Why We're Very, Very Excited About the Start of College Basketball Season

Hampton,

In one breath, you extol the glorious, unmatched tradition of Kansas basketball; in the next, you hem and haw and sandbag and proclaim that the Jayhawks winning a mere conference title would be a spectacular achievement akin to putting a man on the moon, or perhaps the invention of the beer cozy.

In terms of sheer humble-bragging, have-it-both-ways, expectation-managing chutzpah, are you sure you're not a Duke fan?

But, as usual, I digress for the sake of a cheap shot. What has me excited for the upcoming college basketball season—beyond the chance to watch actual hoops, as opposed to looped footage of Derek Fisher and David Stern walking in and out of buildings—is the tiny-but-very-real chance to not watch hoops, thanks to a possible player sit-down/boycott of the wheezing, unfair, unsustainable, un-American system that is big-time amateur college sports.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. Not anymore. The long con of amateurism has reached its early terminal stage, via in-progress antitrust lawsuits and eyes-wide-open scholarship and a general sense that, hey, maybe that giant pile of television bullion should belong to the football and basketball players putting in 40-plus hour workweeks and risking concussions, as opposed to Scrooge McDuck, NCAA compliance officer. (Exhibit A : the Two-A's new $2000 non-stipend stipend for college athletes, the equivalent of saying women should be allowed to acquire secondary education, but let's not get all crazy and let them vote).

Nothing would give amateurism a much-needed shove off a cliff like a player boycott. A work stoppage, if you will. Athletes exercising the most potent—and really, the only—leverage they have. Imagine the teams in the NCAA title game (say, Kansas, if you're particularly imaginative) sitting down at center court after the opening tip, refusing to play. Imagine all the teams in March Madness—or just on one regular season weekend—joining in. You think the network sugar daddies that pay a premium to sell game-time slots to advertisers might demand some immediate changes? You think university presidents might have a bit more motivation to stop sticking their heads in the sand, and by sand, I mean the aforementioned pile of gold?

A boycott would be fraught with risk. College athletes would be putting their futures on the line. Doing so would take major cojones. According to former UMass guard Rigo Nunez, a number of college players nearly staged a sit-out during the 1995 NCAA tournament. They got cold feet. Similarly, Taylor Branch reported in The Atlantic that an unidentified college team once planned to boycott the NCAA title game if they advanced that far. They fell short. (The team in question is widely believed to be UNLV's 1991 squad; if Greg Anthony, Larry Johnson, Travis Bice or anyone else in the know wants to spill the beans, contact me! I'm eager to tell your story).

Still, there's reason to think a strike would be worth it: according to former Syracuse football player Dave Meggyesy, his squad threatened to boycott the 1961 Liberty Bowl, mostly because the school's athletic department was receiving television money for the game while the players were set to get nothing—not even the customary bowl gift of a wristwatch. The team captains went to athletic director Lew Andreas and demanded watches. The school complied. The more things change ...

Jake, are you with me in anticipating a college hoops revolution? Or are you just waiting for some good games?

–Patrick

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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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