College basketball leaders mull what game’s future will look like

With more than 1,700 players in the NCAA transfer portal, plus countless name, image and likeness deals enacted and conferences (including the Southeastern Conference) adding or losing programs, college basketball is giving new meaning to the term “transition game.”

What will college basketball look like in the future?

Here is a collection of observations gathered this spring.

Always recruiting

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas voiced mixed feelings about the misgivings coaches might have about the future of college sports.

“The coaches are complaining because their jobs have gotten harder,” he said. “Part of me is, like, I get it. But the other part of me is, ‘I’m sorry. You make a lot of money.'”

The recruiting calendar might be more suffocating.

Coaches seemingly will be recruiting high school players, then seeking to sell their college players on while also seeking to attract college transfers.

“So, now coaches are having to deal with players who want to leave for whatever reason,” Bilas said. “And you hear, well, the players don’t want to deal with adversity anymore. Really?”

Of the fluidity of rosters, Bilas said, “it’s not going anywhere till players are signed to contracts. And that’s coming.”

‘It’s pay to play’

Sports Illustrated posted a story in which Mike Arescothe commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, pondered the future.

“I’m not a prophet, but I think the professionalism of college sports is here to stay up to a point,” he said. “And I don’t know what that point is. I don’t know why we’re calling it NIL anymore. It’s pay to play. It’s pay to recruit. It’s pay to retain.

“We always recognized that if you didn’t have a strict amateurism model, it could be abused easily. We didn’t make enough gradual and incremental changes. And now we’re in the drink.”

Craig Thompsonthe commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, echoed that sentiment.

“We have completely gutted the model that governed us for decades,” Thompson said. “Boosters couldn’t give a ride to a guy in the rain. Now, we aren’t giving him a ride — we are giving him the car.”

Jay Bilas said that it was “a pipe dream” to not consider NIL a step toward a pay-for-play system.

“The reality has set in,” Bilas said. “This is a multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry, and the players are no longer going to be shut out of it.”

‘Massive shockwaves’

Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston joining the Big 12 Conference in 2023 “sends massive shockwaves through the college basketball landscape,” the website The Field of 68 posted.

The Big 12 already ranked first in Ken Pomeroy‘s ranking of conferences in seven of the last 10 years.

From 2016 through 2022, the Big 12 had as many teams winning national championships (Baylor in 2021, Kansas in 2022) as the SEC had advancing to the Final Four (South Carolina in 2017, Auburn in 2019). In that same time period, the Big 12 had five teams advance to a Final Four: also Oklahoma in 2016, Kansas in 2018 and Texas Tech in 2019.

In touting the Big 12, The Field of 68 called BYU Coach (and former Kentucky player) Mark Pope a “rising star” and an “offensive mastermind.”

good idea

Jay Bilas called for reducing the number of Division I programs from 354 to 120.

“There’s no way 354 teams are competitive with one another,” he said. “They’re not competitive in resources. You name it. They’re not competitive in any way.

“And just because Saint Peter’s beat Kentucky doesn’t mean they’re competitive with Kentucky, because they’re two different things.”

Fewer Division I programs would concentrate the talent and make for more competitive basketball, Bilas said before adding, “Now, a number of places aren’t going to like it because it’s going to cut them out of their dream of being the next Gonzaga. But, to me, it’s a no-brainer for the enterprise.”

‘Bad idea’

In late April, columnist John Feinstein of The Washington Post wrote in opposition to reducing the number of Division I programs.

“The most important thing for anyone running men’s college basketball in the next 10 years will be to make the Power Five schools understand that breaking away from the rest of Division I is a bad idea. …,” he wrote. “The power schools do not create March Madness or any sort of magic in the sport’s most relevant month. Saint Peter’s does. Oral Roberts does. Butler, VCU and George Mason did.

“Take away Saint Peter’s and its stunning run this season, and you have, for the most part, a yawn-filled NCAA Tournament that was interesting only to fans of the Final Four teams.”

UK odds lengthen

The odds of Kentucky winning the 2023 NCAA Tournament lengthened a little bit, according to the gambling site

In updated odds posted Monday, Kentucky was a 12-1 third choice along with North Carolina to win the championship. In the April 25 update, Kentucky was an 8-1 favorite. UK’s odds were 11-1 on April 5.

The new favorite is Gonzaga at 8-1. Houston is the second choice at 10-1.

From Adam Burns, SportsBook manager: “We initially saw quite a bit of money on Kentucky. However, with the transfers, it is much trickier to set initial odds than in the past. Also, in Gonzaga’s case, Drew Timme returning really changed things. We had them as high as 22-1, down to 18-1, to 16-1, and now they are the favorites.”

Among SEC teams, Arkansas has the second-best odds at 16-1. Longer shots include Alabama (40-1), Tennessee (40-1), Florida (50-1) and Auburn (55-1).

Louisville’s odds have shortened from 125-1 on April 5 to 80-1.

Fashion statement

From The Field of 68 website:

Question: If there was one thing you could change about the current structure of college hoops, what would it be?

Answer from past and present Murray State coach Steve Prohm: “This is a tough question. I think college basketball is the best sport in the world. It’s provided my family with many blessings over the years. I would say that I hope we keep the casual attire for years to come!”

Passed ball

The term “passed ball” will take on new meaning at a Major League Baseball stadium at the start of the next college basketball season. On Nov. 11, a doubleheader featuring men’s and women’s teams will be played at American Family Field, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Wisconsin will play Stanford in the men’s game. Wisconsin will play Kansas State in the women’s game.

American Family Field has a retractable roof. The floor will be placed in the infield with center court at the mound.

It will not be the first college basketball games played at a Major League Baseball site. In December 2015, San Diego played San Diego State at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.

Pratt remembered

Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport texted his reaction to the death of Mike Pratta standout in the role of Kentucky player and later as color commentator on radio broadcasts of UK games for 21 seasons.

“Terible loss!” Davenport texted. “Class PERSONIFIED!!!”

Davenport said that as a seventh-grader he attended a basketball camp run by Pratt and former UK teammate Dan Issel,

“I am FOREVER thankful and appreciative!!!” Davenport wrote.

Notable transfer

In case you missed it, Michael Savarino transferred from Duke to New York University. His grandfather is retired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski,

Belated happy birthday

To Gimel Martinez, He turned 51 on Tuesday.

happy birthday

To Tim Stephens, He turned 64 on Thursday. … To Immanuel Quickley, He turned 23 on Friday. … To Joe Crawford, He turned 36 on Friday. … To Del Harris, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. He turned 85 on Saturday. … To Derek Willis, He turns 27 on Tuesday. … To Ravi Moss, He turns 38 on Tuesday. … To former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton, He turns 59 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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