There are a number of reasons to support college basketball. Some love it because of the association with their alma mater. Others appreciate one of the greatest spectacles of the annual March Madness tournament and the competitions that come with it.
But the real reason the modern era loves college basketball is par. It makes selection difficult because any team can win on any given day. Even the Blue Bloods have had some tough years, though, as Duke and North Carolina just met in the Final Four.
There are a number of reasons for recent climate change and creating more competition between teams.
Winds of Change
Recent legislation has allowed athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness. Featured players may appear in commercials, but anyone can submit autographs for a fee. But it does create a natural balance of power, as economics has shown more broadly.
Smaller programs have the ability to recruit top-notch talent. Now, the possibility is that the big players will still go to the premium programs, but the opportunity is there for smaller programs that can offer recruits more money and playing time. This starring role might be appealing, rather than grouping with other stars and splitting a slice of the pie.
Apart from name, image and similarity legislation, transfer portal is being developed. The ability to re-recruit has opened parity. Players may drop to a level—be it conference or NCAA divisions—to find more playing time. Players who dominate at a lower level may want to transfer and participate in a larger program.
It makes things more difficult for the programs as they have to keep their existing roster and have honest conversations with these players. They also have to be open with the recruits that may come in.
Two decades ago the shift began to create the list. This coincided with a rule change with the National Basketball Association that required players to go to college for at least one season, meaning players couldn’t drop out of high school like LeBron James.
I changed the game of college basketball. Early programs no longer looked to recruit players for three or four years. Instead, they were looking at elite high school players who would spend one year at their alma mater before going into the NBA draft.
They were popularized by John Calipari, who is now at Kentucky and fully embraced the one-and-done era, resulting in NCAA Tournament bids and extended tours. What followed were other programs that historically excel at pursuing top high school talent.
Overall it’s a great development for the fans. Cart fans may be upset that they lose a less talented recruit annually, but the truth is that this is a positive for the game.
The name, image and likeness give fans a way to support the players financially. Autographed posters or other avenues give fans direct contact and a chance to meet the player and get a little more meaning behind their financial contribution.
Transfer portal means players who are known in other programmes. Say Zion Williamson was unhappy during his career at Duke. He could have entered the transfer gate and gone to a different program – let’s say Washington State – and he was an instantly recognizable name for fans to watch.
How does college benefit now?
But with the updated name, image, likeness, and transfer portal, that kind of gets out the door. If the higher-level player is not a guaranteed first-round pick in the NBA Draft, they may earn more money and have a better chance at development by staying in college for an extra year.
Again, it’s more name recognition for athletes and collegiate athletes. This leads to greater profit shares for all parties as gear can be purchased, and fans will follow players and teams more closely.
That allows traditional programs that aren’t great with affordability to be successful, like Texas Christian and College of Charleston, who would both be upset at March Madness.