How one recommendation from The Commission on College Basketball might have affected KU in the past
Raise your hand if you think the Kansas men's basketball team could have been a No. 1 seed and reached the Elite Eight in 2017 with just eight scholarship players.
Keep your hand up if you think the 2017-18 squad could have followed that up by breaking down the door to the Final Four with a less-talented crop of eight or nine scholarship players the following year.
Those of you with your hands up are either blindly loyal or flat-out lying. But in the wake of Wednesday morning's recommendations on how to address a laundry list of issues plaguing the sport, The Commission on College Basketball, headed up by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, unveiled a list of how to fix the game.
While their suggestions ranged from eliminating the one-and-done rule to addressing transparency among AAU programs and shoe companies, one of the more interesting aspects of what amounted to be a 25-minute statement read by Rice in Indianapolis early Wednesday morning had to do with what might happen if the NBA and NBA Players Association are not interested in allowing 18-year-olds into their league.
Make no mistake about it; this was a power play by Rice and college basketball in an effort to put the onus on the NBA.
The gist of it goes like this: Eliminate the 19-year-old age requirement and allow high school graduates to enter the draft or run the risk of (a) losing the marketing that has made such players so attractive following their freshman seasons or (b) run the risk of not getting them until they have a college degree in their hands.
Whether the NBA brass caves to the pressure or laughs in its face, Rice's panel made it clear that they are expecting the NBA to make some kind of decision, sooner rather than later — by the start of next basketball season is the way it was worded. If that does not happen, they promised to reconvene and explore the idea of implementing options A or B into their bylaws.
Here is the exact language from the report explaining that scenario.
"We must emphasize that only the NBA and the NBPA can change the one-and-done rule. If they choose not to do so by the end of 2018, the NCAA must still find a way to address this situation. In that circumstance, the Commission will reconvene and consider the other tools at its disposal. These could range from the baseball rule, to freshman ineligibility, to “locking up” scholarships for three or four years if the recipient leaves the program for the NBA after a single year. That would be a disincentive to recruit an athlete for a one-year run at the title. In short, the current situation is untenable."
For the sake of this blog, let's assume the NBA does not want 18-year-olds in its league — the reasons for this run deep, are too many to list and are probably best explained in another blog — and college basketball reacts by saying that, regardless of how long players actually stay in college, scholarships are locked in for four years as soon as the player signs, a move that could significantly impact the way coaches recruit and, worse yet, would impact the way college rosters look for years to come.
Think less scholarships available and more preferred walk-ons playing more minutes.
There are alternatives to this same concept, with a three-year lock being possible or a plus-one model, meaning that the scholarship is off limits for one season after the player leaves for the NBA. But all three possibilities focus on the same outcome — to make college programs value the players they're bringing to campus.
Had a four-year version of the rule been in effect five years ago, Kansas basketball would have been affected dramatically in the two cases mentioned at the top of this blog.
Take the 2016-17 team for starters.
With five Jayhawks — Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo — from the three previous teams leaving for the NBA as one-and-done players, the rule would have made all five of those spots unavailable for additional players and kept those scholarships “locked” for the 2016-17 season.
Provided recruits would not have changed their minds in any way and decided not to come to KU because of the roster limitations, that means that Kansas would have been forced to operate with just eight scholarship players during the 2016-17 season.
It's worth noting here that any time a university has one of its scholarships taken away because of some kind of rules violation, it's viewed as a major blow. This would be five times that and probably have people losing their minds.
While the eight on scholarship would have been a solid group — Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Carlton Bragg and Udoka Azubuike, Landen Lucas and Lagerald Vick is my guess — the team's depth would have been limited and made up of walk-ons willing to pay their own way.
Mitch Lightfoot might have been an option there, but that also might be a pipe dream. After all, there were plenty of other Division I schools willing to give Lightfoot a free ride to come play for them.
Assuming all other things stayed the same and Bragg turned into a shell of the player he was as a freshman and Azubuike still hurt his wrist 11 games in, it's tough to picture that team surviving the season with Mason, Graham, Jackson, Svi and Lucas being backed by Clay Young, Tyler Self and Tucker Vang.
Remember, those five spots being locked up means no Dwight Coleby, likely no Lightfoot and no Malik Newman waiting in the wings. There simply would not have been room for KU coach Bill Self to have those guys.
Speaking of Newman, that brings us to the 2017-18 team and KU's Final Four run. No Newman in 2016-17 means no Newman in 2017-18 — he likely would have gone pro after his freshman season if he were still intent on leaving Mississippi State — and KU, once again, would have had less than the maximum number of 13 scholarships available to hand out because of four or five spots being “locked” up by the four-year commitments of players long gone.
In that case, KU would have been left with a top eight of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Vick, Azubuike, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe and maybe Silvio De Sousa.
Considering Preston never played and Cunliffe and De Sousa were only eligible for half of the season, that hardly looks like a Final Four team. Especially without Newman.
Beyond that, the damage done to the 2018-19 team would have been enormous. Down a few scholarships to begin with, KU would not have had the luxury of stashing Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson or Charlie Moore as scholarship players red-shirting the 2017-18 season. Add to that the fact that neither Newman and probably Lightfoot would never have made it to Lawrence in the first place and you're looking at a 2018-19 team that would have had 10 scholarships available — Diallo, Jackson and Vick's would all be taken — and filled them with almost all new players.
The lone exceptions on the inexperienced roster would be Azubuike and Garrett. And that's only if the KU center were to pull his name out of the draft instead of turning pro.
So what you would have for next season is a roster that, again, looks somewhat similar to what KU will have, but lacks any real experience.
Provided Self were able to stay solid on the recruiting trail, the 2018-19 roster waiting in the wings would include: Guards Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe and Ochai Agbaji, along with big men Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack.
That would leave the Jayhawks with three spots still to fill. If you think KU trying to land Romeo Langford is a big deal now, it would be absolutely enormous under those rules.
Getting the scholarships back and having 10 again instead of just seven or eight no doubt would have felt like hitting the lottery. But it would still force KU to play three scholarship players shy of the maximum number allowed by the NCAA.
All of this is, of course, is pure speculation. And there's no way of knowing how things really would have played out or what adjustments Self and his staff might have made to handle the realities of those rules. Leaving KU altogether might have been one of them.
But it does go to show that even the smallest aspect of what can only be described as a massive set of recommendations could have a pretty profound impact on the sport as we know it
Will all of those recommendations be implemented? Nope. Even if they were, could they all be enforced? Nope. And even if those two obstacles were deemed manageable, would the NCAA be willing to shell out the money it would take to make sure they're effective? Unlikely.
So it remains to be seen what actually will come from all of the time and effort put in by Rice and the commission of 11 other people who seem to care a great deal about college basketball.
But one thing that does seem clear is that this group, for better or worse, is expecting to see something happen fairly quickly.
If it doesn't, they've promised to go back behind closed doors, reach out a little bit more and who knows what they'll come up with then?