If I ruled -- serious stuff
My fellow Americans: Four days ago, our editors brought forth on this ESPN.com a new college basketball section, conceived in the daydreams of the offseason, and dedicated to the proposition that it would be fun to pretend that each of its writers might one day rule our great sport with an iron fist.
There have been four political eras thus far. On Monday, a technocratic C.L. Brown used the powers of the office to promote common-sense policies for student sections. On Tuesday, Dana O'Neil expanded the mandate with fashion guidelines that restricted individual freedom for society's benefit. And on Wednesday, the despot Myron Medcalf went mad with power, allowing coaches to eject officials, arguing for a 4-point shot and, most horrifically of all, refusing to change the 35-second shot clock. This tyranny was our (imaginary) nation's darkest hour.
Now I have ascended to the (imaginary) throne. My first task -- after stanching the wounds of the Medcalf regime, of course, and restoring the rule of law to the land -- is nothing less than a complete (and occasionally even semi-realistic!) overhaul of everything the NCAA gets wrong. Heavy lies the head, and so on. Let's get to it:
1. I would create a strict, low, revenues and expenditures cap
It would be applicable to every Division I program's athletics department expenditures, such as salaries and facilities and t-shirt cannons and so on -- and I would tax those who exceed it. I would divert those tax funds to a post-scholarship trust for student-athletes, to be paid out on a performance-based sliding scale. The "performance" in question here is not just about play on the court, but about the marginal value of each athlete to his or her Division I program. We'll hire a couple Microsoft Excel wizards to model out the details, and carve up the pie.
Everyone wins. Texas and Ohio State and every other moneyed high-major gets to keep spending as much as they want on their athletics programs. (And if you think a percentage tax would disincentivize athletics programs from raking in ticket sales or booster cash, I have a luxurious granite locker room whirpool to sell you.) Players get paid -- yes, paid; get over it -- for their time in school in a way that accounts for their diverse contributions. There is no floor to a school's spending (save the scholarships it must currently field by law) so the small schools who have consistently voted against common-sense measures like the stipend remain relatively untouched by the change.
No, this structure wouldn't be fair, but -- no matter what the NCAA says -- neither is the current system. At least now players whose values exceed their scholarships will be rewarded as such, and some of that big, grotesque pool of college athletics money -- the $20 million coaches' buyouts, the $200 million facilities upgrades -- might slosh its way into their pockets, too.
As a bonus, maybe athletic directors would think twice before paying search firms $40,000 to massively overpay already well-known coaches. Ha! Definitely not! But a king-for-a-day can dream.
2. I would lobby for a constitutional amendment to prevent any and all further changes to the structure of the NCAA tournament
Sixty-four teams is the ideal here. But being diplomatic, I could keep the play-in games, on one condition: The amendment provides language for proper round nomenclature. Eight of 68 teams playing in one weekend is not the "first round" of anything. It's the play-in. These are all adults here. They don't need rhetorical participation ribbons. Enough with this.
Anyway: Expand the tournament, violate the Constitution of these United States of America. Simple, elegant. ... How is this not already a law?
3. I would allow players to return to college basketball after the draft if they went undrafted or failed to earn a contract by a given date
If it means letting players have professional representation (or agents, gasp!) before their college careers are officially finished, oh well. The whole zero-sum draft decision process is silly. And it's rooted in the weird notion that even the slightest brush with getting paid for what you're good at doing will turn the previously doe-like "student-athlete" into a less likable Rod Tidwell. God forbid we let an athlete who spent two years dutifully donning his Nike-branded team apparel and drinking only the approved Brawndo Thirst Mutilator sports drink to experience the horrors of crass commercialism up close. Wait.
Go see if you can make it in the pros for a couple of months; if not, come back to school. This is not hard.
4. The salary of the NCAA's president is getting cut
Look, I don't begrudge anybody's ability to get paper. The king is 100 percent pro-paper chase. It's a problem of PR: The NCAA can't go around making its often reasonable arguments about amateurism while its chief figurehead (president Mark Emmert) pulls in $1.7 million a year. Sorry, but it just looks terrible. How's $200,000 sound?
This doesn't affect me in this scenario, mind you, because I wouldn't be the president of NCAA. I would be the Grand Supreme Potentate of the NCAA, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. The salary and benefits are highly competitive.
5. I would force a video game company to make a really good college basketball game
I don't care what needs to happen here. Let the lawyers figure it out. A players union and collective player likeness rights? Whatever! But the king-for-a-day demands a next-generation college basketball video game with state-of-the-art player models, updated rosters, dynamic commentary, a gripping career mode, and licensed stadia. And then the king-for-a-day demands approximately 24-48 hours of uninterrupted alone time. His cell phone will be off.
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