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The NCAA is facing an existential crisis, just not the one Mark Emmert thinks they’re facing

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On Wednesday, Mark Emmert made the rounds on twitter with some on-the-record comments that were reported by CBS Sports.

He asked California lawmakers, who are working to make amateurism illegal in their start, to “tone down some of the rhetoric” and added that he doesn’t believe every athlete will be getting rich in college, that only “one or two will be making some significant amount of money. Nobody else will.”

These are precisely the things that the sitting president of an organization that exists almost entirely to prevent athletes from getting paid is going to say.

He job is to defend NCAA rules. His purpose in life is to be the whipping boy that hammers home talking points that are logically indefensible. What else is he supposed to say? “My salary and the salary of all the other administrators at my level would take a major hit if we actually paid the talent” probably wouldn’t play well.

So I don’t really get why there’s an uproar here.

What did you expect?

But the more that I’ve thought about this, there actually is an interesting point that Emmert makes, although I’m guessing it’s not the point that he meant to make.

Emmert called the debate over name, image and likeness rights “an existential threat” to the collegiate model and the “single biggest issue” that the NCAA has faced during his decade-long tenure as NCAA president.

And I actually believe this is true.*

*(Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar are bigger than college sports. Don’t conflate something as serious as serial sexual predators with things like basketball and football. Just don’t.)

Just not the way that Emmert meant it.

From September 2016 through August of 2017, the NCAA reported $1.06 billion in revenue. That year, they made $761 million off of the television rights for the NCAA tournament. In other words, roughly 75% of the NCAA’s annual revenue comes from the deal they signed with CBS and Turner to broadcast the NCAA tournament, and that number is only going to go up as the price of the rights fees goes up; in 2016, the NCAA signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension that runs through 2032 to a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal that ends in 2024.

Put another way, college basketball and the NCAA tournament keeps the NCAA afloat, and this isn’t exactly a secret. You think that the kids actually playing for these schools are blind to the fact that their coaches are making more than NBA coaches or that their ADs are flying private for vacation while their parents have to fly coach out of pocket to watch them play?

The movement for athlete rights has never been stronger, and the thing about basketball is that college is far from the only option that these kids have. They can go overseas and play. They can go to the G League and play. They can sit out a year and then enter the draft. They can do a year in prep school and then enter the draft. By 2022, the best young players in the country – the Zion Williamsons of the world – are going to be going straight to the NBA.

Hell, there are people on American soil¬†right now that are trying to build an alternative option to the NCAA. We’ve written about the HBL, the Historic Basketball League, before. That league will have team in eight cities in the mid-atlantic region that will be set up to allow kids to receive a scholarship, earn a salary and access their NIL rights. They won’t have to deal with amateurism rules or worry about whether or not accepting a gift will jeopardize their eligibility. That league is set to launch in June of 2020, and with the names involved there – David West, Mitch Richmond, T.J. Warren, Terrell Owens, Darren Collison, Champ Bailey, Etan Thomas, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf – it’s not hard to imagine the concept gaining traction.

As it stands, we’re looking at about five kids every year that opt out of playing in the NCAA, and at this very moment, it’s not a huge issue. R.J. Hampton going to Australia is going to break the NCAA. Losing out on the chance to market a talent – and a viral celebrity – like LaMelo Ball isn’t ideal, but that ship sailed years ago. Arizona missing out on Terry Armstrong is barely a blip on the radar. K.J. Martin turning pro is more or less irrelevant.

Point being, there is enough talent coming through the college ranks to keep the level of play high, fans and alums interested in November and bettors losing money in March.

But what happens when, instead of just five kids a year, that number jumps to 50? Or 100?

What happens when the 15-20 best players – all the guys that are one-and-dones – in every recruiting class are going straight to the NBA instead of playing in college? And what happens if another 30-40 (or more?) of those guys are going to play in the HBL, or heading to Australia, or just opting to sign with an agent, get a cash advance and workout on their own until they have a chance to get drafted?

We’re already dealing with an extremely problematic talent drain in the sport. If you are a top 100 draft prospect, you are turning pro. There were 87 players with eligibility remaining that turned pro after the 2018-19 season. There are 60 draft spots.

My four-year old son can do that math.

At least the NCAA had a chance to get those guys on campus for a few years.

What happens when those players stop going the NCAA route? What happens if it becomes clear that playing in the NBL’s Next Stars program becomes the best route to get drafted for future first round picks? What happens if the HBL takes off the same way that the Big 3 or The Basketball Tournament has taken off?

March Madness is the NCAA’s cash cow.

What happens when that cow’s milk is no longer as valuable as it was before?

That’s what the NCAA needs to be concerned about.

That is the existential crisis that the NCAA is facing.

And it doesn’t seem like Mark Emmert realizes it.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.