Three ways to improve college basketball

Editor’s Note: Now that the NCAA tournament is over, it might be a good time for some more reflection on college basketball.  The following — from Jim Burch — are some suggestions to improve the game.

March Madness is one of the biggest spectacles in American sports. The NCAA Tournament draws in more than 100 million viewers and earns more than $1 billion in ad revenue collectively, Forbes reports. The Super Bowl might be the biggest show in the country, but March Madness is an institution.

That’s precisely why so many Americans ditch work for the NCAA tourney; it’s a collection of our nation’s best universities fielding the most talented student athletes on the planet. The fans in the student section, the alumni, the band playing the school song — it’s all part of the magic that is college basketball. And there is no professional league on the planet that can touch its allure.

If phrases like “student athlete” and “institution” don’t make you laugh when they’re related to college sports, congratulation on living a life free of cynicism. Like every spectator sport on this planet, college basketball comes down to money, but that doesn’t mean March Madness can’t keep its appeal, even to our nation’s cynics.

If you see right through the veil of the NCAA and “student athletes,” there are a few ways to make college basketball better.

1. Let Athletes Play as University Employees

The limitations forced on athletes by the NCAA is laughable. While they earn millions for universities, coaches and companies, they can accept no compensation in return. Not even a free lunch. Seriously, saying “yes” to a sandwich can land you a suspension from the NCAA and ruin a player’s career for life.

There are thousands of students in the U.S. who are also employees of their university — they work in campus coffee shops, computer labs, teaching assistant programs, etc. Athletes should be no different. Pay them as employees and let them compete for those jobs like an open market. Critics will argue that schools like Duke and Kentucky will just pay the most for the best players, but are they not getting the best recruits already? The landscape won’t shift dramatically, and players will finally be able to afford their own lunches at the very least and earn their fair share at the very best.

2. Lose the “One and Done” Rule

The NBA implemented a rule in 2006 that all high school seniors must wait one year before entering the NBA draft. So even in the next LeBron James comes our way, he has to play at least one year in college (or a year of pro ball in Europe if you’re creative like Brandon Jennings).

Why does it benefit college basketball to send the best stars straight to the NBA? Bluntly put, the players left will give a damn. I have no doubt Kentucky’s starting five wants to win the Final Four, but a part of their mind is heavily occupied on the NBA Draft. There’s just no way it isn’t. College intensity and passion does add an element to the game, and it would only get better when we finally drop the “One and Done.”

3. Adopt the NBA Three-Point Line

If you’re a casual fan, you might wonder why the NBA and NCAA just look so different. I could answer that 10 different ways, but a big factor is this: The NBA doesn’t waste its time with the mid-range jumper. There’s so much open space between the three and paint, and NBA centers are so tall, that it really leaves you with two options.

The truth is, the game is so much more physical this way. Iowa State is already playing an NBA offense, and many more would follow if the line went back a few more inches.

– Jim Burch

Born and raised near St. Louis, Jim Burch developed an obsession for baseball and the Cardinals. College days brought him to Kentucky he I studied creative writing and journalism while working as an editor for the Murray State News. Today he lives in Chandler, AZ.