Reaching into the Bilas mailbag

ESPN's Jay Bilas answers a few questions each week from ESPN.com users.

"As a fan, do you like to see so much parity in college basketball so early in the season? Or would you prefer to have at least a 'few elite teams' like the '91 UNLV team early in the season and the drama of seeing if they can be beaten?"

Nikhil Verma
McLean, Va.

That's a good question. I think I would rather see the highest level of play possible, whether it is just one team or several that are able to reach that highest level in a particular year. My fear is that, because of early entry into the NBA, the game is so young that we will never again see the level of play we saw in the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's. The college game is still great, and still better than the NBA in my opinion, but it is not as great as it was. Think about it. If 20 players per year leave early for the NBA, including the top players out of high school, that is the equivalent of the first few All-America teams leaving every year. Over a four year period, that is 80 players! There is no way that the teams now would be competitive with the teams from 15 years ago, when senior lottery picks dominated the game. This year, there has not been a dominant team yet, but one still may emerge. In today's game, we will have to be patient and watch teams develop during the year, and see who is dominant near the end of the season. Thanks for your question.

"I love college basketball. My question is, what are the class schedules like for the players, especially since a team could be so geographically distanced from their school? So, do they purposely schedule classes around the basketball season? Or, do they have certain days off from class to play ball?"

Valerie Schaeffer
Shartlesville, Pa.

No schools that I know of adjust class schedules to accommodate players or games. There may be times when a particular professor may schedule an exam or a project based upon when class members may be in or out of town, or allow a make-up exam date because of an away game, but there are really precious few accommodations made for players. It is up to the players to get their work done, and anticipate when they will be in town and out of town to deal with schoolwork and due dates. Class times (whether afternoon or morning) may impact whether a player can take a class if it conflicts with regular practice times. It is far more common for a coach to let a kid out of practice early or expect him late because of a class or a lab. Athletics has to adjust to academics at most every school I am familiar with, not the other way around.

"Given your education level, a Duke degree as well as a law degree, what NCCA rules are needed to be changed the most in your opinion? Because when I hear of the violations that Billy Edelin committed, or Rick Majerius, or the NCAA's ruling on the Villinove phonecard incident, I think there is obviously some flaws that affect the game more than it should. Just curious to get your take, keep up the good work!"

Eric Harrison,
Lawrence, Kan.

Great question. Reasonable minds disagree on many of the rules promulgated by the NCAA, and there are no easy answers. There are several rules that I would like to change, but too many to name here. But here are a few I would like to start with.

First, the 5/8 Rule has to go, in my opinion. With only 13 scholarships available per team, no coach should be limited to signing only five guys in a year, and only eight over a two-year period. What if a kid leaves early for the pros? What if a kid decides to transfer? What if you have to kick a kid off the team for disciplinary reasons? Surely the NCAA does not want to put a coach in a position to keep a discipline problem on the team just because he cannot replace him. The scholarship limit is enough.

Second, the 20-hour time limit per week needs to be increased. Coaches are limited to 20 hours, and also have to give the team a mandatory day off every week. Coaches should be able to work with their players, together and individually, more than 20 hours per week. I also think that the academic reform rules should be reconsidered with an eye on education rather than graduation as the ultimate goal, and you can read my thoughts in my recent article (Don't mistake graduation for education)

With regard to your examples of Utah and Villanova, you are talking about extra benefits. I would like to see the benefits accorded to the student-athlete increased under the umbrella of a scholarship, which would include living expenses and travel expenses for athletes in revenue producing sports. Also, I would like to see the NCAA get out of the amateurism business. I don't think that student-athletes need to be paid, but I don't think that these strict notions of amateurism need to be perpetuated by the NCAA. The Olympics have given up on amateurism, for crying out loud. What does the NCAA know that the Olympic organizers are too dense to figure out. On that note, explain to me how a student-athlete is not allowed to benefit from his or her atheltic reputations, yet can accept a scholarship from an NCAA institution based upon his or her athletic reputation? Isn't that the equivalent of the NCAA saying to a kid, "nobody can corrupt you until WE do!"

I love the NCAA, and served once on an NCAA Committee, but would like to see some things change.

"As a senior at the University of Arizona, I hope my last year will be capped off with a NCAA basketball championship. It is not a secret that this year's squad lacks sufficient size compared to other teams. What do you think Arizona's chances of reaching the Final Four are? What factors must stay in place for them to achieve this? Is there any specific team that you see Arizona having an overwhelming amount of difficulty matching up with?"

Erik Blais
Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats may not be big, with the exception of Channing Frye, but they are athletic and speedy. If Arizona stays healthy and Mustafa Shakur continues to improve his playmaking skills and learns how to really run a team, then Arizona can be an outstanding team. Because of the lack of depth, Arizona would have concerns against a team like UConn, which can match the Wildcats in talent, but have more weapons. The 'Cats would have to fear foul trouble against a team like UConn, and that would be of concern. No team in America would give Arizona an "overwhelming" amount of trouble, but there are a lot of teams that can beat the Wildcats on a given night, too.

I was hoping for some love for Marquette, especially after you saw them spank Notre Dame in person. They lost over 40 points worth of offense and perhaps college basketball's best player of 2002-2003 (Dwyane Wade), yet they are 6-0, beat then-No. 20 Notre Dame, and are going into big games at Arizona and at Wisconsin. Additionally, when you mentioned the nation's best point guards, where's Travis Diener? He's proven that he wasn't just benefiting from Wade's presence. Which brings me to my question ... Considering the loss of Rob Jackson and Wade, and having seen them play, what can Marquette do this year?"

Chris Casolaro
Milwaukee, Wis.

What, not enough love for Marquette thus far? What do I have to do to satisfy you? I love your enthusiasm and support for your team, but we have been giving props to the Golden Eagles for a long while now, ever since Tom Crean brought the Eagles back to national prominence. Travis Diener is one of the best and toughest guards in the nation, and one of the best leaders. Marquette is young and learning to be an outstanding team without Dwyane Wade, and I thing they are ahead of schedule. The game they played against Arizona was a pretty good indication that Marquette can compete with anyone in the country, but are still swimming in the pool with 30 or more teams that can beat anyone on a given night.

"Do you think Syracuse has enough perimeter shooting to reach its potential? Also, how come Syracuse early in the season doesn't schedule tougher? I'd rather see them play a Kansas or Duke to prepare them for conference play instead of teams like Binghamton."

Mineola, N.Y.

I think that Syracuse can be really good this year, but it will be a year like last year where the Orange develops over the course of the season. The team you see on the floor now will not be the same team you see in February. Gerry McNamara is one of the best shooters in the country, if not the best, and Demetrius Nichols and Louie McCroskey can hit shots -- but are young. As for scheduling, Jim Boeheim has his own philosophy on scheduling, and it has worked very well for him. He builds his team through winning, even if it is not the stiffest tests. But don't worry, the Orange will play a lot of quality opponents, just not a ton of them. The Orange has played Charlotte, and will play Michigan State and Missouri this non-conference season, and there are plenty of big games in the Big East. Plus, there isn't a better road team in the Big East than Syracuse, so Boeheim must be doing something right.

"Will Pitt's soft non-conference schedule catch up with them when they start playing tougher Big East teams?"


I doubt it. Pitt has a veteran team, and those guys will be prepared for the streetfights they will have in Big East play. A team like Pitt has the luxury of knowing that there are enough quality games in the Big East to build a resume for the NCAA Tournament. I think that the "softer" schedule will allow Carl Krauser to grow as a leader while winning, but I am sure that the Panther players would like to play some marquee games early. If they are real players, they want to play in big games. I think the Panthers have a lot of real players.

"How could you answer a question about the nation's best point guards and not even mention Saint Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson? Do you mean to say that, while some are calling him the best player in the country this year, you don't even consider him in your top six (the number of names in your answer)? Especially since you focused on a good point guard being much more than just points and assists? What gives?"

Glenn Jasper,
Baltimore, Md.

Ligthen up, Francis! I believe that I was responding to a question about Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack surpassing expectations early in the year. I have been consistent in saying this, and I will say it again ... Jameer Nelson is the best point guard in America this year. Period. End of discussion. Really, it is not even close in my opinion. Maybe that's why I didn't include him in my answer, because I consider him to be in a class by himself this season. Thanks for the question.

"I haven't heard much about the Dayton team that won the Maui this year. Do you think that this will be one of the mid-majors that makes a run for the tourney this year?"

Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Dayton is very good. I saw the Flyers practice and play several times in Maui, and Brian Gregory has a team that will contend for national honors. Dayton will be in the NCAA Tournament, and has the chance to win once it gets there. The Flyers are big, pretty tough and have experience with Keith Waleskowski, Sean Finn and Ramad Marshall. Gregory is one of the bright young coaches in the game, and Dayton will beat a lot of people this year. Watch them play, I guarantee you will like what you see.

Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.