In a world without live sports, the NFL draft emerged as the shining star on an otherwise bleak landscape. The draft offered a distraction from reality, serving as a symbol of hope that sports, even if only one not named virtual IndyCar, would begin on time.
But the NFL draft has come and gone. As we sit in its ashes and go to bed thinking about how Tampa Bay is somehow a fan base to be jealous of, we seem to have overlooked one of the bigger developments to happen in a major sport in quite some time.
Re-enter college basketball.
The fall of the biggest domino
The development didn’t begin with Jalen Green, but he threw industrial-strength rocket fuel on the existing spark. ESPN’s No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2020 high school class and the widely projected No. 2 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Green decided to sidestep the juggernaut that is college basketball and enter… the NBA G-League.
And in a matter of only a few days, fellow ESPN top 100 prospects Isaiah Todd, Makur Maker, and Kai Soto followed suit and are showing strong consideration for the NBA’s developmental program. The four prospects might be chasing the fame and ego boost that comes with playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in South Dakota, but it also might have something to do with what sources claim will be a $375,000 salary increase for elite prospects and access to a one-year developmental program devoted entirely to enhancing their career in the NBA.
Whatever your gut tells you about why they made such a ludicrous decision, college basketball is about to lose top talent in a hurry, reshaping the identity of the NCAA and the sport forever.
Why College Basketball fans should hate this
The “one-and-done era” in college basketball began in 2006 when, under the fresh reign of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the league raised the age requirement of the draft to 19 and forced top prospects to spend at least that year playing elsewhere, with the majority of top talent choosing a college.
The era has graced college basketball with the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, some guy named Zion, and a laundry list of other stars so long that it would rival a CVS receipt. If you are a college basketball fan that tunes in to see big dunks, players in interviews subtly hinting that their coaches are paying them six figures, and what Zion’s six-cone drill time was, this new development is crushing news and gives you little incentive to tune in to Bradley vs. Murray State.
Reports are that the NBA Players Association is not willing to cave on the age requirement for the draft, but if the NBA G-League, and Australian NBL, suddenly becomes more attractive than faking going to college classes for a semester, college basketball is set to lose some steam.
Like it or not, college basketball is a business, and top prospects are no longer introduced to the world in college basketball, but in high school. For reference, that guy named Zion had almost 200K followers on Instagram a little more than halfway through his junior year. With viewers building attachments to players before the players go to Prom, those same viewers could bypass college basketball like the players and just watch the NBA.
While ratings for March Madness and the Final Four took a dip shortly after entering into the new era in 2006, worries are now that college basketball could lose the player-centric audience almost entirely. Lower ratings lead to panic, and when CBS and Turner Broadcasting’s absurd deal with the tournament ends in 2032, the NCAA and various basketball programs around the country could be in trouble.
Why College Basketball fans should love this
If you made it to this point without punching drywall, put down the Red Bull and take a deep breath. College basketball just became even stronger.
Using the same statistics I referenced above, ratings for March Madness and the Final Four did decline entering the 2006 season and have remained consistently lower since then. According to Sports Business Daily, the NCAA Championship game averaged around 28 million viewers from 1975 to 2005 but has averaged only around 18 million viewers since.
Various factors may have played a part in the drop in ratings, but the message still prevails: college basketball is not going anywhere. The stars may be leaving the sport, but the money is not, and sports betting will make sure of that.
According to a 2019 American Gaming Association survey, 47 million Americans would bet a total of $8.5 billion on March Madness. Also, fourteen states currently allow some form of sports betting, with six more on the way, according to Legal Sports Report. Regardless of what is going on with the players, the competition will remain just as intense and the willingness of that neighborhood mom you know down the street to bet on the team with her favorite mascot will endure.
What is really happening with the end of the “one-and-done” era is a virtual time machine, bringing us back to the days of the team before the player and school before brand. Players will actually stay for their senior days, rivalries will become all that much more familiar and the intensity, if anything, will skyrocket.
So, if you lose your mind every time a fundamental chest pass is made or a player blocks out with precision, have no fear, money is here, and college basketball is doing just fine.
What actually comes next
At the end of the day, the NCAA and college basketball are too big to fail but will change in a big way in only a few short years. With top prospects avoiding the prestigious title of student-athlete, big schools like Duke and Kentucky that feasted in the “one-and-done” era will readjust to recruiting top players willing to be molded.
Don’t be surprised to see teams that relied heavily on individual recruiting classes becoming dynasties and only see seniors winning Player of the Year honors. The process of coaching and development is returning to college basketball, and it will be the patient fan that sticks around.
You might love what this development will bring, or you might not, but one thing is for certain, the purification has already begun.
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