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It’s time to scrap the NBA Draft Lottery: This is the reform we really need

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On September 28th, 2017, the NBA implemented a new format for the NBA draft lottery, one that is designed to try and put a stop to the amount of tanking that happens in the NBA.

Under the revamped format, the team with the worst record is guaranteed no worse than the fifth pick. Previously, the team with the worst record was guaranteed no worse than the fourth pick. The new format also levels out the chances that the worst teams actually win the lottery. This year, for the first time, the teams with the three worst regular season records — New York, Cleveland and Phoenix — will each have a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery. Last year, the worst record would have had a 25 percent chance, followed by a 19.9 percent chance for the second-worst record and then a 15.6 percent chance for the third-worst record.

Frankly, the NBA is being naive if they believe that this will curtail tanking within their league.

As long as there is an incentive to be bad, NBA teams are going to try to be bad the second that they realize their organization’s goals — making the playoffs, earning a top four seed, being in contention for an NBA title, whatever — are not going to be met. That is particularly true for small-market teams. You need stars to win in the NBA, and if you cannot land stars through free agency or via a trade, the only way is then through the draft. The best way to amass the lottery tickets you need to have the best chance of drafting a Kevin Durant or an Anthony Davis or a LeBron James is to be bad and get a higher pick.

This lottery reform proposal does not change that fact.

This rule change would not have stopped The Process, it would just have made it more unlikely that Sam Hinkie and the 76ers would have landed the picks they wanted to get.

The only way to truly curtail tanking is to reward teams for winning.

And I present to you the best way to do that.

(This idea was first mentioned by the On The Ball podcast back in 2017. Credit them for coming up with it. Credit me for perfecting it.)

Instead of having a lottery determine who will pick first in the NBA Draft, hold a five-day, 14-team single-elimination tournament at a neutral site. Essentially, the NBA would be holding the professional equivalent of the ACC tournament. The bracket would look something like this:

The schedule would be fairly simple: End the NBA’s regular season on a Sunday, start this tournament on the Tuesday and run it through Saturday, when the title game will be played. Then on that Sunday, start the NBA Playoffs, giving those teams a full week of rest while creating 13 more TV games for the league to sell. Use the money generated from selling the broadcast rights to create a payout structure for the players, so that they also have something to play for beyond the chance for their organization to draft someone that is going to take their job.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that there would be $100 million in potential winnings. It could get split up like this:

  • $1 million to split up for each of the two teams that lose on the first day.
  • $4 million for each of the four teams that lose in the second round.
  • $6 million for each of the four teams that lose in the quarterfinals.
  • $9 million for both of the teams that lose in the semifinals.
  • $15 million for the team that finishes in second place.
  • $25 million for the team that wins the event.

But more than just the games, this would create the kind of buzz that we see every March during conference and NCAA tournaments. Everyone loves filling out brackets. Everyone loves mid-week afternoon sports, especially when you can bet on mid-week afternoon sports. Doing this for hoops at the highest-level feels like a no-brainer, especially for a sport that has been as pro-gambling as the NBA has been.

The winning organization would earn themselves the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The team that loses in the final would get the No. 2 pick. There could even be a third-place game to determine the No. 3 and No. 4 picks. After that, the rest of the draft would go in order of the worst record. This would more or less disincentivize tanking. Having the worst record in the league would not only ensure that you have the toughest road to actually getting the first pick in the draft — winning five games in five days against better teams would not be easy to do — but would lock you into nothing more than the No. 5 pick. It’s not often that franchise-changing talents are found at pick No. 5.

More to the point, better seeding in this tournament would make winning a priority for every team in the league until the final day of the season, and it would make a situation like what happened with Miami on the last day of the 2017 season — when the Heat needed the Nets to beat Chicago to get the No. 8 seed in the East and the Nets decided to “rest” their best players — much more unlikely. Sure, there will still be teams that try and lose because they match up better with, say, the No. 6 seed than the No. 7 seed or situations where playoff teams will be not be playing their starters because they are locked into a spot, but this fixes one of the biggest issues facing the NBA currently: that as many as a third of the teams in the league are actively trying to lose by the end of the year.

There would be some logistical loopholes to work through.

For starters, you’d have to convince the NBA Players Union that this is actually a good idea, and making pros play five games in five days might not be the easiest thing in the world to do. The other issue would be where the games get played. Holding the event in, say, New York or Chicago or LA every year would likely ensure that all the seats in the arena are sold, but that would create a competitive advantage for the Knicks or the Bulls or the Lakers. You could hold the tournament in the arena of the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in the league, but if that is, say, Detroit or Sacramento, just how many fans are actually going to travel that far on short notice?

But those are minor details.

In the macro, eliminating tanking would make the regular season more compelling and meaningful while, in the process, potentially creating an event that will be circled on the calendar by sports fans every single year.

There is no downside.

So, Commissioner Silver, when you’re ready to talk this over, you have my number.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.