCAA, but not really. The harshest penalty is the forfeiture of NCAA tournament money earned by Memphis's Final Four run. But, the economic brunt is actually felt equally by other C-USA schools, since they all agree to share basketball and football post-season revenues. New coach Josh Paster fortunately gets to move forward without further penalties and, best of all, everyone who could possibly be held accountable can make the reasonable argument that they are not at fault. The biggest losers will probably be lowest-paid athletic department employees at these already cash-strapped schools. Just what college sports doesn't need: More pink slips.
This is usually the point in my blog posts where I criticize the NCAA for its bungling of these situations. But I actually have to cut them some slack here. Why?
The most damaging evidence contained in the NCAA's Public Infractions Report...Before Derrick Rose ever played a college game, Memphis knew that his SAT test was questioned: "The institution began an independent investigation related to the allegations involving student-athlete 1 which included a November 2007 interview of him. The institution was unable to substantiate the allegations of academic improprieties involving student-athlete 1 and the institution cleared him to compete with the men's basketball team during the 2007-08 season."
If it was me, I am sure I would have cleared Derrick Rose to play, just as Memphis did. When a team has a legit chance to run the table, you take your chances that the mess gets cleaned up. But, the NCAA is not an "innocent until proven guilty" organization, so you do so at your own risk. Had Memphis brought this to the NCAA's attention in the Fall, I doubt Derrick Rose would have ever played college basketball. Interesting Catch-22.
Let's frame Derrick Rose's decision to get a qualifying SAT score by any means necessary as an economic, rather than a moral dilemma.
What would you do? Consider these factors that might lead you to have a stand-in take your SAT...
1) This is your only chance to play college basketball, especially if your career is likely to only span one season.
2) You perceive the chances of getting caught to be low (Yes, Rose got caught, but he certainly didn't think that would happen).
3) The perception that others cheat in both academics and also when it comes to NCAA rules. Hey, if others are cheating, why shouldn't I?
Maybe in your world, cheating is never the answer, but in the bizarro world of big-time basketball, cheating just may be worth the risk. Especially if you subscribe to Jerry Tarkanian's thesis that, "In major college basketball, nine out of 10 teams break the rules. The other one is in last place." (Related: my Basketball Times article on the basketball underground.)
Because Derrick Rose could not go straight to the NBA, college basketball was the most productive way he could spend his "gap year." He got great coaching, he played competitive games in big arenas and he led Memphis (according to the NCAA) to the most phenomenal 0-40 season ever. (Given that the NCAA erased Memphis's tournament appearance, I hope the NCAA can show some leniency by declaring their record a more respectable 0-34). Most importantly, he demonstrated his game was NBA ready.
After his Freshman season, Rose declared for the NBA Draft. He was the first selection, he earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors and, after just one NBA season, he projects to earn $100 to $200 million playing professional basketball. Taking everything into account, Rose may express regret about what ultimately went down, but the NCAA ruling will not adversely impact his basketball career or his life in any way.
College athletics only has itself to blame for creating a system that encourages academically unmotivated basketball prodigies to risk whatever some think he was supposedly risking. Think about it this way: Today's ruling is pretty much the worst-possible scenario for Rose. He cheated on his SAT, got caught, his former school gets penalized and everything is still awesome for Derrick Rose.
The last word: I think it is unfair to erase the 2007-08 basketball season from the record books. The entire team, not just Derrick Rose, worked incredibly hard to accomplish what they did. On the basketball court, they won fair and square. Spare us the notion that it was unfair to the other schools who allegedly fielded teams of "amateurs." If you want to punish the school and/or the coach, fine. But, taking a moral stand against the Memphis players is misguided.
Right now, i am giving iHoops the benefit of the doubt. Yes, I am critical of NCAA and its members for the role its rules, its coaches, and its athletic representatives play in contributing to the mess of youth basketball. And by mess, I am not only referring to recruiting problems/scandals, but also to player development.
At the Reebok Eurocamp (much more on that later), an NBA scout and former longtime college basketball coach made this insightful point to me:
"The NCAA needs to look at itself in the mirror -- and change its behavior before it can change behavior of others. Look at how much money coaches make today versus five, 10 years ago. The NCAA and its members can talk all they want about educational values, but Calipari's salary alone sends a powerful message of what college basketball is really all about. And it's not just Cal...there are more than a handful of college coaches now making more than NBA coaches."
Obviously, it's not just how much college coaches are paid, but also the economic reality and institutional values (or lack thereof) that create this compensation structure.
Beginning in 2010, players who want to return to college will have until May 8th to renounce their NBA eligibility. The NCAA and the various "stakeholders" were all consulted. All believe this rule change will positively impact not only the game, but also the athletes. Of course, I still haven't heard from one college basketball player -- the ones most impacted by this rule -- who thinks this is a good rule change.
Yes, way too many underclass players put their name in the NBA draft, even if they do not have a legitimate chance to be selected. But that is not a fair justification to gut the rule. And neither are the other reasons cited...
The NCAA news release announcing the change provides the following rationale: "The shorter declaration period will assist coaches in roster planning and encourage student-athletes to refocus on academics before the draft and decrease the potential for amateurism rules violations."
Yes, it will help coaches in roster planning. However, the notion that this encourages players to "refocus on academics" is absurd. If anything, it accomplishes the exact opposite. At least with the later date, genuine student-athletes who are on the semester system can finish their academic year and then crisscross the country to workout for the NBA teams. Now that these workouts must take place prior to May 8th, look for even more players to struggle academically -- or simply drop out -- during the spring semester/quarter.
Also, it is laughable to suggest this will "decrease the potential for amateurism rules violations." As if the next amateurism rules violation would be their first.
But, wait. There's more.
"In addition, the proposal removes the option for draft entrants who are not selected to resume college eligibility. Student-athletes with eligibility remaining previously had up to 30 days after the draft to declare their intention to return."
In the event a player who remains in the NBA draft gets hurt after May 8, too bad. Where's the compassion? What happened to the "student-athlete first" model the NCAA was allegedly trumpeting?
Fine, change the rule to help college coaches firm up their rosters and protect college basketball in general. But don't sell us on the notion that this will help players academically or that this snakeoil will solve any ills in college basketball.
For some real snake oil, try some Bankruptcy Tonic...
Eyewitness reporter Ben Goss had a lengthy conversation with author Marc Isenberg (“Money Players”) at the Detroit Marriott on April 3, the day of the semifinals. And you, Clips readers, are the flies on the wall.
Marc Isenberg is the author of "Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes" (published in 2008 by A-Game Press). He also co-authored "The Student-Athlete Survival Guide" (published in 2001 by McGraw Hill), a book that helps athletes make the transition from high school to college and succeed once there. Isenberg is also the brains and brawn behind an excellent online resource www.moneyplayersblog.com
While engaged in all the responsibilities of his eyewitness reporting activities at the Final Four in Detroit, Clips correspondent Ben Goss had the good fortune of chancing upon author Marc Isenberg.
Here’s the ensuing impromptu interview, and we are flies on the wall...
Goss first describes how this chance meeting unfolded (in the lobby of a Marriott nearby Ford Field):
As my syrupy Starbucks concoction was drained dry, I stumbled upon my subject for the day.
A gentleman I thought I recognized approached another guy sitting on the couch behind me, who gave the first gentleman a copy of his book.
Being the well-trained nosey Clips eyewitness reporter that I have become, I kept waiting, waiting, waiting, until the first gentleman shifted the book until I could see its title.
Using the power of the iPhone, I Googled its title: Money Players, by Marc Isenberg. Hmmm, I thought as I read about it, I know I’ve read this guy’s work somewhere.
Surely enough, Isenberg’s work has been in a number of my daily reads, including Sports Business Journal and, yes, College Athletics Clips.
A quick scan of his collected works on his blog www.moneyplayersblog.com let me know he’s a pretty well read study on the current state of college sports.
I also saw that his work had been endorsed by the likes of Jeffrey Moorad, Dan Guerrero (a charter member of the College Athletics Clips Advisory Panel), Billy Hunter, and Jay Bilas.
I’ve found my interviewee of the day, I thought.
Marc and I exchanged pleasantries (at which point I found out the gentleman I thought I recognized was former NFL running back Calvin Hill, father of NBA star Grant Hill), and since Marc was familiar with Clips’ noble mission, he quickly assented to an interview about his book and give his views on college athletics, which turned out to be a conversation that could have lasted into the wee hours.
Mr. Isenberg, who also conducts educational programs for student-athletes in addition to his writing, is not an NCAA abolitionist, activist, nor apologist. What he claims to be is an advocate for student-athlete rights.
When asked to name the top three issues facing the NCAA today, he responded:
2. Graduation rates
3. Student-athlete rights
This morning when I logged on to Twitter I noticed aton of updates from Jalen Roseregarding his thoughts on the unjust and inequitable NCAA system. Here's what he had to say:
my negative about college hoops/sports is the
flagrant exploitation of college kids-I will list a few reasons-HOW THIS TAKES
player signs letter of intent-coach decides to
go to another school/or the pros for a bigger deal-to transfer-player has to
sit out a season
google how much money is generated by the NCAA(for decades)-tv/tix
sales/gear/reg season/conf tourneys/ncaa tourney/bcs games.
college coaches have no salary caps-they mk
money from the schools-shoe companies-commercials-camps-tv-radio-appearances.
the coaches even are allowed to hv agents-in a lots
of cases-that just so happen to end of representing(wink)their best players in
what happens to the players who dont mk it to
the NFL or NBA..that helped generate billions to coaches-shoe companies and
a degree does not guarantee a job-what if you
need more than for years to earn a degree? college athletes are not allowed to work during
the school year-WHY-your sport is your job- just not being paid to do it
so as you enjoy the NCAA tourney-note-ONLY 60
players(incl overseas)will get drafted-the underclassmen will head bk to
majority of the seniors who helped generate
billions..for colleges and coaches will head into obscurity..and a ton w/o
Reading this brought a big smile to my face. How many former college athletes have public with their views? It's more than just saying the NCAA generates billions and, therefore, players deserve to get paid. It's about fairness. It's about players having a legitimate voice. Jalen Rose is not the only person to express opinions about the college system. But he is a respected professional athlete, so it carries more weight.
Jalen was one of the lucky few to make the NBA. But what about the others? I'm sure Jalen knows many guys who have gone through Division 1 basketball programs, perhaps didn't take advantage of the academic opportunities. And maybe it was their fault. But the reality is too many D1 athletes end up getting shuffled through school, stay eligible, play ball and ultimately leave school with a less-than-meaningful degree -- or no degree at all.
The Money Players Blog addresses the business of sports from the players' perspectives. It also tries to advocate for athletes, particularly college football and basketball players who are an under-represented group.
We're glad Jalen is speaking up for a group of players that often get lost in this seemingly never-ending PSA. When coaches get paid $4 million/year, at some point the constant cries of poverty and the supposed virtues of "amateurism" begin to erode. So Jalen, if you read this. keep speaking your mind. We'd love to have you and other current and former professional athletes post here at Money Players. The debate is good -- and maybe it will lead to some action.
An important part of the NCAA’s mission is to “maintain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports.” There was a time not long ago when some complained about those omnipresent Nike logos emblazoned on college players. Of course, giant logos never hurt anyone…at least not until the NCAA started putting huge NCAA logo decals right smack in the middle of March Madness.
Last year, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams was incensed after several of his players—including Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard—slipped on the NCAA decals. "Let’s stop putting those stupid logos on the floor where kids slip and slide around…somebody is going to get hurt,” Williams said, “and I’ve said that for years and years and years.” He added, it's a "a lawsuit waiting to happen."
This year the NCAA will use painted on logos (as opposed to decals) at nine of the 13 NCAA Tournament venues, up from five last year. Roy Williams credited the NCAA for “doing what’s best for the safety of the student-athletes.” Still, 31% of this year’s venues will sport those “dad-gum” (to quote Williams) decals. No one should declare “Mission Accomplished” until these decals are completely banned.
My advice to players whose teams are in the unlucky 31%: Refuse to step on the court until they are removed. Wishful thinking, I suppose, but on the other hand, the next torn ACL could be your own.
The NCAA's defense, according to Sports Business Daily: Greg Shaheen wrote in an e-mail that the logo decals were put in place for early-round games “to create as neutral a site as possible.” Shaheen wrote, “With the current large court logos that many teams are going to, covering the host logo is a more complicated process. In fact, the NCAA logo of that size has nothing to do with branding. Rather, it is to cover the host logo.”
So there you have it. It has nothing to do with branding. Others disagree, including officials at the Greensboro Coliseum and David Zirin, who thinks the NCAA is all about the brand.
Sporting News senior basketball writer Mike Decourcy e-mails: "Good stuff on the logos. I understand the NCAA wanting to make it neutral. I get that. But there's a point where safety overrides that. Players don't give a damn if they're dribbling across the state of Kansas or whatever at the center of the floor."
brought back the “Boss Button,” a special online feature on CBS’ “March Madness
on Demand” that allows employees to conceal the fact they are not doing their
jobs while sitting in front of their computer screens. Last year viewers
clicked on the button 2.5 million times. This year the Boss Button is actually sponsored.
Here's how it works: You hear footsteps...you hit the "Boss Button" and the Madness stops. And a nifty-looking, although phony, spreadsheet instantly appears. Whew, that was a close call!
economy is in deep recession, bordering on depression. Record numbers of
companies are going out of business or declaring bankruptcy. Unemployment is
fast approaching 10%. Just what our economy needs: Online tools to help
employees do less work and lose more money.
Yes, it’s a joke, but it’s really a short jump from hypothetical worker fraud
to actual NCAA transgression. A few years ago, Oklahoma football players hit the
figurative Boss Button at a no-show job provided by a booster. The real
consequence? They got caught and were booted from the team. The moral: College athletes must do all the heavy lifting. Everyone else can just hit the Boss Button.
UPDATE: I got slammed by The Oregonian blogger, Ryan White, who clearly does not read this blog regularly to know that I sometimes jest. In case there are others who think I am insinuating that the Boss Button might actually cause the world to spin off its axis, please. I was poking fun at the NCAA: They want athletes to do all the work, but then make light of work for everyone else, especially if they are following the NCAA tournament.
Still, Ryan does make a good point:
Again, no one thinks you're really working when you hit the boss button, and if someone does, that someone is an idiot -- which, come to think of it, is how you get to be the boss in the first place.
Back in January, L.A. Times reporter Kurt Streeter produced a profile on Sonny Vaccaro and his crusade against the NCAA and the NBA age limit. The article is a little old, but there are a couple of quotes in it that I think need to be highlighted.
Vaccaro on Watching College Basketball: "I have mixed emotions about watching this game," said Sonny Vaccaro. "I just can't watch without getting mad at the whole ridiculous system."
Kurt Streeter on the NCAA and the Age Limit: "I can't say I agree with all Vaccaro stands for, but I feel most of his criticisms are on target. I share his dim view of the NCAA, and of the NBA's age limit: It's a farce that wouldn't fly if the kids most affected were not African American. Maybe we should pay more attention to what the pariah has to say."