Welcome to the best day of the year. With all due respect to my Irish brothers and sisters, today belongs to March Madness. I’m more excited than a kid on Christmas. I want to sit at the top of my steps and wait until 12 PM to come down and see what Santa left for us basketball fans in the opening slate of games. As the great Jon Rothstein likes to say, “This is March.”
Last year, the tournament returned to our lives after COVID robbed us in 2020. Without huge crowds, however, the tournament felt different. Plus, it started on a Friday, which was the worst move in sports since the ghost runner on second base in the MLB. Thankfully, the tournament is back to its normal start day on Thursday* and the crowds will be rocking.
*I still don’t count the First Four as part of the tournament. I might get their one day, but it won’t be today.
Take a step back and appreciate what we’re about to experience over the next 96 hours. It all starts with wall-to-wall coverage from 12 PM – 12 AM. Arguments about which 12-seed will beat a 5-seed will dominate your group chats. Buzzer beaters will go viral and light up social media. TUMS will be out of stock at your local CVS due to indigestion caused by wings and beer.
Is this heaven? No, it’s ̶I̶o̶w̶a̶ March Madness.
Now I know what you’re all thinking. Where are my picks? Everyone might fill out a bracket, but have they ever won a competition where they got to spend time on a national radio show?
In my best Norman Osborn voice, “You know, I’m something of a scientist myself.”
There is some science to the bracket. Some numbers to keep in mind:
All four 1-seeds haven’t made the Elite Eight since 2016.
Look at offensive and defensive field goal percentages – champions typically fall inside the top 30 for both offensive and defensive field goal percentage.
A 13-seed has beaten a 4-seed in 8 of the last 11 tournaments.
Multiple 12-seeds have beaten 5-seeds in five of the last nine tournmanets. In 2019, three 12-seeds defeated 5-seeds.
Numbers are important, but it truly all comes down to luck. The phrase “better lucky than good” could not be more true during this tournament. I rely on a few “feelings” when completing my bracket. Here are some things I look for in a championship team.
Veteran guard play
At least one future lottery pick
If they lost in their conference tournament, was it a fluke, or a sign of what’s to come?
When in doubt, chalk.
Worry about the Sweet 16, not the first round upsets. If you have 11-12 of 16 teams left after the weekend with one being your champion, you’re in great shape.
Fill out two brackets. Screw the “integrity” crowd. Those people probably have multiple fantasy football teams. I always make two brackets so plan accordingly.
Those who wonder why there is such a strong push for college athletes’ rights must look no further than the latest development in the Alston v. NCAA (Alston) case. In Alston, former and current college athletes challenged the NCAA’s amateurism rules on antitrust law grounds. Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged the NCAA’s rules capping grants-in-aid to cost of attendance. The plaintiffs argued that there were less restrictive ways that the NCAA could preserve amateurism. The District Court agreed. The District Court judge ruled that the NCAA could no longer restrict education-related benefits to college athletes. Then the court issued an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from doing so. Education-related benefits include items such as computers or musical instruments. However, the NCAA retained the ability to restrict non-education related benefits. Non-education related benefits include cash payments that may amount to pay-for-play.
Although the NCAA retained the right to prohibit pay-for-play in college sports, the NCAA appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There, the three-judge panel affirmed the District Court’s decision. The appeals court was scheduled to issue the mandate precluding the NCAA from restricting education-related benefits to college athletes on July 8, 2020. However, on July 6, 2020, the NCAA sought to have the appeals court stay the injunction. The NCAA wants to stay the injunction so they can petition the case to the United States Supreme Court. That is right! The NCAA does not want to allow college athletes to receive extra educational benefits for their athletic prowess. For those who may not understand why there is such a big push for college athletes’ rights, the NCAA actions in the case are precisely why.
This Case Proves yet Again that the NCAA Cares More About Protecting College Athletics Revenue than Protecting College Athletes
The NCAA does not want to allow its “student-athletes” to receive unlimited educational benefits. They would rather spend time and resources petitioning this case to the Supreme Court. It is amazing how the NCAA can put so much energy into this but leave the schools to fend for themselves in regards to COVID-19 and college athletics. Since the NCAA allowed voluntary workouts to resume on June 1, 2020, athletes at several schools have tested positive for the virus.
With no leadership from the NCAA, Schools are essentially creating a patchwork of guidelines and rules to address COVID-19 and resuming college athletes. However, the NCAA advocates tooth and nail that a patchwork of various state laws addressing college athletes’ names, images, and likenesses will not work and will lead to confusion. COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of over 130,000 Americans. Somehow the NCAA thinks schools should be left to their own devices and handle COVID-19 on their own.
The NCAA’s lack of a unified response has led schools to create documents that amount to a liability waiver for COVID-19. Athletes are required to sign them if they want to resume their sport. Some schools like Ohio State University claim that the document is not intended as a legal document. However, there is plenty of language in the documents that could have legal significance later on. COVID-19 could have a direct effect on college athletes’ health and wellness. The NCAA is again seeing its way out of issues related to athlete health and well-being. However, the NCAA is remaining steadfast in its quest to ensure that college athletes do not receive anything more than the NCAA wishes to give them. That is precisely what the NCAA is doing in its quest to petition Alston to the Supreme Court.
What Exactly is the NCAA Hoping to Achieve by Staying the Injunction to Petition Alston to the United States Supreme Court?
It appears that the NCAA wishes to have the Supreme Court rule that the NCAA’s amateurism rules should not be subject to scrutiny under antitrust law. This should come as no surprise. The NCAA has made it clear that they do not want to be subject to antitrust law anymore.
The NCAA’s Attempt to Persuade Congress to grant it an Antitrust Exemption
In April, the NCAA asked Congress for an antitrust exemption. They made this request when they released their name, image, and likeness report. In the report, the NCAA addressed the numerous antitrust lawsuits that the NCAA has faced over the years. The NCAA essentially plead to Congress that the lawsuits impede the organization’s ability to address the pressing issues facing college athletics. Accordingly, the NCAA wants Congress to grant it an antitrust exemption. If that does not work out, the NCAA appears to be seeking a similar result from the United States Supreme Court.
The NCAA is Planning to Persuade the Supreme Court that any Challenge to Amateurism Rules Based on Antitrust Law Must Fail
Generally, there are three circumstances in which the Supreme Court will review a case. One is where a lower court decision conflicts with a Supreme Court decision. Another is where there are two more conflicting decisions amongst the Circuit Courts of Appeals or a state court of last resort. The third is where the issue involves important questions of federal law. The NCAA asserts that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the rulings of the Supreme Court. The NCAA also asserts that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with three other Circuit Courts of Appeals. Specifically, the NCAA argues that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the Supreme Court decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.
Brief Summary of NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma
In that case, the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents sued the NCAA over television broadcasting rights. The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents argued that the NCAA’s rules regarding the broadcast of college football games violated federal antitrust law. The Supreme Court found that the NCAA’s television broadcasting rules did in fact violate federal antitrust law. While the NCAA lost, the Court acknowledged that the “NCAA plays a critical role in the maintenance of a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports“. The Court further stated that the NCAA “needs ample latitude to play that role“. It is exactly this language that the NCAA plans to amplify when they petition Alston to the Supreme Court.
The Bulk of the NCAA’s Motion Centers on The Aforementioned Points
In their motion, the NCAA asserts that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the Supreme Court’s aforementioned assertions in the Board of Regents case. The NCAA also asserts that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Circuits rulings on similar issues. Those circuits have all held that since the NCAA “needs ample latitude” to preserve college sports that any challenge scrutinizing the NCAA’s amateurism rules conflicts with the Board of Regents’ decision. The NCAA argues that the Ninth Circuits ruling in Alston creates a split between the circuits that it wishes the Supreme Court to resolve.
The NCAA also asserts that there are important questions of federal law to be resolved. They further assert that the injunction will cause irreparable harm to college athletics in terms of budget and competitive balance.
Hopefully, The NCAA is Not Granted a Shield Against Antitrust Law
Hopefully, the NCAA is not granted any antitrust law protection. After all, it is one of the only avenues current and former college athletes have to advocate on their behalf. It was not until the O’Bannon case that the NCAA agreed to allow college athletes to receive scholarships up to the cost of attendance. The O’Bannon case was bought on federal antitrust law grounds. The case gave current and former college athletes one of their biggest wins yet. College athletes must retain the ability to advocate for their rights. It is for these reasons that there is such a big push for college athletes’ rights. The NCAA clearly cares more about protecting capitalism, not doing what is best for college athletes.
Late last month, the NCAA suffered another blow to its amateurism model. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in Alston v NCAA that the NCAA’s restriction on education-related benefits for college athletes violated federal antitrust law. During the trial in 2018, college athletes forced the NCAA to defend its farce of amateurism.
What is Amateurism?
The NCAA’s amateurism rules preclude college athletes from receiving any pay for their athletic skills. The amateurism rules are the outgrowth of the idea that athletes should only play for the love of the game. It is this concept that the NCAA implores to carry out its mission. The NCAA’s mission is to “maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the student body and, by doing so, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports”. The NCAA uses this concept to further its mission. It does this by ensuring that college athletes do not receive any payment that is not approved by the NCAA.
Somehow the NCAA believes that making sure college athletes do not receive any pre-approved payment is sufficient to keep college sports separate from professional sports. The NCAA conveniently ignores other facets of college sports that are very akin to professional sports. Those facets include coaches’ million-dollar salaries, the billion-dollar television broadcasting deals, and the multi-million-dollar sports facilities on various college campuses. To the NCAA, the only thing that would professionalize college sports is paying the actual people who make all of the revenue possible. Fortunately, college athletes have begun to have enough of the system that intentionally leaves them out of the revenue sharing. College athletes challenged the system during the Alston v NCAA trial where they chiseled away at the sham of amateurism.
Alston v NCAA District Court Trial
During the trial, college athletes challenged the NCAA’s amateurism rules by arguing that the NCAA has violated federal antitrust law. An antitrust law violation occurs when an organization conspires to place a restraint on trade in a free market. The plaintiffs, in this case, argued that the NCAA did just that through their amateurism rules. Specifically, they argued that the NCAA’s rules limiting college athletes to cost-of-attendance scholarships violates federal antitrust law. Additionally, the college athletes argued that there were other less restrictive ways that the NCAA could meet its goal.
The NCAA conceded that the rules in question did in fact violate federal antitrust law. However, the NCAA contended that their rules served two procompetitive purposes. Specifically, the NCAA argued that their rules were necessary to retain consumer interest in college sports. The NCAA contended college athletes being unpaid is what keeps college sports separate from professional sports. They argued that it is this separation that drives consumer interest. Additionally, the NCAA argued that its amateurism rules were necessary to keep college athletes integrated into the greater college campus community.
Ultimately, the District Court ruled that the NCAA was violating federal antitrust law with its blanket prohibition on payments beyond a cost-of-attendance scholarship. The court ruled that the NCAA could serve their procompetitive purposes using a less restrictive means. Accordingly, the court ruled that the NCAA could no longer restrict benefits given to college athletes that are tethered to education. Such benefits include things like computers and musical instruments. These types of benefits help further college athletes’ pursuit of their education.
The NCAA Can Still Restrict Non-Education Related Benefits
However, the NCAA may still restrict payments above a cost-of- scholarship that is not tethered to education. Therefore, the NCAA is still able to serve its procompetitive purpose of keeping college sports separate from professionals by ensuring college athletes do not receive any non-education related benefit.
The Appeals Court affirmed the District Courts Decision
While the NCAA did not completely lose the District Court case, they still appealed. On appeal, the court considered whether the District Court erred in their ruling. However, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court reasoned that the NCAA could keep college sports separate from professional sports while allowing college athletes to receive unrestricted education-related benefits. The court further reasoned that it would not adversely affect consumer interest in college sports. When the NCAA allowed college athletes to receive cost-of-attendance scholarships, that did not adversely affect consumer interest in college sports, as the NCAA originally said it would. As such, the court affirmed that allowing the NCAA to limit non-education related benefits while requiring the allowance of educational benefits was a reasonable balance that would allow the NCAA to further its mission.
The 2020 NFL Draft was definitely one to remember. It was completely virtual due to the Coronavirus. Potential draft picks watched at home. They awaited a phone call informing them that they were selected by an NFL team. Elite players, like Joe Burrow and Chase Young, accomplished their goal of being a first-round NFL Draft pick. However, many NFL Draft hopefuls did not realize their dream of being selected in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, for many of those players, their football career as players may be over. It is true that many of them will attempt to earn a spot on a team as an undrafted free agent. Entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent is not easy and will not happen for all of them. This realization is especially unfortunate for draftees who left college early to enter the NFL Draft.
Every year, some college football players decide to forego their remaining college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. NFL rules require draft entrants to be out of high school for three years and to have used all of their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season. However, college players with remaining eligibility request league approval to enter the NFL Draft early. 99 players were granted special eligibility for the 2020 draft. This means that 99 players who had remaining college eligibility gave up their remaining eligibility for a shot at the NFL. Despite the fact that only 1.5 percent of college football players go pro, 99 players still thought it was best to enter the draft. Why do college football players make the decision to forego their remaining eligibility given the odds of making it to the NFL?
Reasons College Football Players Leave College Early to Enter the NFL Draft
There are many reasons college football players forego their remaining college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. There are two reasons that stick out the most. One reason is due to the unrealistic sense that many college football players have about their prospects of being drafted. Many college football players prematurely forego their remaining college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, even though they are not ready. Another reason college football players forego the remaining college eligibility because some from disadvantaged backgrounds and need to make money. College sports is a billion-dollar business but the players’ only compensation is a cost-of-attendance scholarship. While a scholarship is valuable that does not mean that players should be limited to only that.
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College Football Players who Come From Disadvangeted Backgrounds Would Greatly Benefit from Getting into the NFL as Quickly as Possible
Roughly 86 percent of African-American college athletes come from families that live below the poverty line. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, the inequities that many college athletes face have become even more visible. For example, Sam Williams, a University of Mississippi linebacker, tweeted about the hardships he is facing since being unexpectedly home from school. Specifically, Williams tweeted:
“We worked so hard to get out of the hood but forced to go back to the hood…Still gotta pay rent so all of our money gone and I can’t swipe my ID nowhere in Alabama. Then if we get help it’s a ‘violation’. I just don’t understand.”
Williams highlighted a problem that may college athletes are facing. A study conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice prior to the pandemic highlights many of the issues that college athletes face. 452 Division I athletes were surveyed. 24 percent of them suffered from food insecurity in the 30 days prior. Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. The survey sheds light on the issue of food scarcity amongst college athletes across all the divisions. Williams’ tweet and the survey’s findings further demonstrate the needs of many college athletes, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Everybody Gets Rich Except the Players
Furthermore, Williams’s tweet and the survey certainly make it clear why a college football player would leave college football eligibility on the table for a shot at the NFL. Due to the NCAA’s asinine amateurism rules, college football players are precluded from sharing in the billions they generate outside of a cost-of-attendance scholarship. While coaches, athletic directors, and other sports administration personnel make millions, the players are capped to a scholarship.
As Williams tweeted, college athletes cannot receive any assistance that is not first approved by the NCAA. If an athlete does, he will be subject to an NCAA violation, just ask Chase Young. Why would an athlete remain apart of a system that stops them from earning their true worth and risk injury, while everyone else makes millions?
The Good News is that the NCAA Can Fix Both of These Problems and Retain College Football Players
The NCAA can fix these problems and retain college football players if they would simply amend their rules. One way the NCAA can fix this problem is by allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). After mounting pressure, the NCAA is finally on the track to allow that to happen. If the NCAA does this, it could take the pressure off of players to go pro to make money. Last month, the NCAA announced that they are moving toward allowing college athletes to profit from their NIL. However, only time will tell how much the NCAA will amend their current rules to actually help the athletes.
Currently, college football players cannot return to college football after they enter and go through the NFL Draft even if they have remaining eligibility. Why is this the case? How does this benefit the football players? How does it benefit college football? The truth is that these rules do not benefit the players nor college football. This is another way the NCAA can fix their problems. The NCAA should change its rules to allow players who are not drafted to return to college football. It is time for things in college football to change. Change is more than possible, just look at recent changes in college basketball.
Recent Changes in College Basketball
Sweeping changes have come to college basketball during the last four years. In 2017, a scandal was exposed in college basketball. Soon after, the NCAA amended college basketball rules. The NCAA began to allow NBA Draft entrants with remaining eligibility to return to college. Prior to entering the NBA draft, the player must seek an evaluation from the National Basketball Association’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee. If the player intends to return to college, he must remove his name from the draft list and declare his intent to return to college within 10 days of the conclusion of the NBA Draft combine. These types of rule changes are exactly what the NCAA should adopt in college football.
The NCAA Should Allow College Football NFL Draft Entrants to Return If Undrafted
Two former NFL Players who entered the league as undrafted free agents agree that college football players could benefit if the NCAA made changes to their rules. Patrick Cobbs entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He believes that college football players could benefit from being able to return to college after entering the NFL Draft. Cobbs, a running back, led the nation in rushing in 2003. As a junior, Cobbs was projected to be a second or third-round draft pick. He stated that if he had the option to try his chances at the NFL Draft and return to college if undrafted he would have taken advantage of it.
Greg Camarillo also entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He also believes that college football players could benefit from being allowed to return to college football after the NFL Draft. Both Cobbs and Camarillo believe that an advisory committee should be created for potential draft entrants. Camarillo stated that the committee should create a program to give the players a realistic sense of their chances in the draft. Potential draft entrants should be required to consult the committee before entering the draft.
Both Cobbs and Camarillo do not think that agents should be a part of the committee due to potential bias. They suggest that the committee be made up of former NFL scouts, former coaches, and former NFL and college players. Camarillo suggests that the advisory committee’s evaluations take place immediately after the college football post-season.
The NCAA Should Be Proactive in Making These Changes in College Football
If the NCAA adopted these changes it could greatly change the landscape of college football for the betterment of the players. A player should not be forced to forego his remaining college eligibility just because he entered the draft. The idea of college football players being able to return to college if undrafted is gaining traction amongst prominent college coaches. Recently, the University of Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh, released a proposal in support of this issue. He suggested that undrafted players be allowed to return to college. The NCAA needs to take note and make changes before they are forced to like they were with basketball.
The NCAA is at a crossroads in regards to the future of big-time college sports. This is true whether the NCAA chooses to acknowledge it or not. It is especially true when it comes to college basketball. Over the last few years, several highly ranked high school basketball prospects have opted out of college and pursued other unconventional paths to the NBA. It is happening again with top-ranked high school basketball prospects Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, and Daishen Nix. Green, Todd, and Nix have opted-out of college basketball to participate in the NBA G League’s Professional Pathway Program. Once again, the NCAA has to watch as two highly sought after recruits choose different paths to the NBA. If the NCAA wants to continue to survive and thrive, the organization must make some major changes.
What is the NBA G Leagues Pathways Program and Why is it a Viable Option?
In 2018, the NBA G-League became an option for elite basketball players. Then the league announced that it would provide “select contracts” valued at $125,000. The players had to be at least 18 years old and ineligible for the NBA Draft. The G-League has since then revamped the program to make it more attractive to prospective players. Specifically, the G-League now offers higher valued contracts and a full scholarship to Arizona State University.
Accordingly, Green’s contract is said to be for $500,000 or more. Green could possibly net $1 million by the time endorsements are factored in. Todd and Nix will also earn a six-figure salary.
Green, Todd, and Nix will play on a new team with no affiliation to any existing G-League or NBA team. The team will only play 20 games as opposed to the G-League’s usual 50 games. The G-League’s program is so attractive to players like Todd, Green, and Nix because it gives them an opportunity to earn their worth. Players in the G-League program will also get on and off the court training and coaching from top NBA officials. The NCAA currently does not provide that type of opportunity. It is true that many players receive scholarships. The scholarship and the ensuing education are very valuable. However, it is not representative of a player’s full value.
Big-Time College Sports is a Billion Dollar Business
The NCAA makes a billion dollars from the March Madness tournament alone. Coaches and other administrative staff have high six-figure and million-dollar salaries. Meanwhile, the players may only receive a scholarship up to the cost of attendance. While scholarships are valuable, it does not mean that the players should not be able to receive other forms of compensation. The college sports system needs to create a more equitable system or players will keep choosing other options. College basketball has already missed out on quite a few exceptional talents in recent years.
College Basketball has Missed out on Exceptional Talent Over the Last Few Seasons
Recently, top college basketball prospects have skipped college and pursued other paths to the NBA. For instance, Darius Bazley was the 13th best high school basketball player in the class of 2018. He decided to forego playing for Syracuse University to prepare for the NBA Draft on his own. While self-preparing for the NBA Draft, he completed an internship with New Balance where he earned $1 million. Bazley has the potential to earn up to $14 million from the internship if he meets all of his performance incentives. Additionally, RJ Hampton, who was ranked number 5 in 2019, skipped college to play professionally for the National Basketball League’s New Zealand Breakers.
Similarly, LaMelo Ball made it clear he would not be attending college early in his high school basketball career. While in high school, Ball signed with an agent and entered into a contract to play in the Lithuanian Basketball League. At that point, any chance Ball had at playing college basketball ended. LaMelo Ball went on to play professionally for the National Basketball League’s Illawarra Hawks. Earlier this month, it was announced that Ball was in negotiations to purchase the Illawarra Hawks team. The opportunity to purchase the team he is playing is an extraordinary perk and outcome of charting a different path to the NBA.
Ball and Hampton are projected to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft this year. If Ball and Hampton, like Bazley, are drafted in the first round it is sure to get the attention of future potential college basketball players. More players may decide to follow in their footsteps.
Other Players Have Sought Other Unconventional Routes to the NBA Outside of the G-League and National Basketball League
Green and Todd are not the only players who decided not to attend college. Kyree Walker, another top high school basketball prospect, also announced that he would not be attending college. Walker has opted to train with Chameleon BX. Chameleon BX is a 12-month program ran by Frank Matrisciano. The program is designed to prepare elite high school athletes for the NBA Draft.
The NCAA Better Wakeup and Seize Their Opportunity to Finally Allow College Athletes to Earn Their True Value
The NCAA still has a chance to make college sports more equitable and become a better option for future basketball prospects. Due to increasing pressure from public opinion and several state legislatures, the NCAA has been forced to consider allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. Last year, California became the first to enact legislation requiring schools to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. The law is set to take effect in 2023. Other states quickly followed suit drafting related bills. In March, Colorado joined California and signed a similar bill into law designed to give college athletes the ability to profit from their name, image, and likeness. That bill too is set to become effective in 2023.
However, Florida is currently considering a similar bill that could become effective on July 1, 2021. In the midst of all of this, the NCAA created a working group to address the name, image, and likeness issue. In October the NCAA announced that they were going to allow college athletes to “benefit” from their name, image, and likeness. The NCAA issued guidelines and principles that they are going to consider regarding the issue. Their guidelines left more questions than it provided answers.
The NCAA is scheduled to announce its detailed plan to allow college athletes to “benefit” from their NIL this week. They have another opportunity to make meaningful changes to make college sports more equitable. The billion-dollar non-profit organization must update its rules to adequately compensate the players who make their revenue possible. If they do not, they will continue to lose their top talent to the G-League and the National Basketball Association.
The pressure is on for the NCAA once again! Another high-level NBA Draft prospect is showing that there could be a more prosperous road to the NBA than college basketball. On April 2, 2020, news broke that LaMelo Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson, plan to purchase the IIawarra Hawks. The Ilawarra Hawks is the Australian based National Basketball League (NBL) team that Ball played for last season. It became clear that Ball would not be playing college basketball a few years ago.
In 2017, LaMelo Ball signed with an agent and entered a contract to play in the Lithuanian Basketball League. Eventually, Ball returned to the United States to play high school basketball at the Spire Institute in Ohio. However, Ball’s return to US high school basketball did not reinstate his eligibility for college basketball. He lost eligibility when he signed with an agent prior to playing in Lithuanian. As a result, after finishing at the Spire Institute Ball was left three options. Those options were to declare for the NBA Draft, play in the NBA G-League, or returning to playing professional basketball overseas. Ball chose to play professionally overseas.
LaMelo Ball and Other Highly Sought After Recruits Have Taken Unconventional Routes to the NBA Draft
LaMelo Ball is not the only player who opted to play professionally overseas. R.J. Hampton also opted out of college basketball to play for the NBL’s New Zealand Breakers. Both Ball and Hampton come on the heels of Darius Bazley who ultimately decided not to attend college in 2018. Bazley was the 13th best high school player in the 2018 class. He was slated to play for Syracuse University before he backed out and opted for the NBA G-Leauge. He then decided not to play in the NBA G-League to do an internship with New Balance and prepare for the NBA Draft on his own. Bazley received a guaranteed $1 million for the internship and was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019.
Bazley along with his agent, Rich Paul, charted a new path to the NBA showing upcoming basketball players a new way. It is possible that LaMelo Ball is doing the same thing here. Ball has high draft potential for the 2020 NBA Draft without playing a second of college basketball. He also has the opportunity to have an ownership interest in the professional team he played for. Even if Ball ultimately does not become the owner of the team, he has already given future college basketball prospects something to think about.
Future College Basketball Prospects will Continue to Forge Their own Paths to the NBA Draft
Future college basketball prospects will wonder if they should go play professionally where they could have an opportunity to grow their brand, learn about business, and possibly own a team. They will weigh this against signing their rights to away college basketball for a system that acts like it is brain surgery to create a program where players can profit from their own name, image, and likeness. Either way, the NCAA has once again had to feel the pressure as players are forging other more profitable avenues to the NBA Draft.
On Tuesday, the NCAA’s working group released its decision on the college athlete name, image, and likeness (NIL) compensation issue. Or did they? All of the headlines immediately read that the NCAA allows college athlete NIL compensation. At first glance, the NCAA’s statement would lead one to believe that they did just that. The statement read that “the NCAA’s top governing board voted unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness.” However, when looking a bit closer it becomes very apparent that the NCAA never used the word compensation in the context of allowing NIL payments. The NCAA danced around the compensation issue without ever calling it compensation.
In fact, the NCAA was not clear at all about how they plan to address the college athlete NIL compensation issue. They essentially addressed the issue without truly addressing the issue. Their statement is riddled with unclear ambiguous language that essentially renders the NCAA’s true stance on the issue unclear. The NCAA’s lack of clarity should come as no surprise. After all the NCAA is only addressing NIL compensation after being forced to do so.
The NCAA was Strong-Armed into Addressing College Athlete NIL Compensation
2019 has been a volatile year for the NCAA. State and federal lawmakers have become increasingly vocal about the injustices that plague the college athletics system. Several lawmakers introduced legislation to remedy those injustices. In January, Washington State Senator, Drew Stokesbary, introduced legislation to allow college athletes in Washington state to profit from their NIL. Soon after, Congressman Mark Walker introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act. Under the Student-Athlete Equity Act, the NCAA would lose its tax-exempt status if it does not allow college athlete NIL compensation. While these bills were being introduced, lawmakers in California were debating the Fair Pay to Play Act. All of this led the NCAA to create a working group to address the NIL compensation issues.
However, the working group did not work fast enough for California. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Actinto law. Under the law, college athletes in California will be allowed to profit from their name, image, and likeness and sign with agents starting in 2023. In spite of the NCAA’s efforts to thwart the Fair Pay to Play Act, it still became law. As a result, the NCAA’s working group had no choice but to acknowledge the need to “modernize” their rules in favor of college athlete NIL compensation. The NCAA was forced to either move towards NIL compensation or to at the very least appear to be moving towards NIL compensation. It seems as though the NCAA has chosen to appear to be moving forward with college athlete NIL compensation.
The NCAA Has Chosen to Give the Appearance of Moving Towards College Athlete NIL Compensation Instead of Truly Moving Towards it
While the NCAA has everyone saying that they have decided to allow college athlete NIL compensation, that is not exactly true. In fact, the NCAA never used the word compensation in that context. The NCAA voted to allow college athletes to “benefit” from the use of their name, image, and likeness, not to be compensated. It is not clear what “benefit” actually means. What kind of “benefit” will the NCAA allow? How are NIL benefits different from NIL compensation? However, what the NCAA did make clear is that the “benefit” will be done “in a manner consistent with the current collegiate model.” In true NCAA fashion, the NCAA spared no expense in making it clear that they are dedicated to preserving as much of the current collegiate model as possible. In fact, the NCAA set out a list of guidelines that are dedicated to doing just that.
The NCAA’s Rule Modernization Guidelines
As a part of its effort to allow college athletes to “benefit” from their NIL, the NCAA has urged each division to consider modernization of its bylaws and policies. To help each division with doing that, the working group created a set of guidelines for each division to consider. However, those principles and guidelines seem to be more about ensuring that the divisions create bylaws that maintain the NCAA’s commitment to amateurism.
For example, the NCAA has urged its divisions to amend their rules so that athletes receive similar treatment as other students. However, the guidelines provide a caveat that will allow athletes to be treated differently when there is a compelling reason for doing so. However, in true NCAA fashion, there is no clarity on what is a permissible compelling reason for different treatment. Additionally, the guidelines require that the amended bylaws maintain a “clear distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.” This is clear amateurism perservation language.
The NCAA also urged that the bylaws be amended so that it is clear that “compensation for athletic performance or participation is impermissible.” In fact, that is the only context in which the NCAA made reference to compensation. They mentioned it to reiterate that compensation related to athletic performance is not permissible. Furthermore, the NCAA instructed that the bylaws be amended with the caveat that “student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.” Again, their true focus is on preserving amateurism.
The NCAA’s Statement is not the Earth Shattering Development it was Made out to be
While the NCAA’s statement is noteworthy, it is not the groundbreaking development it was made out to be. It is noteworthy because the NCAA finally acknowledged that college athletes should be allowed to “benefit” from their NIL. However, it is not groundbreaking because the NCAA is still committed to preserving the farce of amateurism. After all, the NCAA is only addressing this issue after realizing that they had no choice. The NCAA was very careful not to say that college athletes are allowed to receive compensation. They strategically used the word “benefit” and neglected to define what a “benefit” would be.
While some of the guidelines addressed the betterment of college athletes, there was a heavy focus on protecting amateurism. The guidelines also created more questions than answers. It is for these reasons that the NCAA’s statement feels like a half measure that was intended to slow down the momentum of related legislation. Furthermore, the statement does not address college athletes’ ability to sign with agents. The NCAA addressed this issue during the summer for elite men’s basketball players. The NCAA needs to address this in the broader context as the Fair Pay to Play Act and other proposed legislation seeks to allow college athletes to sign with agents. The most useful finding that comes out of this statement is the fact that the NCAA has acknowledged the need for change. However, what form the NCAA will allow that change to take is still very unclear.
The NCAA Basketball season came to an unexpected end on the morning of Thursday, March 12. Pac-12 officials decided to cancel the conference tournament. The conference was gearing up for an NCAA Tournament that could have seen seven of its teams in it. However, safety is paramount for everyone in society in response to COVID-19.
The Pac-12 made the right call in calling off the conference tournament. There was a domino effect from Wednesday night on in the sports world, as Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The Pac-12 concluded their Wednesday night games, but canceled the tournament early Thursday morning.
This moment in history has stripped athletes of the glory that they could have felt in the NCAA Tournament. Stories could have been written and legacies could have been made. Payton Pritchard could have led Oregon on a deep tournament run in his senior year. One of the Pac-12’s bubble teams could have made the Sweet 16 and validated the conference possibly getting more than half its teams in the tournament. We will never know.
Memories Were Still Made In First Round of Pac-12 Tournament
However, there were great moments from the 2019-20 Pac-12 basketball season. There were even some in the one day of Pac-12 Tournament play. Oregon State and Utah fought hard in the 8-versus-9 game. Utah junior Alfonso Plummer broke the record for most 3-pointers in a Pac-12 Tournament game with 11 made. He broke Klay Thompson’s record. However, Oregon State freshman Jarod Lucas stole the spotlight from Plummer. He hit a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining in the game as the Beavers stole a 71-69 victory.
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validated their improvement throughout the season as they easily dispatched
tournament hopeful Stanford 63-51. First-year Mark Fox and his team were
thought of as an afterthought in the conference, but they were able to win
three out of their last five games.
State got their first Pac-12 Tournament win since 2009 as they beat Colorado
82-68. The Cougars finished 16-16, clinching their first non-losing season
since 2012. Washington State also had a first-year coach in Kyle Smith, and
they also showed steady improvement throughout the season.
Teams like Oregon State, California, and Washington State were able to make memories this season. Just because March Madness is not happening does not mean this season was a lost season. Oregon was the best team in the Pac-12, but there was parity across the entire league every weekend. Even though there will not be March Madness, there was plenty of madness in the Pac-12.
Payton Pritchard Had Senior Moments for Oregon Ducks
Oregon was able to win games on the biggest stages in both non-conference and conference games. Payton Pritchard racked up many awards, as he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year. He was able to have some senior moments in his last year of college basketball. In a hostile environment in Ann Arbor, Pritchard was the main catalyst in Oregon pulling off a 71-70 overtime victory against Michigan. He scored 19 out of his 23 points after halftime.
Pritchard’s game winning three against Washington was one of the top moments in Pac-12 conference play this season. After hitting the shot, Pritchard yelled “This is my city”. He was able to leave his mark in the Oregon-Washington rivalry.
Colorado, UCLA Among Teams In Pac-12 With Noteworthy Seasons
Colorado had arguably their best season under Tad Boyle minus the last five games the Buffaloes played. There was enthusiasm and excitement in Boulder for this team. They delivered some great moments, as they beat Oregon in Boulder when the Ducks were ranked fourth in the country. The Buffaloes were also the last team to beat Dayton, with D’Shawn Schwartz hitting the game-winning three in overtime. Colorado was becoming a basketball school, and the team could continue riding this momentum into next season.
UCLA had the most remarkable turnaround in the conference this season. The Bruins were a team that lost to Cal State Fullerton in December. In March, they had wins against Arizona (twice), Arizona State, and Colorado on their resume. UCLA was playing arguably the best basketball out of anyone in the Pac-12, and showed great growth throughout the entire season.
Pac-12 Has Bright Future, Even With Imperfect End to Season
The 2019-20 NCAA basketball season will always have an asterisk next to it. However, the teams in the Pac-12 and all across the United States were able to create lifelong memories. The Pac-12 brought us entertaining basketball, and the conference’s future is bright in the sport. First-year coaches were able to put their mark on a program, and other coaches were able to show what their program can be. Hopefully, fans of all teams in the Pac-12 can appreciate the entertainment that the 2019-20 season brought, even though the ending will always be imperfect.
The 2020 Pac-12 Tournament bracket has taken shape after another crazy week of Pac-12 Basketball. Oregon showed why they are the favorites to win this week’s tournament in Las Vegas, while last-place Washington shocked both Arizona and Arizona State. Officiating took some of the spotlight as teams jockeyed for position in the conference tournament.
Oregon Cements Front-Runner Status Ahead of Pac-12 Tournament
Oregon defended their home
court against California and Stanford, and they are looking like the
frontrunners in Las Vegas this week. Payton Pritchard has had a great senior
season, and is the favorite to win Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of
the Year. Pritchard should also be included in conversations for the Naismith Men’s
College Player of the Year award. He has averaged 20.5 points per game this
season and shot 46.8 percent from the field. Pritchard has been one of the most
efficient players and will have a chance to lead his team to a second straight
Pac-12 Tournament Championship this week.
USC Beats UCLA, Teams Could
Meet Again In Pac-12 Tournament Semis
USC and UCLA played in a classic defensive duel on Saturday. With one second remaining Jonah Mathews made a 3-point shot in his last game at the Galen Center. USC got a much-needed win that helps their cause on Selection Sunday. UCLA is squarely on the bubble, but this loss does not diminish the turnaround they have had this season. The Bruins will be the two seed in Las Vegas, and USC will be the three seed. These teams could meet again in the Pac-12 semis. Both USC and UCLA can cement their tournament bids by winning games in the Pac-12 Tournament. However, both the Bruins and Trojans will face nerve wracking Selection Sundays if they are unable to get at least one win in Las Vegas.
Washington Shocks Both Arizona State and Arizona On Road
Washington poses a threat in the Pac-12 Tournament next week. They played excellent against both Arizona State and Arizona. They won both these games by playing the types of games their opponents are used to playing. The Huskies may also be getting back point guard Quade Green, who was declared academically ineligible in January. It is unclear if Green will play in the Pac-12 Tournament. If he does, he will add another dimension to a suddenly dangerous Husky team. Washington is considered a dark horse to win the Pac-12 Tournament but will have to do so as the last place team in the conference. Also, they have to play Arizona again on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Arizona State Backs Their Way into Pac-12 Tournament First Round Bye
Arizona State took a huge
step back against Washington, but they were able to beat Washington State on Saturday.
A point of concern in ASU’s victory against the Cougars is that they
relinquished a 17-point lead in the second half. They were able to make enough
plays to get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, but the Sun Devils are
also not a lock to make the Tournament field.
Arizona Tournament Bound,
But Struggles Showing
Arizona has done enough to make the tournament, but they have struggled during the back end of the season. The Wildcats are 1-4 in their last five games, with their only win coming last Thursday against Washington State at home. Their offensive woes have shown, as they only had five made field goals in the first half of their 69-63 loss against Washington. Arizona is like a lot of teams in the conference, as they do not have one player that can elevate them to victory on a consistent basis. Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji, who are both freshmen, have shown why they were top recruits at Arizona. However, they have not been able to lift the Wildcats to victory lately.
Colorado Is Simply Searching For Answers
The Buffaloes lost a controversial overtime game at Utah 74-72. Up 72-71, McKinley Wright was called for a foul on Utah guard Both Gach’s three-point shot. It was unclear if Wright even made contact with Gach on the play. However, Wright missed a pivotal free throw on the previous sequence. If Wright makes the first free throw, the Buffaloes get a chance to possibly go up by three points.
The Buffaloes were having a dream season, but a four-game losing streak has left them searching for answers. In reality, they ended the 2020 Pac-12 conference season with the same record (10-8) they had last year. This team is tournament-bound due to their performance in non-conference play, namely their win against a possible 1-seed in Dayton. However, they need to recapture the swagger they played with in January and the early part of February to have any shot at making noise in the postseason.
However, it is frustrating that the result of this game was basically determined on an official’s call at the end of overtime. Teams such as Colorado had everything to play for this past weekend, and the officials took center stage. Critical junctures in seasons call for players to perform at their best, and the Pac-12 needs to make sure their officials are performing at their best this week in the Pac-12 Tournament. Let the conference champion be determined by good basketball, not bad officiating.
Non-Conference Wins Difference for Presumptive Tournament Locks In Pac-12
Teams such as Stanford and
UCLA are in precarious positions because they do not have a non-conference win that
stands out. UCLA’s best win arguably was their road win against Colorado in
Boulder, and Stanford’s best win is against Oregon at home. However, multiple
teams, including Washington State and Oregon State, beat Oregon at home this
season. There has been so much parity in Pac-12 conference play, that the teams
that are considered safe bets to make the tournament are in that position
because of how they performed in non-conference play. Oregon has huge wins
against Seton Hall and Michigan. Colorado has a huge win against Dayton.
Arizona has a quality non-conference win against Illinois.
The Pac-12 will get at
least five teams into the tournament, but there are four teams (Arizona State,
USC, UCLA, and Stanford) that face an uncertain Selection Sunday at this point.
All four of these teams have arguments to get in the field, but some of their
bubbles may burst on Selection Sunday. However, every team in the conference
has a chance to make the tournament by winning the Pac-12 Tournament this week.
With all the parity that has presided over the conference this season, it
should be a fun tournament this week.
week in 2020 Pac-12 Basketball belonged to the home team. Across the league,
the home team went 9-1 in the 10 games played between Wednesday (2/25) and
Sunday (3/1). Teams such as UCLA, USC, and Stanford were given huge boosts to
their tournament hopes. However, teams that established themselves as
tournament contenders, such as Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State, had
weekends to forget.
UCLA’s 7-Game Winning Streak Propels Them to First Place in 2020 Pac-12 Basketball
weekend got off to a great start against Arizona State on Thursday. Freshman
guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. hit a game-winning three with 0.6 seconds left to lift
the Bruins to a 75-72 victory. Then on Saturday, they pulled away late against
Arizona and won 69-64. The same UCLA team that has the worst loss in
non-conference play, to Cal State Fullerton, is now in first place in the
Pac-12. Mick Cronin has arguably become a shoe-in for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
The Bruin’s turnaround is great for the conference, as they are one of the most
nationally-recognized names in the Pac-12.
It is interesting to think about how the conference is viewed as a whole, because they are the first place team that lost to Cal State Fullerton. Still, the Pac-12 has some good non-conference wins as a conference. Washington, who has the worst record in the conference, has arguably the best non-conference win against Baylor.
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Tournament Chances: Trending Up – UCLA has made their case for March, but they have a massive game on Saturday against USC at the Galen Center. Winning this game will give UCLA a share of the 2020 Pac-12 Basketball Regular Season title. If they are able to show up in the conference tournament, they may need to get to the conference championship to cement their spot in the tournament.
Oregon Beats In-State Rival, Frontrunners for 2020 Pac-12 Basketball Regular Season Title
will get overshadowed by the weeks UCLA and USC had, but the Ducks took care of
business against Oregon State 69-54. The Ducks broke their three-game losing
streak against the Beavers, as they will attempt to get at least a share of the
conference title. Oregon has home games against California and Stanford this week.
They are undefeated at home, boasting a 15-0 record at Matthew Knight Arena
Tournament Chances: In the field – Oregon has quality wins in non-conference play. They are near the top of the standings in the Pac-12. The main question for the Ducks is where they will be positioned in the bracket.
Arizona State Takes a Step Back In LA Road Trip
The Sun Devils went toe-to-toe with UCLA Thursday night but were beat at the buzzer. They trailed for most of the game Saturday against USC. Arizona State is an exciting team to watch, and Bobby Hurley has done a great job to get this team on the right side of the bubble. However, losing two straight is a bit of a letdown after their seven-game winning streak.
Tournament Chances: Decent – The Sun Devils will need to take care of business this week against Washington and Washington State, but they should be in the tournament. They are 6-1 at home in-conference, including a resume-boosting win against Oregon. Expect to see the Sun Devils in an 8-vs-9 or 7-vs-10 game.
Colorado Buffaloes Have Worst Week of 2020 Pac-12 Basketball Season in Bay Area
The Buffaloes had a stinker Thursday night in Berkeley, as they lost 76-62 to a California team that they simply should have beat. Colorado had more life Sunday against Stanford, but they were still looking for answers after a 72-64 defeat. This season for the Buffaloes is at a crossroads, as they are no longer in contention for the Pac-12 regular season title. They have accomplished so much this season, and this iteration of the Colorado Buffaloes is probably the best team Tad Boyle has had in his tenure as head coach. However, reputations are made in March, and the Buffaloes will have to start their turnaround from their current three-game losing streak Saturday at Utah.
Tournament Chances: In the field – The Buffaloes have a huge non-conference win against Dayton, who has not lost since Colorado defeated them. They beat Oregon when they were ranked fourth in the country. However, the loss to Cal was probably their worst loss of the season. The Buffaloes need to win at Utah and show up in the conference tournament to ensure that they will still get a top-6 seed on Selection Sunday.
USC Trojans on Right Side of Bubble
USC also beat both Arizona and Arizona State this weekend. They led for the majority of both games. The Trojans got contributions from Jonah Mathews and Daniel Utomi in both games. Their defense also showed up in both games, as they held Arizona and Arizona State to 48 and 61 points, respectively. Both of their games were complete games. If their defense can travel, they will be a tough out in both the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament.
Tournament Chances: Decent – The Trojans have a better NET rating and a head-to-head victory over UCLA, giving them the upper hand over their Los Angeles rivals. However, Saturday’s game at the Galen Center is huge, as it could help USC get a higher seed in the conference tournament. USC has had a more consistent season than UCLA, but the winner of Saturday’s game will regard their season as the better one.
Arizona Struggles, Sean Miller Get Ejected Saturday
had a tough go on Thursday against USC, as they had one more field goal (16) than
turnovers (15) in the 57-48 loss. On Saturday against UCLA, they played better
and were leading for most of the first half. However, Sean Miller got ejected
with 12:28 remaining in the second half as the Wildcats were leading, 47-44. Arizona
was able to hold their own, but UCLA ended the game on an 11-2 run to win
Tournament Chances: In – Arizona still has the best NET rating in the Pac-12 conference at number 11. They were able to dominate their non-conference schedule (minus the loss to St. John’s) despite their inconsistencies in-conference. However, every team has had their struggles in-conference, especially on the road. The Wildcats will have a chance to right the ship this week, with home games against Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Saturday.
Stanford Gets Resume-Boosting Win Against Colorado
was able to beat Utah 70-62 on Wednesday, but they were able to beat a ranked
Colorado team 72-64 on Sunday. The Cardinal led the Buffaloes for the majority
of the game, and had four starters score in double figures. Stanford was
thought of as one of the teams on the outside looking in, but they may be on
their way to playing in the First Four in Dayton.
Tournament Chances: 50/50 – Stanford is squarely on the bubble, but they have a huge opportunity at Oregon on Saturday. No team has gone into Eugene and won this season, and beating Oregon along with a win against Oregon State may be enough to get Stanford into the tournament. They may have another opportunity for a resume-boosting win in the Pac-12 tournament. However, Saturday feels like a must-have for the Cardinal, or else they may be NIT-bound.
Can Pac-12 Basketball Get Seven Teams Into the Tournament in 2020?
Pac-12 getting six teams into the tournament looked like a pipeline dream a
month ago. Now, they could get seven teams into the tournament. Teams that were
afterthoughts not too long ago, like Arizona State and UCLA, have turned a
corner and have become different teams in the second half of the conference
season. It will be interesting how the selection committee ultimately views the
parity in the conference, but this season it looks like it has helped the
conference. A season after having only three teams in the tournament, the Pac-12
could have more than half their teams dancing in the NCAA Tournament.