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College sports are transforming across the board, but March Madness should survive in tact

College sports are transforming across the board, but March Madness should survive in tact

As we near the end of a varsity sporting summer that has looked like a combination of hurricane, tornado and tsunami, officials nationwide are so upset about the future that they have decided to call a meeting to consider how to deal with whatever happened. : the resounding loss of the NCAA in the Supreme Court, the introduction of name, image and likeness rights for college athletes, the potential expansion of college football playoffs and massively hard-hitting conference maneuvers.

There is no certainty about what solutions those who populate the NCAA’s “constitutional convention” in November will seek, but there have been suggestions from many college athletes. Mike Brey, head coach of men’s basketball at Notre Dame, resides in this community and has an idea for the 22 men and women who will come together.

“When they get together to rewrite the NCAA rulebook and everything, okay, let’s start with this: don’t mess with the tournament,” Brey told Sporting News. “We can’t go wrong with this, but everything else is open.

“We’re going to have all of these new rules and guidelines, but they can’t mess up March Madness. It pays all the bills. It’s the only saving grace… I don’t see anyone playing with this format. It’s just too golden for both parties. The format, and the incoming Delawares, and the States of Cleveland and the VCUs and George Masons – I don’t see them playing with that in the near future.

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This is the primary concern of Division I men’s college basketball whenever there are large-scale machinations centered on the more lucrative sport of football. The decision in July by the Southeastern Conference to invite Texas and Oklahoma for membership rekindled concerns – which first surfaced a decade ago after the realignment affected every conference major – about the doomsday scenario that all true college basketball fans fear: that the most powerful sports programs can split up to play their own championships not only in football, but in all sports.

In practice, this may be nothing more than fodder for radio talk show conversations or empty Twitter debates. But it’s something those who work at the highest levels of varsity athletics have considered, if only to guard against it.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has a contract with CBS and Turner Sports until 2034 that has paid the NCAA approximately $ 770 million, the vast majority of which is then distributed to member schools through tied payments. to performances at their conferences, through a student – an athlete assistance fund, an academic improvement fund and another based on the number of sports sponsored by each school. TV revenue from the NCAA tournament will grow to over $ 1 billion from 2025.

That’s a truckload of cash for three weeks of college basketball. The value and audience of March Madness far exceeds what one would expect given the value and audience of regular season college basketball. A lot more people watch college basketball during the winter than you might think, but the audience is fragmented because there are so many more TV shows available than in any other major sport. Division I basketball has more than 10 times as many teams as the NBA and about five times as many games.

March Madness, however, attracts many who don’t follow the sport religiously, which is largely attributed to the unique nature of the competition, which pits established major powers against less well-funded agendas that often prevail regardless.

Of the 20 largest sports television audiences for the first half of 2021, the only two that did not involve football were the Baylor-Gonzaga NCAA Championship game (16.92 million viewers) and the Gonzaga-UCLA Final Four game ( 14.94 million). No NBA Finals game has had an audience of 13 million people. Nine other NCAA tournament games were among the top 50. Games involving teams such as the Missouri Valley Conference’s Loyola Ramblers and Summit League champion Oral Roberts narrowly missed that list.

“Obviously our business is changing dramatically in terms of NIL and now the realignment of the conference is potentially and potentially the restructuring of the NCAA governance system and what the NCAA does and does not do in relation to what’s going on. at the conference or campus level, ”senior NCAA basketball vice president Dan Gavitt told Sporting News. “But despite all of this development, I have a high degree of confidence that tournament and college basketball will continue to be what we have all known and loved for a long time.

“There is still access for all 32 conferences at the tournament, and while that may change due to constitutional convention, I don’t think it will. It’s too fundamental for Division I, and I don’t feel any lack of support for that inclusion. Personally, I think it’s a good thing for the tournament, probably the reason the tournament is so popular.

The March Madness is one of the key reasons the NCAA remains intact – despite the damage caused by the Supreme Court ruling in the Alston case, the association’s inability to regulate name, image and the resemblance and concerns about the slowness of offenses. which arose out of the Department of Justice’s review of the game of basketball talent – will be a priority at the NCAA constitutional convention.

While there is never a dearth of theories that the big football schools could possibly form their own association and run their own basketball tournament and keep all the money, there is every reason to believe even that a 1 / 57th or 1 / 76th share of its proceeds – depending on how they might view the Big East and what is left of the Big 12s – would represent a pay cut for everyone involved.

“You can’t have the excitement, the excitement, the thrill of varsity track and field without the NCAA basketball tournament,” Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh told SN. Pastner. “A lot of things are with football in the foreground, and that’s totally understandable. But I believe that no matter what happens – even with a realignment – in the end you will still have the tournament. basketball.

“Now the question that comes with that is if you start doing these great conferences, how many teams are going to come out of these conferences?” How many games would you play? I think these are some of the questions. I don’t see the tournament being affected at all.

With various rule changes affecting recruiting future talent and keeping their current rosters, many coaches are too busy to think about the impact of the Texas / Oklahoma split from the Big 12 Conference – even though their school could end up. be involved. in the potential discussion of expanding Big 12 survival.

Coaches are concerned about how NIL and governance issues will affect their day-to-day operations. It would be a challenge to find someone who knows how recruiting will be impacted. Is there an advantage to being in a major college town where its athletic program is the most important entity? Or is it better to be in a big city with professional sports competing but more companies to get involved? It is far too early to determine if there is a benefit to either circumstance, given that NIL rights were released to varsity athletes on July 1.

Coaches have already seen their day-to-day lives significantly affected by the introduction of the one-time transfer exemption, approved in April, which allows immediate eligibility for a first-step transfer in sports where previously athletes had to serve a “year”. in residence. Plus, those entering the NBA Draft can hire an agent to help them navigate the pre-draft process.

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“The ripple effect of this is anti-program construction. It’s getting harder and harder to maintain your programs, ”Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told SN. “Because almost every year you are forced to re-evaluate how you want your program to be. Look at the programs that have been mainstream for so long, all of a sudden change course and become one program. They had to think about it. Now you don’t have to do anything, but they made the decision to do it.

“The realignment of the conference is the least of our concerns. It’s just another thing looming on the horizon, like thunder rumbling in the distance. You know it happens, but you don’t know how it’s going to affect you.

The arrival of Oklahoma and Texas will surely change SEC basketball. They have made 32 combined NCAA tournament appearances over the past two decades, with Oklahoma reaching the Final Four in 2002 and 2016 and Texas in 2004. Each has a new coach who has reached the Final Four elsewhere in the past. last five years. : Porter Moser with Loyola in 2018 and Chris Beard with Texas Tech in 2019.

The SEC has seen a resurgence in basketball in recent years, since the league hired Mike Tranghese as a consultant Dan Leibovitz as associate commissioner, mandated better off-league programming, and encouraged more efficient hiring. coaches. The league placed six of its 14 members in the 2021 NCAA tournament, having secured seven at March Madness in 2019 (including Final Four contestant Auburn) and a league record eight in 2018.

How many of the 16 members the league will be able to send to March Madness is impossible to say. The most leagues to ever participate in the tournament is the 2010-11 Big East, which placed 11 of its 16 members on the field. Since rising to 15 teams in 2013-14, the ACC has produced an average of seven NCAA entrants, with a high of nine in 2017 and 2018 and a low of six in 2014 and 2015. There are therefore room for a deep SEC. to gain much of the March Madness field, but there is no certainty that will happen.

Which means the migration from Oklahoma to Texas will impact them and their league, but not necessarily college basketball as a whole.

“The basketball is in a different building. Basketball is more for everyone, ”Sampson said. “Football is designed for the best teams, while basketball is designed for everyone. That’s why we don’t have IA or I-AA, or FBS or FCS. We have an NCAA tournament, and we have 68 spots, and everyone has a chance.

“You have the chance to participate in the NCAA tournament and create a legacy for your program, for the kids in your program. I don’t think it’s going to go away. College basketball, we are like the duck in the middle of the lake. He looks calm and serene above, but below, he kicks his feet at millions of miles an hour. Right now it’s college basketball.

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