March Madness is the time of year for die-hard college basketball fans and bystanders alike to put together competitive brackets and have friendly banter over which team they believe will cut down the net and take home the hardware. Some partakers will support a low-seeded underdog, but most will typically bet on teams like Kentucky, Louisville, or Duke because they’ve been part of the strong anarchy of the NCAA tournament in years past.
But when the first round is explosive with upsets, like 14th-seeded Abilene Christian taking down 3rd-seeded Texas and 15th-seeded Oral Roberts upsetting Ohio State AND Florida to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, it makes you wonder: what the hell is going on in the world of college basketball?
Many of the top prospects in the 2020 recruiting class are opting out of college altogether and going straight to the NBA’s developmental G-League. In fact, the league offered multiple top prospects six-figure salaries to forego their college opportunities and play in the G-League.
This is a great cause for concern. If every top prospect were to skip college and go straight to the NBA, will college ball be fun to watch anymore? ESPN analyst Dick Vitale stated that he doesn’t think that college ball will be affected much by this and that this will give players, who wouldn’t normally get time on the court with these top prospects on their team, a chance to get recognized on a national scale.
While this is a good take and one that we agree with, it’s hard to believe in a world where Louisville, Kentucky, and Duke don’t have incredible talent. The Cardinals, Wildcats, and Blue Devils were all left out of the NCAA tournament this year for the first time since 1976. Kentucky had its first losing season in 32 years, Duke barely ended the season over a .500 record, and the Cardinals were left outside of the 68-teams selected on Selection Sunday, ending their season at 13-and-7.
In terms of firsts in this 2021 NCAA Basketball Tournament, Gonzaga was the nation’s favorite for the title for the first time in program history. Chaos is the new normal, with upsets every night in the tournament and people scrapping their brackets after Round One. The reason for this is that talent is more deeply dispersed to mid-major schools that would normally land low-star, if any at all, recruits. Athletes are utilizing the transfer portal to play for teams that give them time on the court, which is how a team from Oklahoma in the Summit League made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
The transfer portal has allowed dominating teams to dilute their talent pool and give the underdogs more of a chance on the nation’s biggest stage. That’s not to say that the big dogs won’t still compete for the national title – two number-one seed (Baylor and Gonzaga) faced off to take home the national title. Baylor claimed their first-ever national title by playing an aggressive attacking style of basketball, incredible on-the-ball defense, and excellent three-point shooting.
Another factor that could potentially make or break college hoops is the newly-introduced Name, Image, Likeness bill that was introduced into Congress in February by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. The bill would allow college athletes to “make money off of their Name, Image, and Likeness with the fewest restrictions possible.” Senator Murphy’s bill would make NIL a federal right and could not be limited or shielded by the NCAA.
It’s no secret that the NCAA exploits college athletes, pulling in over $15 billion a year and offering nothing but a weekly $20 per diem card meant to feed athletes who are burning 3500 calories a day. Some athletes are lucky to even get half of their tuition covered by scholarships, while most of them have a tenth of it covered while still not covering housing and dining. It’s time to allow these athletes to profit from the talents they are feeding into the multi-billion-dollar industry that is college athletics.
However, skepticism has grown over how this will affect the amateur aspect of college athletics, especially college basketball. The reason a lot of fans prefer to watch college sports over professional is that there isn’t a dollar sign driving the skill and talent of the players. The athletes are playing for the love of the sport and not competing for endorsements and sponsorships.
If the NIL bill passes and there is no cap put on the amount of money these athletes could make off of their natural talent, this could add to the argument that college basketball will soon diminish. Critics assume that athletes will play for the dollar sign and not for the love of the game. However, if these athletes are paid like they are treated, as employees, they may even perform better and we will still get to see top prospects play on college courts for longer before they head to the NBA. The team at SportsE got to chat with UREPZ Founder, C. Brett Harrell back in March, check it out here.
To say college basketball is in trouble is not a bad take, but maybe an incorrect one. College basketball is and will do just fine with or without top recruits. There is immense talent at every school, whether they’re a regular at the NCAA tournament or they’ve never ended their season with a winning record. However, the sport is evolving and growing past the Power-5 conferences and giving the limelight to the teams that are often looked over. That in itself is the beauty of the sport that brings everyone together each March.
Looking for more stories on the future of college basketball and the NCAA? How about an article learning about how Lew Alcindor and John Wooden handled this some decades ago. Read here.
This article, “The Future of College Basketball – Where Is It Headed?”, that dove into the future of college basketball including, Name, Image, Likeness, fan awareness, and athlete involvement was by SportsE journalist Kimberly Bates