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The Armageddon of College Basketball


First off, hat tip to GAE for linking to Chuck Klosterman's article in Grantland. He begins his article capturing the essence of how Coach Cal puts his teams together and puts his players first then moves on to covering his perception of what a Kentucky National Championship signifies for the future of college basketball. Essentially he sets out that

It will mean that winning a title with freshmen and sophomores is not only plausible, but logical and inarguable. That realization will knock the system out of balance.

He writes that the new age of basketball is about to be unleashed (with a UK win) that, for the purists, will denigrate the game to where

There will be five schools sharing the 25 best players in the country, and all the lesser programs will kill each other for the right to lose to those five schools in the Sweet 16. It will skew the competitive balance of major conferences and split D-I basketball into two completely unequal tiers. Final Four games will look more and more like sloppy pro games, and national interest in college basketball will wane.....

A great thinking point but I think he approaches the subject in an Orwellian manner that ignores so many areas from both the assumptions and ultimately the conclusion.

Mr. Klosterman assumes that the change is contingent upon Kentucky winning the championship to validate Coach Cal's approach. If you read just about every prognosticator for the Final Four they are singing in unison that Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets and anything less than that is an dramatic upset. From that point of view the system is already validated before even Saturday's tip-off.

Unlike Mr. Klosterman I don't think that validation is going to lead college basketball into that dark future of haves and have-nots he depicts. There have always been upper tier programs and always will; but there have also been more and more teams from mid-majors and non traditional powers that have been getting deeper into the tournament. And it's not like Kentucky has been the only team with one and done players, we just happen to have had more.

Why? Two reasons as one - Cal's recruiting prowess and scholarship availability. When Coach Cal took over the program the cupboard was bare and he could honestly tell a recruit he'd have a legitimate shot at starting - if he did what he was told. That bare cupboard proved to be a springboard to the one-and-done parade. You have to reload.

Now that other coaches have seen it in action and seen it succeed, regardless of what transpires in the coming week, they will be adjusting their recruiting strategy. Actually, not their strategy but their message. It's not as if these players come to Kentucky because no one else was recruiting them, they liked the message. After all, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, et al were also recruiting these players and since many chose UK, we get the label. (Some one-and-doners did go to other schools, *cough* Duke,... *cough*.)

In any event, college basketball is not going to spiral into some ugly athletic caste system. Every year there won't be 25 great players entering the college ranks, some players will not pan out, some unknown players will emerge every year, teams will have critical injuries and so many other unforeseen events will happen that the game will remain strong. Purists will embrace the change, this isn't baseball. The only change will be a new element, a young team with a chance. And that is nothing but great for the game.

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