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March Mildness: How the NCAA Tournament Lost Its Swagger
Posted on Apr 1, 2010
By Mark Heisler
Once, Kentucky would have had a young team on the brink of a dynasty. Now the next time half of its players may get together is the rookie-sophomore game during NBA All-Star Weekend.
Wall, the highest-rated prospect since LeBron, is expected to go No. 1 in the June draft (his entry is considered a given). Three teammates—junior Patrick Patterson, freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe—could go in the lottery.
If freshman backup center Daniel Orton, who was limited coming off surgery, turns pro, he could go in or near the lottery, too.
So that was some devastating loss Kentucky suffered to West Virginia in the Sweet 16 last week!
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Not that that was a shocker, since Calipari’s previous 1996 Final Four appearance with UMass also no longer exists, officially.
Still, UK, which used to recruit just fine on the up and up, or at least without controversy over the favors shown by its famous boosters who owned thoroughbred stables, hired Cal, and we had to sit through all his Fed-Ex commercials.
Fed-Ex, the company with envelopes you can rely on to stay closed when you’re sending cash!
The problem, of course, is (aw, you guessed it) cold commercial reality.
NBA Commissioner David Stern would love a higher minimum age. Among other benefits, players who stay become stars before the NBA ever puts a penny in them, like Grant Hill, who appeared in three Final Fours with Duke.
The NBA Players Association opposes age rules as a freedom issue. If Stern cared enough, he could buy the union off with concessions in other areas, as he did to bump the age to 19.
Now, however, Stern has more pressing issues, like the 50-50 revenue split he vows to get or close shop in 2011.
There’s actually a way to do this:
Raise the minimum age to 20, so a player who starts college has to stay three years, as in baseball.
Any player who doesn’t want to go to college can play in the NBA Developmental League at 18. If he’s drafted, he can make the money mandated by the rookie salary cap. If not, the D-League can enhance its minimum salaries.
In any case, young players’ economic rights would be protected, and the D-League would get new attractions, a major improvement over the present none.
Meanwhile, back among the, uh, amateurs ...
The NCAA can opt out of its deal with CBS this summer, but no other network will pay that much—especially with $2 b-b-billion of the overall $6 b-b-billion due from 2009-2011 in the back-loaded deal.
If there’s any chance of heading off losing the tournament to ESPN, the new predator on the block with its cable subscription revenue, CBS may have to come up with a bigger tournament, literally—like 128 teams.
Then it would really be bloated, the pre-selection excitement would be gone and the brackets would be so big you’d have to lay the whole thing on the floor to see it.
The Big Dance: Enjoy it before it multiplies.
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