Dan Bickley, columnist for the Arizona Republic, is usually a very level-headed guy. He's not one of these columnists that says inflammatory things just to get a rise out of people (and get readership). But his most recent article is one of the worst I've read about March Madness this year.
He begins with a premise that many agree with (myself included), "Could anything be more recklessly stupid than expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams?"
But then he strings together two pieces of evidence that have nothing to do with each other:
Many years of poaching have seriously diluted the product. The star power is low. Casual fans can identify Ohio State's Evan Turner and Kentucky's John Wall, but that's about it. The declining wattage of college basketball has dimmed the lights for everyone. Television analyst Jay Bilas said this year's tournament features the "weakest at-large field in the history of the tournament."
Both of these points have validity. Stars don't stay in college for four years any more, but he kind of contradicts his point by mentioning that one of the two players that the casual fan can identify is in fact, a freshman. Then he tacks on that it's the weakest at-large field ever. If players stayed in college would that be any different? The top freshmen tend to go to the top colleges. This could actually widen the disparity between the top teams and the at-large bubble teams.
He mentions that 29 freshmen and sophomores have left early in the past two years for the NBA Draft.
Those 29 elite players likely would be part of this year's NCAA Tournament field if basketball were more like baseball, where players must stay in school for three years if they choose to attend college. Imagine guys such as Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Jerryd Bayless in the upcoming tournament.
Instead, they all take advantage of NBA rules, where one must be 19 years of age or one year removed from high school to sign with a team. Over time, the damage is irrefutable, inevitable.
This is where you realize his argument is completely selfish. Imagine Derrick Rose in the tournament? How about instead of imagining that, I watch him play in the NBA as one of the best guards in the game? You really think players should stay in college simply to make the NCAA Tournament better?
Then he pulls a quote from Michael Jordan:
"It's easy to make mistakes in college. You make them in the pros, and they come back to haunt you. But more than anything, you learn about the game. You learn about yourself. The game unfolds before your eyes. You feel connected with the history of the sport. And when you get to the NBA, you're ready to make a positive impact."
Alright, this makes some sense. Instead of having a tough learning curve in the NBA, you learn in college, which is a more forgiving environment (even though it's really not since college fans are much more rabid than NBA fans). But just before quoting Jordan he wrote this:
Consider the impact LeBron James and Kobe Bryant would've had on college basketball. It's a shame we all missed out on that.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You bring up THOSE TWO? Immediately they were stars in the NBA. What could those two possibly have learned in college? Both players became All-Stars in just their second years in the league. And both players are huge fans of the game. They are both very connected to the history of the sport and are constantly humbled by any comparisons to the all-time greats.
Bring us home Bickley...
The dirty little secret is that college basketball isn't what it once was. And before they start expanding the NCAA Tournament, they need to change the rules and start keeping the best players in school.Keep them in school? What are they, animals in cages? I'm completely against the rule that forces players to go to school for one year. Someone with a skill should be able to monetize that skill whenever they want. Would these stars staying in school make March Madness better? Yep. Would that continue to fuel the NCAA who makes billions off these athletes and gives them nothing in return? Yep.