Fixing College Basketball – Six Ways to Get It Right

by Kent Sterling

College basketball isn’t broken, but as part of the bigger landscape of big money amateur athletics, it’s sure as hell flawed.  There are people making a boatload of money to compile and lead talented kids who are waiting for their shot to make millions in the NBA.

Coaches make up to $4 million per year while the kids make nothing more than the cost of their scholarship.  For players in the Patriot League, that’s a good deal.  For starters at Kentucky and North Carolina, it’s indentured servitude.

Here are six steps the NCAA can take to level the playing field and clear out the corruption that dominates headlines rather than the great stories of the student-athletes who do it right:

  • John Wooden never took a penny more than the highest paid professor at UCLA, and I like that.  You want to clear out the crooks, turn off the cash.  Limit total compensation for coaches to that of a tenured professor at that institution.  Paying a coach $4 million for coaching college basketball is madness, and only serves to attract the slime that college hoops should systemically repel.  I’m not sure how that gets done or by whom, but limiting the rewards for coaches is a great place to start in expelling the riff-raff that so permeate major college basketball.
  • Cheaters are banned period – forever.  Do what Bruce Pearl did at Tennessee, and it’s over.  That’s a career ender.  That there was any hesitation in firing a coach who knowingly lied to NCAA investigators is an embarrassment to the players and coaches who try to do it right.  And the school who hires him should be forever ashamed for putting wins ahead of decency.  The NCAA will likely impose a show cause order against Pearl after his appearance at a meeting of the disciplinary committee on June 10 and 11, but that’s not enough.  Kelvin Sampson’s show cause (effectively making him unhirable by an NCAA member) expires in 2013, and you can bet that he’ll get another gig shortly thereafter.  In the meantime, Sampson is cashing checks as an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks.  If you are serious about stopping the cheating in college athletics, the hammer swung by the NCAA must cause swift and severe consequences.
  • Limit the NCAA Tournament to 48 teams.  This will never ever happen, and I’m not certain it’s a good idea anyway, but I felt so sorry for ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi babbling about bubble teams no one cares about that something needs to be done to secure his position and fan interest.  Regardless of VCU’s success in this year’s tourney, the two weeks Lunardi spent debating the virtues of Alabama, VCU, Penn State, Colorado, USC, and UAB was as monotonous as it was ultimately meaningless.  Maybe Ed DeChellis, Kevin O’Neil, Shaka Smart, and Mike Davis were on pins and needles, but the hundreds of thousands of the rest of us watching could only mutter to ourselves, “Who the hell cares?”  So, let’s allow the 32 conference champions, and the best 16 teams who didn’t win.  You want crazy interest in the last two weeks of the regular season and conference tournament, and make Lunardi relevant again, trim this tournament back.
  • Scholarships remain renewable year-to-year contracts, but once a player signs, the school doesn’t get the scholarship back for four years.  Coach K wants Kyrie Irving, and he jumps to the NBA after his freshman year, great, but his ride can’t be awarded to another recruit for three more years.  The only exception is for kids who graduate early.  A degree puts the scholarship back into circulation.  There has to be some concession to schools who are committed to bonafide student-athletes.  The one-and-done factories like Kentucky are frankly playing by a different set of rules, and it upsets the competitive balance of college basketball.  The alternative to this would be for the NBA to adopt the framework baseball uses for draft eligibility.  Kids can come out after high school or after completing three academic years.
  • Allow agents to sign and pay college players.  Who is the NCAA to restrict the earning potential of kids who demonstrate worth?  Let licensed agents come in, interview with a player, his parents, and coach.  Other than a little control, what does a coach lose by allowing a kid to have an agent, and get paid based upon future value?  Give the players with pro potential a chance to put some money in their pockets so they can live a normal life while they are in college.  Many players have a support system that allows them to pay for some clothes, but others have nothing.  Agents throwing some cash to kids is humane.
  • Get rid of the three-point line.  It’s a silly and unnecessary contrivance.
  • Move the Final Four out of these cavernous stadiums (I know the plural of stadium is stadia, but who talks that way?)  Throughout the season, kids grow accustomed to playing and shooting in a specific environment, and then for the biggest prize, they are moved into a giant football stadium.  Butler didn’t shoot 18.8% because of a lack of depth perception, but to substantively change the environment so radically for the sole purpose of giving 50,000 extra people horrible seats is silly.  Sitting at the top of the United Center in Chicago makes the ball nearly impossible to see.  I can’t imagine what it would be like from the corner of the upper deck in Lucas Oil Stadium, and I will never find out even with a free ducat.

I’m well aware that it will be a miracle if any of the initiatives are ever proposed in a meeting full of academics to consider, and parallel to a #16 seed’s chance to make the Final Four to be enacted.  And if they were, I would be hated by fans as Ed Steitz was during the 1980s when he was the chief proponent of the three-point line and 35-second clock coming to college basketball.  I doubt John Calipari would accept a 95% pay cut without some kicking and screaming, and there are 18 year-olds who have been jacking up 300 three-pointers everyday for the past eight years as they try to build a recruitable skill set who would want me dead.

If advancing these ideas is idiotic, at least I’m a well-intentioned idiot.

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25 thoughts on “Fixing College Basketball – Six Ways to Get It Right

    1. kentsterling Post author

      People who go to sporting events for free and get tired of using a derivation of a term like ‘freebies”. Ducats sounds much more dignified.

  1. Neil

    Gee, I would need about two hours and lots of typing to address most of this. I can only say that if these “suggestions” were implemented college basketball as we know it would dissapear. It would no longer be the once a year extravaganza that it has become. Doing the short way:
    1. The only “boatload of money” out there belongs to the television people and they split up a good deal of it with the conferences and schools.
    2.Don’t limit coaches salaries, we don’t live in Communist China yet. (By the way star professors out there too. Some stars in certain areas of study that do very valuable research get anywhere from 500 thousand to 2 million or more for their jobs.)As far as indentured servants, there are thousands of college students that work in research projects getting nothing more than work experience that will go on their resume leading to jobs after graduation. They don’t get a piece of the “big pie” but that is how it works. The sports people shouldn’t be any different.
    3.John Wooden was no saint, he had a sugardaddy “helping” players with extras. He said he didn’t know but his talent level increased immeasurably after this “booster” got ivolved in the 1960’s.
    4.Ban Cheaters for good? Yes, if found guilty in a “due process” format not a kangaroo court format.
    5.Limit to 48 teams? No open it up to everyone with a seeding pattern in place that gives the conference champions best seeding.
    6.Making a school keep a scholarship for four years before renewal would kill major college ball in about three or four years. Make the school responsible for getting the player a legitimate degree in a legitimate area of study. If the kid leaves early or doesn’t finish the school owes the kid the full price of getting that degree in U.S. currency. It puts the onus on the school for making sure the kid is really working toward and degree and also would tend to lead them away from one and dones. Also work with the NBA to create a mandatory three years before application to pro ball and then if they do go pro, they can only go to the developmental league until their class graduates. The NBA team can pay them whatever they want, its up to them.
    7.Keep all contact with agents away from high school or college players and no pay ever. Agents are the real “slimeballs” or pimps of this sport.
    8.Don’t get rid of the three point line. Put it at the NBA three and get rid of the clock. The clock has not done what they said it would which was to keep scores higher and slowdowns less. This was the worst rule they ever put in. Instead of speeding up the game, it adds a sixth defensive man to the mix. That is why Butler and few other teams stand out when they play defense because teams have become so lazy by relying on the clock. It makes a Butler really stand out because they know how to play defense. If all you have to do is just play defense long enough for the clock to run out and your off the hook then why play real defense. Also, not having a clock rewards the team that gets ahead, thereby making getting ahead even more worthwhile.
    9.Move the final four permanently to Indianapolis, which knows how to run a final four. Forget the size of the stadium. Most people see it on TV anyway. If they really wanted the perfect atmosphere and viewing they wouldn’t ever allow a game to played in a facility that seated over 5000 people. The real reason Butler shot such a low percentage and the game got so “Medievil” was that the refs “for whatever reason” put their whistles in their pockets and let the goons take over.

  2. Dr. Bucket

    the shooting percentage for the entire final four was horrendous. i can’t member the overall figures. it was pretty bad though.

  3. Dr. Bucket

    Combined FF shooting percentages, 2002-2010

    Percentage Shots made-att. Year

    34.3% 119-347 2011
    39.8% 131-329 2006
    40.5% 157-388 2009
    41.1% 124-302 2010
    42.3% 151-357 2002
    43.0% 162-377 2005
    43.4% 163-376 2008
    43.5% 154-354 2004
    45.5% 181-398 2003
    46.4% 155-334 2007

    2009, 2010, 2011 were played in a format where the court was placed in the middle of a dome all other games featured a stadium sectioned off with a curtain. draw your own conclusions.

  4. rupert

    You lost my interest in the first few lines of #1. Anybody that holds up john wooden as shining example, Must have his head buried in the sand. wooden turned a blind eye to rampant cheating in his program. Big time ucla booster sam gilbert provided cars,clothes,cash, to ucla basketball players. bill walton for one confirmed the illegal activity in the program.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To issue a blanket condemnation of Wooden because of what he didn’t know is wrongheaded. Ignoring the good that he did is as silly as saying that Calipari isn’t a good coach because two of his teams Final Four appearances are no longer in the record books.

      1. dr. bucket

        comments by his players seem to indicate he knew and chose to look the other way.

        Moreover, in a striking 2004 interview with Basketball Times, Wooden described confronting players Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe in 1969 about expensive new clothes he suspected Gilbert had purchased. “Did you get this from Sam Gilbert,” he asked. “I don’t like this.”

        he knew and did nothing.

        so what’s worse, i ask you, standing by or being a participant. to me the latter is more honest in a perverse sort of way

        1. kentsterling Post author

          A pretty good definition of a cynic is someone who searches for flaws in John Wooden’s character rather than learn from his lessons.

          1. Dr. Bucket

            wooden’s lessons:

            1. let others do your cheating for you

            2. look the other way at all times

            here’s a better definition of a cynic from george bernard shaw: “the power of accurate observation is called cynicism by those who don’t have it.”

            having wooden talk about values would be like nixon talking about ethics in politics.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Shaw’s definition of ‘accurate’ might have been instructive when deciding to use that quote.

            You want to believe Wooden was some mope and cheat, that’s your right. It’s an unfortunate choice.

          3. Dr. Bucket

            he more than likely intended something like this:

            1. Conforming exactly to fact; errorless.

            1. faithfully representing or describing the truth. let me clean those rose-colored glasses of yours so you can see better.

            “If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny Jerry Tarkanian and his players have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national titles and be on probation for the next 100 years.” Who would so slander UCLA, particularly during the era of saintly coach John Wooden? Their own legendary center, Bill Walton. Booster Sam Gilbert funneled so much money to players that NCAA probationary poster boy Jerry Tarkanian quipped, “The only team with a higher payroll was the Lakers.” The NCAA didn’t take action until 1981, by which point Wooden and his ten titles had been retired for six years.

          4. kentsterling Post author

            The point is that Wooden didn’t know about any of it, and that shouldn’t tarnish his legacy. You brought up Nixon, and I like that. Now, if Nixon had no knowledge of the break-in, and came clean once it was uncovered, I have no problem with that. Sure, he let his people hire kooks like Liddy, and that’s not so good, but it’s not criminal. The cover up is where Nixon betrayed his nefarious character.

            Denny Crum tells a story that might illuminate things a little bit. Wooden demanded that kids express an interest in UCLA before he would recruit them, so Crum would write letters supposedly from the kids, send them to contacts in the cities where the kids lived, and have them mailed back from those towns. Wooden never knew, the talented kids Crum loved came to UCLA, and banners were hung.

            That doesn’t make Wooden guilty of anything but being a bit naive, as he was as Gilbert handed envelopes to kids. That behavior doesn’t equate to corrupt character.

          5. Dr. Bucket

            the man wanted it both ways — he wanted desperately to win and he wanted to appear clean (better for his image). so he made a deal with his conscience (and the devil). naive, my foot. everyone else may have been naive but wooden wasn’t.

            he’s like one of the germans who lived in the town next to buchenwald. “I never (officially) knew, wink, wink, what was going on over there but the smell always bothered me.

            and no i’m not saying he was a nazi.

            i will say he went to his grave believing he didn’t cheat the same way o.j. will go to his believing he didn’t kill nicole.

          6. kentsterling Post author

            We are indeed fortunate that you have such a unique window into John Wooden’s motives and soul.

            As you might guess, I do not share your beliefs.

  5. DCdave

    1) should not limit anyone’s pay.
    2)cheaters..two strikes and your out. First strike severe punishment.
    3)Move back to 64. For those that say include everybody…Nearly everyone already has a chance. Win your conference tourney and you are in.
    4) scholly’s. Agree if the NBA goes to HS or 3 year rule. Highly doubtful but would be great.
    5)Allow agents to pay players. Agree 100%. A music major takes money for playing gigs, a business major would take money from an investment bank (intern etc) why not let an athlete get paid for their market value? It would remove the “slime” factor as the players in need of cash would not be limited to attending shady schools (UK/USC/Auburn cough, cough) but could go where they want and openly take the cash.
    6) keep the three point line but perhaps move to NBA distance.
    7) 100% agree. Bball was not meant to be played in football stadiums and anyone that has played knows the background in those stadiums is a shooters nightmare. Does the NCAA really need more money?

  6. Joker

    Oh Kent…some good ideas on here and some really, really bad ones.

    Coach’s salary? Seriously, this isn’t the Soviet Union. Every decent coach in the country would be working in the NBADL trying to get called up to the next level. I have ZERO problem with the money coaches make, compared to the amount of money their product brings into the ADs around the country.

    Getting rid of the 3 pt shot is absurd. Its what makes the game as exciting as it is.

    Who cares what type of stadium they play the final 4 in. Are you more worried about the fan in the crappy seat or what?

    Bringing agents in is a horrible idea. I don’t mind setting up some type of system where D1 players get some level of stipend for living expenses, but it should come from the university, not agents.

    Cheaters, 64 teams, and the scholarship ideas are all reasonable.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The Soviet Union isn’t even the Soviet Union anymore. I have no problem with lively debate, but the three-point shot isn’t exciting. Why not put a circle near half-court where a player can earn 10-points, like they do on those celebrity games that air on MTV? How about five points for a shot that caroms in off a teammates head? Maybe four points for a bank shot from beyond the arc.

      Baskets should be two-points. The three-pointer is the only effort in sports that allows for more points or runs based upon a variable of skill of distance, and it has no place in the game.

      The players and fans care. The only people who want the game in a giant ass stadium are the accountants with the NCAA.

      Explain why agents paying future pros is a horrible idea. If you give a stipend to revenue sports participant, they will have to pay everyone. That’s Title IX. By farming it out to the private sector, no Title IX issues.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          A free throw is an undefended shot from 15-feet, and the shooter gets two (unless it’s in the act of a made shot or in a bonus one-and-one situation) to compensate for the opportunity robbed by the foul. Completely different situation from a three point shot. There are no available yardage penalties or free base penalties as in football and baseball, and a hockey-esque penalty of being shorthanded is too disproportionate a penalty and would ruin the flow of the game. That leaves the free throw.

  7. Dr. Bucket

    it still gives you fewer points per shot at a greater distance than a two footer say. that’s all i’m saying


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