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COLUMN: NCAA has problems but tourney does not need fixing

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'One-and-dones' a major flaw in current system

By John Herndon

Not that the NCAA has been asking, but I think I have some answers for the Big Brother of college sports.

Namely, I have some answers for the NCAA, but I doubt they will listen.

First, eliminate any talk of NCAA tournament expansion. You know that they are talking 96 teams now.

Say that real slowly.

N-i-n-e-t-y  s-i-x.

And I thought the people who are leading universities were smart. Ninety-six teams in the NCAA tournament?

I have had iced tea, melted cubes and all, not quite that diluted. We'll get more arguments about the teams that should or should not have gotten bids, more hype, more Big East or ACC teams that don't deserve bids getting one.

More, more, more.

And, of course, mucho more dollars.

If anything, the NCAA tournament is too big already. Eight teams from the Big East? Some have guessed it would possibly be 13 if it had been a 96-team field this year. Too much. Too many.

From this purist's corner, the NCAA tournament was best when a team had to win its conference just to get in. Some say that is not fair, but why?

In fact, I can think of few games with more drama than the 1974 ACC championship game between N.C. State and Maryland. Two of the top five teams in America, one is in the NCAA and one goes to the NIT. What could be better?

A model like that today would come to about 32 teams, but I also know that halving the tournament will happen about the same time they paint the Rupp Arena floor red and black. So, as I learned a long time ago, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

And the tourney is a long way from being broke and it doesn't need fixing.

Secondly, be honest about what the kids are there for.

I don't know if you watched any of the press conferences during the tournament, but at the end, the moderators would always ask, “Are there any other questions for the student-athletes?”

Let's get real. Calling major college athletes “student-athletes” should be on Comedy Central. Oh, there are many, like Patrick Patterson, that have made getting a degree a priority. In fact, the NCAA has a commercial that correctly states most of the athletes will be pros away from sports.

But in the high-profile world of big-time basketball, the kids are athletes first, no matter how the NCAA tries to spin it.

Now, these “student-athletes” are going to be asked to be on the road and miss even more class because of a 96-team “tournament model.”

Excuse me for being dense, but please explain the logic.

For that matter, can you explain why Vanderbilt and Murray State, located about 120 miles from each other, had to go to San Jose, Cal., about 2,200 miles away to play each other in this year's tourney? Can you explain Washington playing in Syracuse, N.Y. while Butler and Xavier were playing in Salt Lake City?

For that matter, can you explain why tournament games start as late as 10 p.m. -- Ok, 9:57, but you get the idea – in the Eastern time zone? Can you explain why regular season games in the same Eastern time zone begin at 9 or 9:30 p.m?

I bet George Washington can give the answer.

One-and-dones

Everyone in Kentucky has known about the "one-and-dones" since before John Calipari came into town. Reality has been preaching all year that the incredible amount of talent that Calipari assembled would not stay together.

Calipari's recruitment of such players has long been questioned but it is unfair to label him as the only coach to sign such players. See Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant for details.

The truth is that this is not just a Cal problem or a Kentucky problem. The system is to blame.

It has created a vicious cycle. There is an amazing correlation between highly-skilled players and highly-successful coaches, so what coach in his right mind would not jump at the opportunity to coach John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins? Face it, coaches at the highest level are paid to win games and better players usually mean a better winning percentage.

But somehow something just does not seem right about a young man or woman going to a college to play a sport for a year only to turn pro.

The flip side, though, is how can you force a kid to stay in school? If a student in the School of Engineering is offered seven-figures before he graduates, would everyone expect him to stay?

I fail to see any difference.

The baseball model is the best one of the team sports -- sign with the pros out of high school or wait three years. But having a farm system makes that dynamic different from college basketball.

Somehow, the NCAA must convince the NBA that if it is going to continue using college basketball as a de facto farm system, that it would be mutually beneficial to develop a better system.

If not, the treasure of college basketball is in major danger of implosion from its own success.

I have more answers, but will need to find a model with more revenue stream than 900 words allows.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.