Category Archives: College Basketball

Two Last Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament

With Villanova easily dispatching of Michigan in Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship, I have two thoughts related to the game.

  1. If ever there were a case for reseeding each round of the NCAA Tournament, this year would be it. Let us be clear.  This will never happen because it would make it impossible to fill out brackets.  This would drop Tournament ratings by 75%.  Therefore, this will never happen.  Nevertheless, when a valid argument arises, I feel I should at least acknowledge it.

 

The NCAA tournament always lends itself to upsets, but, more often than not, these Cinderellas have turned into pumpkins by the end of the Regional Semifinals (Sweet-16 Round).  This year, however, saw a different story.  Plenty of underdogs found their way not only into the Sweet 16 but also into the Elite 8.  Loyola-Chicago was a surprise Final Four team as an #11 seed, and even Michigan was a surprise national runner-up as a #3 seed.

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Taken alone, one would assume that several teams must have pulled off runs of 2, 3, or 4 upsets…but this was not the case.  Instead, the fact that the upsets were bunched on the left side of the bracket rendered a Pyramid scheme in which countless teams ended up going much further than they truly deserved.  I say this based upon the premise that almost any NCAA Tournament team can play the game of its life to pull off one major upset but falls short when trying to pull off the second-consecutive upset.

UMBC displayed this idea perfectly during this year’s tournament.  Not only did UMBC pull off the first #16-#1 upset in Tournament history, but the underdog completely blew the doors off UVA, winning by 20.  However, when UMBC faced #9-seeded Kansas State in the Second Round, UMBC ran out of steam.  The Retrievers did not have another “game of their lives” in them.  The byproduct of this was that a #9 seed advanced to the Sweet 16.  This was the first time that a #9 advanced this far without pulling off a mega-upset, because all other #9s (in the current Tournament format) had to face #1 seeds in that round.  Who did Kansas State face in its Regional-Semifinal (Sweet 16) matchup?  #5-seeded Kentucky.  Kansas State dispatched of Kentucky, 61-58, and this would be Kansas State’s most impressive win in the tournament.  That said, by advancing to the Elite 8 without playing against a top-four seed, Kansas State had not yet made believers out of many people.

Of course, Kansas State should have had its chance to make these believers in the Regional Final.  Surely, there would be a #2 or #3 seed awaiting the Wildcats in this matchup.  Nope, instead Kansas State earned the task of facing #11 Loyola-Chicago.  The Ramblers won their first two NCAA Tournament games on buzzer-beaters.  These wins were a very minor upset over #6-seeded Miami (FL) and a larger upset over #3-seeded Tennessee.  This is where the road should typically get more difficult, and an #11 should now face at least one out of the #1 and #2 seeds over the next two rounds.  This was not the case.  Instead, Loyola-Chicago faced #7 Nevada, who had upset #2 Cincinnati in a 22-point-comeback Second Round win.  Thus, Nevada and Loyola-Chicago had both just played their “games of their lives” before meeting each other.  Thus, when they faced each other, somebody had to win.  That “somebody” would be Loyola-Chicago.  Thus, we ended up with a Regional Final (Kansas State vs. Loyola-Chicago) in which the former had beaten no top-four seeds while the latter had beaten a #3, #6, and #7.

Loyola-Chicago ended up winning the Regional Final.  The whole “Sister Jean” thing was a great story.  I loved every second of it, but #11-seeded Loyola-Chicago did not enter the Final Four with the impressive run that fellow-#11 seeds George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) had.  George Mason and VCU had signature Regional Final wins over #1 seeds UConn and Kansas, respectively.  Beating #9-seeded Kansas State was just not the same for Loyola-Chicago.

That said, who did Loyola-Chicago find in its National Semifinal matchup?  #3-seeded Michigan.  Granted, a #3 seed playing in the Final Four is a regular-enough occurrence.  After all, this team should theoretically have been ranked between #9 and #12 in the Top 25 upon entering the Tournament.  The likes of Michigan in 1989 (champs), Georgia Tech in 2004 (runners up), and UConn in 2011 (champs) were also #3 seeds, and none of those teams were huge shocks to make the Final Four.  Again though, the issue for Michigan this year is that its road to the Final Four (and ultimately the disastrously lopsided championship game that I am ignoring as I write this post) was extremely weak.

First of all, Michigan should have been eliminated on St. Patrick’s Day.  In the Second Round, the Wolverines were down 2 against #6-seeded Houston with 2.2 seconds to play and Houston shooting two free throws.  Somehow, Houston missed both free throws, and Michigan won on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.  Kudos to Michigan for taking advantage of a gifted opportunity, but usually a team in this position has to step it up against the #2 and #1 seeds in the next two rounds.  Again, this was not the case.  #7-seeded Texas A&M played the “game of its life” against #2-seeded UNC.  Michigan took care of A&M in the next round and then were gifted #9-seeded Florida State in the Regional Final.  Florida State was actually the only team on the left side of the bracket to defeat two Top-4 seeds, as the Seminoles beat #1 Xavier and #4 Gonzaga, only to have their magic run out in the Regional Final against Michigan.

Thus, we ended up with a National Semifinal of Michigan and Loyola-Chicago.  Michigan took care of Loyola-Chicago before getting embarrassed in the final by Villanova.  This championship result is not shocking in the slightest.  Everyone knew upon entering the Sweet 16 that the top three teams remaining – Villanova, Kansas, and Duke – were on the right side on the bracket.  Moreover, many would also argue that Texas Tech and Purdue – on the right side as well – were also better than anyone on the left side of the bracket.  Thus, we essentially ended up with a JV bracket on the left, a varsity bracket on the right, and a predictable varsity-vs.-JV matchup in the final.

If the NCAA Tournament instead re-seeded after each round, we would have likely lost the “Sister Jean” storyline after the Sweet 16.  While that would have been tough, the payoff of likely having a Final Four of Villanova, Kansas, Duke, and Texas Tech/Purdue would have been worth it.  The likes of Loyola-Chicago, Kansas State, and Nevada would have played these elite programs in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.  Thus, if one of those Cinderellas did actually knock out one of those dominant programs, we would have known that the underdog belonged in the next round (more so than we truly knew this year).  Even #3-seeded Michigan would likely have had to line up against Texas Tech or Purdue in the Elite 8 and Villanova in the National Semifinal.  Then, we would have most likely received a Villanova/Kansas or Villanova/Duke championship game instead of the rout we actually watched.

Of course, let us be clear.  None of these changes would ever happen!!!!  I do not actually want them to happen!  We all love brackets and betting waaaay too much to let this change happen!  That is before I even get into the scheduling nightmare for the traveling secretaries.  Plus, in all aspects of life, I hate overreacting to the worst-case scenario, and this year was the worst-case scenario in terms of having logical seeding beyond the Second Round.  Never before have we had so many upsets bunched together on the same side of the bracket, and it will likely be a long time before we see it again.

2) No real sports fan thinks that Michigan should be considered “2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions”. This will be a quick point, but I read an article in today’s USA Today, and this article suggests that Michigan should be given the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  Of course, this was the year that Louisville beat Michigan for the title, but the Cardinals have since been stripped of this title (OK, maybe I should have chosen a different verb there…).  The NCAA has erased Louisville’s name from this part of the record book due to Rick Pitino’s many recruiting violations, including sending prostitutes to recruits.

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Yes, sending prostitutes to recruits is really really bad.  Nobody should condone that behavior, and Rick Pitino has rightfully been fired for his behavior….but Louisville won the championship that year.  We watched it.  We cried tears of pain and nausea when Kevin Ware gruesomely broke his leg, and we cried tears of joy when his teammates brought him on the floor to celebrate a National Championship.  Louisville won the game; Michigan lost the game.  If I were on that Michigan team, I would not want retroactively to be called “2013 National Championships”.  That would be phony, and no athlete wants to be given a championship that way.  The 2013 National Champions were the Louisville Cardinals.  End of story.

Anyway, the college-basketball season is over, and we must now wait all the way until next November before we can finally get more college basketball in our lives!

Circle of Madness

Note (Saturday 3/17): I actually wrote this post on Thursday (3/15) night.  Since then, my bracket, with a championship game of UVA over Wichita State, has been destroyed.  Therefore, some of what you will read below did quite ring true this year.  Enjoy my post nonetheless!

I am one of those annoying people who watches 99% of my college basketball in March yet is super-duper interested in basketball for that month.  Does that make me a fraud?  Yes.  Do I care?  No.  I love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and I know that many of you out there are frauds like me.  In light of this, allow me to share with you my “Circle of Madness”.  This explains my following of college basketball over a full year.  I shall start this circle with “One Shining Moment”.

April: While watching “One Shining Moment”, I think to myself, “I love college basketball!  Next year, I am going to watch a lot of college basketball all year long.”

July: On a random summer day, I think to myself, “I really love the NCAA Tournament.  I can’t wait until next year’s college-basketball season.”

Midnight Madness in October: As I revel in the only time of year with MLB, NFL, and NHL games; I am floored to hear that college-basketball teams have begun practicing.  “Seriously, who cares about college basketball at a time like this???”, I think.

Opening Night of College Basketball in November: A week or two after the World Series has ended, I think to myself, “OK, now I can put all my sports focus on football and the Devils.”  When I hear that the college-basketball season has begun, I think, “I’m not ready for this yet!  Can we push this off a few weeks?”

Next Week or Two: I begin to obsess over making fantasy-playoff runs in my fantasy leagues, how to win my Survivor pool, how the Giants are going to make the playoffs, and which Devils games I will attend.  At no point do I spend even a second thinking about college basketball.

Thanksgiving Eve: At a bar or restaurant, I catch a glimpse of either the Preseason NIT or Maui Invitational on TV.  I think to myself, “Oh yeah, it’s time for me to start watching college basketball this season.  Starting now, I am watching every single Gonzaga game!”

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Next 2-3 Weeks: I do not spend even a second thinking about college basketball.  My mind is simply filled with thoughts of “Fantasy, Giants, Christmas music, Devils, Survivor, Christmas music, Fantasy, Survivor, Mariah Carey needs to cover up her chest at Rockefeller Center, Devils, Survivor, Christmas music.”

Random Date in Mid-December: During a CBS football game, I see a preview of a college-basketball game, complete with the great CBS college-basketball music.  I start to get excited thinking about March Madness.  I think to myself, “I really need to start watching college basketball TODAY.  I can’t just jump onboard a week before the NCAA Tournament”…you know, even though that is what I have done for each of the past 11 seasons.

Next 2-3 Weeks: I do not spend even a second thinking about college basketball.

Random Night in January: I turn on a Rutgers game because Rutgers is either tied or losing by just a few points to a good team.  I am very excited for 2 to 3 minutes before switching to “The Mick” on DVR.  Sidebar: “The Mick” is absolutely hilarious, and I recommend it to all of you.  The only funnier show right now is “Last Man on Earth”, which (double sidebar) is coming back on Sunday!  Anyway, after turning off the Rutgers game, I think to myself, “I really need to start watching college basketball.  If I wait until March to start watching, I will know nothing about these players or teams, and I won’t enjoy the Tournament as much as I usually do!”…even though, for every year since 2007, I have waited until March and have managed to love the crap out of the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Sunday of the Year (aka The Sunday Between the AFC/NFC Championships and the Super Bowl): I wake up in the morning (but not feelin’ like P-Diddy) and think to myself, “How do I fill my NFL void?  I know, I am going to watch college basketball today!”  What do I actually do?  Go running, listen to Elton John music, clear out my DVR, go to the gym, and spend a few hours lying on my couch doing absolutely nothing.

Super Bowl Sunday: As I go to bed after the game, I think to myself, “The Super Bowl is over!  You know what that means – March Madness is right around the corner.  Time for me to start watching college basketball!”

Next 2-3 weeks: I watch one Bucknell (where my brother went to college) basketball game on TV.  By that, I mean that I put 10 minutes of the game on my TV while I am eating dinner, listening to a podcast, and reading a map…all at the same time.  That game aside, I watch no basketball whatsoever.

Two Weeks Before Selection Sunday: I realize that college-basketball conference tournaments are soon to begin.  “Now I will start watching college basketball so that I know what I am talking about when I do my brackets.”

One Week Before Selection Sunday: I go to espn.com’s “Championship Week” page and look at all of the conference-tournament brackets.  I also begin making daily visits to Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology”.  At this point, I have watched zero basketball over the previous week.

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During the Last Week Before Selection Sunday: Hallelujah, I finally start watching some college basketball!  I do not watch for long periods of time, but I do check out at least one college-basketball game each day.  Additionally, I check the college-basketball scores daily to see who is advancing in their college-basketball tournaments.  This is a huge step for a guy who had not deliberately sought out general college-basketball scores at any previous point in the season.

During the Weekend of Selection Sunday: I read many articles about who should be in the Big Dance/who should not/who should be seeded where/etc.

During the Selection Show: I watch/listen in a state of pure euphoria.  “I love this time of year!!!!  March Madness, Thin Mints, and spring weather!  Plus, this year, I feel like I know the teams in the Tournament so much better than I have in any previous seasons.  I am going to dominate my pools this year.”, I think.

Between Selection Sunday and Thursday’s Start of the First Round: I fill out my brackets and read/listen to countless analysts speak about the tournament.  By Thursday, I have heard that every single team in the Dance is somehow a sleeper, a favorite, an underdog, prime to pull off an upset, unlikely to  pull off and upset, underseeded, and overseeded…and has both a very easy path and a very difficult path to the Final Four.  I find myself in many conversations with other people who have also watched roughly 0 hours of college basketball this season.  In these conversations, we lament the fact that Oklahoma has no business being in the Tournament while Oklahoma State stays home.  In years’ past, we have scolded the selection committee for leaving Drexel or St. Mary’s out of the tournament.  We agree that the Selection Committee shows no respect for mid-majors and that Drexel and St. Mary’s are clearly better than two of the at-large teams who have been selected for the Tournament.  We are qualified to make these statements because we watched St. Mary’s upset Villanova in 2010, and we saw Drexel pull off that upset in 1996.

This all makes perfect sense coming from a guy (me) who usually picks Michigan State to outperform its seed (except this year because of karmic reasons) because it did that in 2009 and 2010 and picks Cincinnati to perform worse than its seed just like it always did under Bob Huggins in the 1990s.  Like I said, I know my college basketball.  It was not luck that caused me to pick Loyola-Chicago to go to this year’s Sweet 16.  No, no, no.  It was hours of Loyola game film that someone else watched….and then this watcher wrote an article that said Loyola is really good.  Then, I read that article. Like I said, I know my stuff.

Thursday to Sunday of First Weekend of NCAA Tournament: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!!  48 games of college basketball!  I love it, and I hate having to miss even a single game.  I hated missing Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater for Valparaiso against Ole Miss in 1998.  (I was in school in 10th grade at the time.)  I hated missing Loyola-Chicago’s buzzer beater today!  After all, a loyal college-basketball watcher like myself should not have to miss any NCAA Tournament games!

Quick tangent: There are four people who annoy me greatly this weekend:

  • The person who starts out 4-for-4 on Thursday and brags to everyone about it. Congrats, you successfully picked a 3 over a 14, a 6 over an 11, a 2 over a 15, and a 1 over a 16.  Seriously, if you have a standard bracket-scoring system (32 max points per round), the first round can only eliminate you.  Those with 2012 Duke, 2014 Duke, or 2016 Michigan State national-championship brackets know what I mean.  If you went 4-for-4 so far, nobody cares.

 

  • The studio talking head (one of the 7845 employed by CBS/TBS/TNT/TruTV/Nickelodeon/Bravo) who responds to a “12 over 5” upset by saying, “Everyone in America is tearing up their brackets right now.” Um, yeah.  I suppose if you are in a “You win this pool only if you pick a perfect bracket” pool, you are tearing up your bracket.  Otherwise, you can probably withstand that one upset even if you did not pick it.

 

  • The play-by-play announcer who shouts, “IS THERE AN UPSET BREWING HERE IN (FILL IN THE LOCATION HERE)????”, as a 16-seed heads to a timeout with 12 minutes left in the first half holding a 20-15 lead. How many times do we have to see a #1 seed go on a huge run to end the first half or start the second half before we realize the silliness of this announcer’s quote?  Often, a #16 seed can hang with a #1 seed for a little while, but eventually the #1 seed figures out how to neutralize the #16’s strength or takes advantage of its major depth advantage.

 

  •  The announcer/analyst who calls an “11 over 6”, “10 over 7”, “9 over 8” an upset.  Stop it.  In the first round, “12 over 5” is the smallest seed disparity that counts as an upset.

 

Monday to Wednesday of the Following Week: I spend several hours playing with the “Scenario Generator” on my bracket pool’s site to see how many different paths there are to my victory.

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Thursday to Sunday of Weekend #2: I love it!!!!  We get the quantity of 48 games in Weekend #1.  Now, we get the quality of 12 huge games between dominant teams – with a few Cinderellas sprinkled into the mix.

 

Monday to Friday of Next Week: I can’t wait for the Final Four.  I think, “It all comes down to this.  All the hours of college basketball I have watched this season culminate right here. This is my reward. What an incredible ride it has been.”

 

Saturday to Monday of Final Four Weekend: I intently watch all three remaining games.  It is bittersweet though, as I know that, after Monday, I have to wait until mid-November to get to watch college basketball again.

Monday Night: While watching “One Shining Moment”, I think to myself, “I love college basketball!  Next year, I am going to watch a lot of college basketball all year long.”

….and there you have it – my Circle of Madness!

Three Reasons Why it’s Time the NCAA Pays These Kids

I wrote a research paper on this topic for class last year, but I’m gonna try and keep this blog as short as possible because no one wants to voluntarily read a research paper. I got a B+ on the paper by the way, but it got bumped down to a B because the department head told my professor it was “barely even good enough for a B.” Clearly she wasn’t a basketball fan. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard the argument a million times before: Should college athletes get paid? In my mind, the clear answer is yes- at least for NCAA basketball players. I’m not arguing for the payment of Division 2 croquet players (is that a thing? Someone fact check that for me.) Here are three reasons why NCAA basketball players aren’t currently being fairly compensated.

They Generate a LOT of Revenue

For them not to see a dime of the huge amount of revenue they bring in is a crime. How much revenue? Well, CBS pays about $1.1 billion for the TV rights to the NCAA Tournament alone. That’s just the TV deal for postseason play. This doesn’t even include other revenue streams, such as ticket sales, merchandise, or teams’ regular season TV deals. Big-time programs can bring in upwards of $5 million of profit (not revenue, profit) on their own each year. Louisville brought in a league-high $24 million of profit in 2015. Now, I’m not saying college players should earn millions per year. Maybe they could each earn a standard salary in the $20-$50,000 range, or the NCAA could set a $5 million or so salary cap as Mr. Walker suggested. At the very least, compensate these players for their time. They spend countless hours practicing, in the weight room, and watching film. At Rutgers, minimum wage just got raised to $11 for on-campus jobs (some kids are trying to get it raised to $15 but I don’t think they understand why that would be a horrible idea, but that’s another topic.) Why doesn’t Corey Sanders receive anything when he puts four hours in at the gym, but I’m compensated at $11 an hour to supervise students playing intramural basketball at the campus gym? I know what some of you are thinking. “They aren’t paid in cash, they get compensated with an education.” That brings me to my next point.

The “Educations” Many of These Players Receive Are Bogus

Of all NCAA basketball players, only 1.1% will go on to play professionally. So for every Marvin Bagley, there are 99 kids who will have to figure something else out after college. Luckily for them, they’ll graduate with a college degree, right? Well, some of them. The NCAA reported that the average graduation rate for NCAA men’s basketball teams was 78% in 2017. Not bad, right? There’s two problems with that. First, many of these schools don’t care how players pass their classes, they just want to make sure they stay eligible. Take North Carolina, for example. Perennial basketball powerhouse, last year’s NCAA Champion, and my favorite college team. From 1989-2012, they enrolled athletes in “paper classes,” which “had no instruction, never met, and only required a final paper, which often included significant amounts of unoriginal or plagiarized material.” Basically they had their athletes taking fake classes to boost their GPAs and keep them game eligible. Clearly they value these players’ educations. Let’s say that a school really does care about an athlete’s education, and makes him attend classes and complete assignments on his own. Are they gonna let their top basketball recruit major in engineering or business? No, they’re gonna have him take some BS major (not gonna name one so I don’t offend anyone) so that his focus is on basketball, not school. In a 2007 survey of NCAA athletes, 11% stated that their sport prevented them from pursuing the major they wanted to, 69% said it prevented them from taking classes they desired, and 53% said they were not able to spend as much time on academics as they would like. This survey included athletes of all sports from Divisions 1 through 3, so these numbers likely would’ve been even higher within a sport as demanding as Division 1 basketball. So my question is this: how is it fair that players are being “compensated” with an education when these schools clearly make basketball their top priority?

There’s one more reason the current compensation system is broken. This one is the most mind-boggling to me, as it doesn’t even require any kind of investment from the NCAA or its schools.

Get Rid of “Amateurism” Laws

In case you didn’t know, every NCAA athlete has to be an “amateur,” or not a professional. That makes sense to me. If Markelle Fultz stinks in his first year in the NBA, he shouldn’t be able to come back and play at Washington. But the NCAA’s definition of an “amateur” extends far beyond whether or not you’ve played professionally before. Here are some violations of amateur status as the NCAA lists on their website.

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So what are a few examples of what athletes can’t do in order to maintain eligible with the NCAA? They can’t sell their own autograph or memorabilia, get paid to make public appearances, or sign any endorsement deals. How are you going to tell a player they can’t make money off of being themselves? And don’t tell me they can “wait until they get to the NBA,” because like I said before, only 1% of these players are making it there. What if a starter at Nebraska with no real NBA potential gets offered $1,000 to appear in a local car dealership commercial? Or a restaurant offers him money to appear there and greet some fans? You’re telling me he shouldn’t be NCAA eligible anymore because he chooses to do these things? Some of these players grow up poor, and basketball is their only hope. Why not let them make some money while continuing their education and college careers? Joel Berry can’t sell his jersey that he plays in, but I’m sure the UNC bookstore is selling jerseys with #2 on the back for $40 a pop. Does it have his name on the back? No, but everyone buying one knows damn well that it’s a Joel Berry jersey. For him not to see any of that money is blasphemous.

 

So here are the problems with compensation of college basketball players. Here’s my simple solution in three steps.

  1. Revise the rules of amateurism to allow players to profit off of themselves. If a guy wants to sell his autograph or make a paid appearance, let him. As long as he’s not playing professionally somewhere, let him do whatever he wants.
  2. Have schools pay players a small yearly amount to compensate for their time. Whether it’s paying every player a yearly stipend of a few thousand dollars or a salary cap that allows top recruits to earn more, the players should see at least some of these billions of revenue.
  3. Tailor curriculum to the individual needs of every athlete. Marvin Bagley is declaring for the draft this year. Why pretend he isn’t? Have him take classes in financial literacy, and other aspects of life he’ll need to know for when he goes pro. But a guy who probably isn’t going to the NBA? Get him a more valuable major. Schools should sit down with these kids before their freshman year and figure out a path that makes sense for them. Should a player who had a 2.3 GPA in high school come to Michigan to play basketball and major in electrical engineering? Probably not, but there’s gotta be a way to have him graduate with a useful degree while he simultaneously keeps his grades high enough to play.

 

Let – But Do Not Force – Colleges to Pay Athletes

“Marginal revenue product”.   This three-word term essentially means “How much value does a worker’s work provide for society?”  This question provides half of the logic behind how much a worker should be paid.  The other half of the logic comes from the answer to “How many available workers can provide the same value as this worker?”  In short, a person’s salary comes down to supply and demand.

Doctors and lawyers earn a great deal of money because a) they provide very valuable services to society, and b) very few people in society are skilled and trained at these professions.  Similarly, in the United States, professional athletes are generally paid extremely well.  Oftentimes, I hear people say, “Why should players make so much money to get to play a game for a living?”  Well, the answer is “Because of us”.  We Americans as a whole pay a lot of money to watch professional sports, and this money is revenue for sports teams, leagues, and networks.  Additionally, very few people are skilled enough at a sport to play it at the major-league level.  In fact, there are many more people who have the skill to be a successful doctor and lawyer than there are those who can play professional sports.  Since professional athletes bring large sums of revenue and are in quite low supply, they are paid large sums of money.  Some people might not like this, but it makes perfect economic sense.

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What a perfect segue now into this week’s hot-button sports topic, “Should college athletes be paid?”  To me, the general answer is quite simple, even if the details are quite complex.  I believe that colleges should be allowed, but not forced, to pay their athletes.  College sports are a business, and, as with any business, workers should be paid based on their supply and marginal revenue product.  It is ridiculous to think that major college-football teams can fill 100,000-seat stadiums, sell huge scores of jerseys, allow players’ numbers to be used in video games….yet are not allowed to pay their players out of the resulting profit.  At the same time, it is ridiculous to think that athletes on a Missouri Valley Conference men’s swimming team, who earn next to nothing in terms of revenue (and thus have zero marginal revenue product), should be paid above whatever scholarships they might be receiving.

I will now explain my framework for change.  I feel that, in Division-I athletics, each sport should have a salary cap.  I do not know what that number is, but it should be directly proportional (which does not mean “directly equal”….The revenue will still outpace the salary cap) to the amount of revenue that the average Division-I team in that sport earns.  In other words, the more revenue a sport earns on average, the higher the salary cap.  People privy to more financial information than I can decide on a logical value for the cap.

Regardless, for argument’s sake, let us say that the men’s college-basketball salary cap is $5 million.  The big boys of college basketball – Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, UNC, etc. – would likely use the full $5 million.  Perhaps one of these programs would pay each of its top three recruits $1 million per year and use the remaining $2 million to disseminate among its other players.  That would seem logical to me, but the schools can decide this.  Maybe no teams would spend the full value of the cap.  It is up to the colleges to decide how much to spend.  The “$5 million” number seems reasonable to me, in that a) it would mean that colleges would continue to pay players much less than in the NBA, which is an important distinction (more on that later); b) it would give players “enough of the pie” they are producing; and c) it would greatly reduce the likelihood that coaches would violate recruiting rules.

In terms of “c”, my change would allow the NCAA to have a better handle on recruiting violations.  First off, by allowing coaches to provide legal compensation to players, these coaches would have less motivation to provide illegal compensation.   This idea is similar to speed limits.  People not named “Sheldon Richardson” are more likely to obey the speed limit on an 80-mph highway than a 55-mph highway.  Secondly, with this cap, the NCAA could stop worrying about “trivial” transgressions.  With a $5-million cap, the NCAA would not need to obsess over whether or not a coach took a player’s family to dinner and gave the family some college shirts.  That value of the dinner and shirts would be negligible in the grand scheme of a $5-million cap.  Instead, the NCAA could focus solely on major violations.  For example, if John Calipari were to dole out the $5 million but then provide Range Rovers for a few of the kids, the NCAA would blow the whistle on it.  However, if Coach Cal were to take the kids out to Outback Steakhouse during a few recruiting visits, who cares?

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Now, I realize that some of you might be thinking, “This policy change would hurt the mid-majors, who cannot dole out the full $5 million.”  Would it really though?  Honestly, I think that, on the court, things would play out remarkably similarly to how they do now.  Right now, great high-school players often have to decide, “Do I go to Duke, where I might be a fringe starter?  Or do I go to Wichita State, where I would be the star of the team?”  This same scenario would continue to unfold.  If Duke is already paying a large amount of its cap to 4 or 5 players, Wichita State might be able to offer this prospective player more money than Duke anyway.   Regardless, my plan would probably mean that Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State would be top-notch teams every year.  Oh wait, exactly like they have been for almost my entire life!  Therefore, mid-majors would be in the same competitive position in which they usually find themselves.

Let us now switch gears from men’s basketball.  Given that this sport and football are the biggest revenue generators in college, these sports would have the highest salary caps.  That said, the same salary-cap premise would also apply to other sports.  Women’s basketball does not generate as much revenue as men’s basketball and thus would have a smaller cap.  At the same time, UConn would likely spend more money on its players than most other programs would, as UConn typically generates relatively high revenue.  Meanwhile, in baseball and softball, perhaps some of the big-time programs like Arizona or Texas would pay their players, but most would not.  The revenue simply is not there.  The same thing goes for plenty of men’s and women’s college-basketball teams, who would choose not to pay players.  For example, I am a proud Colgate alum, but very few people attend Colgate’s basketball games.  I would expect that Colgate would choose not to pay any of its players.  The same thing would go for a good chunk of colleges that really only garner attention when they become #14-16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

For those of you who worry that my system of “Pay if you want” would be “unfair” to the bulk of college athletes who do not receive paychecks, this is simply untrue.  A college education costs a few hundred-thousand dollars.  If an athletic scholarship defrays even part of that cost, then the athlete is being paid implicitly.  Furthermore, if a non-scholarship athlete is accepted into a better college than would have accepted him/her without the athletic implication, that athlete is paid as well.  He/she is paid in the form of higher future earnings due to having gone to a more prestigious college than he/she otherwise could have attended.

Thus, all college athletes are paid one way or another, explicitly or implicitly.  My plan merely alters the payment structure so that the players who earn large sums of revenue for a college are paid for this.  It is basic business.  The more money you make for a company, the more you get paid.  College athletics should be no different.

Let me now tie up three loose ends with my proposal.

  • I propose that recruits be forced to commit to 3-year guaranteed contracts, with player options for the fourth year. The “one and done” thing is a joke.  Most of us sports fans hate it; we want to see some continuity from year to year with our sports teams.  Of course, in order to achieve this goal, we need to tie up the second loose end.

 

  • The NBA and NFL age minima should be 17. Long ago, I believe that Bill Simmons suggested that the NBA imposed the age minimum to keep teams from signing high-school busts (Sebastian Telfair, Dajuan Wagner, etc.) and thus embarrassing the GMs.  He is probably correct, and he is also correct that the GMs’ logic is silly.  Anyone who has read Moneyball knows that it is riskier drafting a high-school player than a guy out of college.  One does not know how a high-schooler will mature physically and mentally.  One does not know how a high-schooler will perform when making a two-level jump (high school to college to pros).  Therefore, may the buyer beware.  GMs should be allowed to draft 17/18-year-olds.  GMs know the risk/reward tradeoff, and they should plan accordingly.  If a GM things he has the next Lebron, Kobe, or Garnett; he should draft the high-schooler.  If he is uncertain, maybe he should take the safe route and grab a college guy with a lower ceiling but a higher floor.  That is for GMs to decide, but the minimum should be 17.  Meanwhile, high-schoolers would know that they could either enter the draft out of high school, or else they would be mandated to complete three years of college before entering the draft.  This is similar to baseball and would be good for the college game and pro game.

 

  • This is unrelated to the first two loose ends, but I need to say it. I do not believe that the current college system is the result of racism, as several prominent people have lately suggested.  One of my favorite quotes is Hanlon’s razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”  Maybe this is because I am optimist who believes that people are generally good….but often not that smart.  Anyway, in the case of college athletics, I think that Hanlon’s razor applies.  Why is the college-sports system what it is now?  The best answer is probably, “Because that’s how they’ve always done it.”

 

In the 1950s and 1960s, when college athletics were much less racially diverse than they are now, players were not paid either.  In fact, over the past 50-70 years; as college sports have become more diverse, all of the following have happened: 1) College educations have become more valuable, in that there are fewer employers who will hire those without college educations; 2) The number of scholarships has increased; and 3) The amount and values of illegal contributions to players has presumably increased greatly.   Therefore, one could argue that players are better compensated now than they were during an era in which college athletics were much less diverse.

Yes, it is fair to speculate that the current college-athletic structure is more unfair to African American athletes more than to others, and that is definitely a matter worth fixing (as I feel my proposal would).  However, I would attribute this situation to the NCAA’s stupidity, not to racist motives.  Again, “never attribute to malice what can adequately be attributed to stupidity.”

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Anyway, now that I have tied up my loose ends, I will wrap things up.  Let us allow, but not force colleges to pay players, and let us make the NBA and NFL age minima 17.