Offseason Storylines College Basketball Fans Wish Would Go Away
The college basketball season officially runs from November to early April. This is when actual games are contested and players get to (mostly) focus on playing the game.
Then there's the long offseason, when it seems like far too much happens.
And most of it isn't good.
Since the 2013-14 season ended with Connecticut's thrilling run to a second title in four years, hardly a day has gone by without some storyline or another popping up to keep college basketball in the news for something other than baskets and rebounds.
Most of this news is important to some degree, but that doesn't mean we're happy to have it occur. Sometimes we just wish it would go away, giving us more time to look ahead to what excitement awaits us when the 2014-15 season ramps up again in less than five months.
Here's our list of the offseason storylines we wish would just disappear.
Constant Roster Fluctuation
While you're reading this, odds are another Division I college basketball player or two is announcing his decision to transfer.
Transfers in college basketball are nothing new, but it feels like this offseason has been far worse than all other years combined. ESPN's Jeff Goodman has undergone the painstaking task of trying to track what stands at more than 500 transfers since the end of the 2013-14 season, listing the public announcements of their departure and declared destinations.
Another 50-plus players transferred midway through last season, and they will be eligible for their new teams in December. The offseason group includes players who are eligible right away or who will have to sit out the 2014-15 season.
For fans of a school landing an impact transfer, the practice is welcomed with open arms. To backers of teams who lose a standout, it's abhorred. In some cases, both situations apply to the same program, as the transfer system has almost turned into a form of collegiate restricted free agency.
Oregon has seen five players leave the program since the Ducks lost to Wisconsin in the third round of the NCAA tournament, including three players implicated in a sexual assault investigation. That trio included Brandon Austin, a player who had transferred to Oregon from Providence during the winter and still wasn't eligible to play.
The moves have been so prevalent it's almost like some have become player trades. Georgia Tech lost forward Robert Carter to Maryland and then picked up Maryland forward Charles Mitchell within the same one-week span.
We expect this sort of thing in professional sports, but in college? As fans, we'd just like to see our teams' rosters stay a little more intact. Graduation and early NBA departures are painful enough.
The One-and-Done Debate
In May, the Pac-12 Conference sent a letter, signed by its schools' presidents, to the other major college conferences asking for their support in a series of proposals that they called "core objectives." The proposals dealt with a number of issues, including having a college scholarship cover the full cost of a school's attendance and ways to streamline the transfer process.
It also included a bold suggestion for managing the issue of college basketball players turning pro after one season:
7. Address the "one-and-done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.
Needless to say, this proposal hasn't gone over well with critics. It doesn't even look like it would fly with Pac-12 coaches, as Washington's Lorenzo Romar panned the idea in a radio interview. He noted that freshman ineligibility wouldn't prevent players from going pro after one year, because NBA scouts can still attend college practices. They would be able to evaluate these players' skills and talents in that way.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been open about his wish to raise the age minimum for the league from 19 to 20. However, any changes won't happen for a while and will require a lot of work with the player's union. That's where the change should come from. At the college level, an ineligibility rule would impact far more first-year players who have no intention of leaving early than it would rein in the superstars.
Bad Draft Declarations
A total of 44 players declared early for the 2014 NBA draft. That list included many of the ones we expected based on hype and performance. It wasn't surprising to see Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins go pro after one season, or guys who had monster 2013-14 seasons like Nik Stauskas and T.J. Warren.
Others caught us collectively off guard. Seeing UCLA's Zach LaVine turn pro despite averaging just 24 minutes per game as a freshman (and tallying just 14 points in the Bruins' final five games) was a bit of a shock. Same with 7'5" Sim Bhullar of New Mexico State, who despite his size and girth still looked like a work in progress after his second season of college ball.
Yes, those departures were surprising, but should their decisions be mocked? If players are able to leave after one season, as is the case now, then it should be expected that it can (and will) happen. There's no sense in criticizing the moves, either in regard to the player or to the program they leave behind, because there's no going back.
Fans didn't like to see those players go, but for the most part they've moved on. There are new recruits to get excited about. The future should be the focus rather than glimpses into the past.
Late Coaching Moves
With Marist's hiring of Mike Maker on Tuesday as its head coach, the Division I coaching carousel has officially come to a stop. For now.
All of the vacancies that opened up either during or since the end of the 2013-14 season have been filled, with many openings created as a result of previous hirings or firings. It's become part of the game in college basketball, but this year it went on far longer than normal.
Marist's job didn't open up until June 3, when Jeff Bower left the program after one season to become general manager of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. Three other small school positions didn't get filled until June as well, but they had all been open for a while.
Among the major jobs, Oregon State waited until May to cut ties with Craig Robinson, then took a few weeks to search before it grabbed Wayne Tinkle away from Montana. That required Montana to scramble late, but the Grizzlies avoided poaching another program's coach by hiring former California assistant Travis DeCuire.
(On a side note, the overall coaching carousel isn't over, as Marist's new coach left a Division III program, Williams, for the bigger job.)
Coaching changes this late in the game almost guarantee that the new hire's first season is going to be an afterthought, because recruiting and other offseason work won't get fully addressed. Some schools are holding summer workouts, but without a coach that wouldn't be possible.
If another job were to open up at this point, even further movement could occur. This would leave players and assistant coaches in limbo heading into 2014-15.
The excitement of March Madness is bolstered by the little teams from small conferences who go on a magical run in their league tournaments to squeak into the Big Dance. This past year that recipe described the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which went 7-9 in the Horizon League to finish in fifth place in the regular season. However, then they got hot and made it into the tourney.
The Panthers won't be doing the same thing in 2014-15, as they were one of eight Division I schools declared ineligible for postseason play because of low Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores.
None of the schools are from power conferences—San Jose State of the Mountain West would be considered the most "major" team affected—but that doesn't take away from the message that's being sent. The APR factors in graduation rates for a program over several seasons and adjusts that number for players who transfer, go pro or leave for other reasons. If the score is too low then a school is punished.
Actually, the punishment mostly affects players who weren't part of the problem, but it's the system that's in place. We hate to see it happen, but as long as they're known as "student-athletes" it's going to occur.
The postseason ban is the most significant penalty available, but other schools have been hit with smaller consequences that have more of a chance to help future APR scores. That includes reduction in practice time, in favor of study hours.
Rashad McCants' Wayback Accusation
Allegations of academic fraud at varying levels have been thrown about in college basketball for years, with claims that players get preferential treatment when it comes to classes, schoolwork and grading. When these claims come out, they're (hopefully) addressed in a timely manner and dealt with appropriately.
If they're not, a scandal can occur. This is exactly what's been percolating at North Carolina.
Fans don't necessarily want to see these things swept under the rug. However, there's a certain level of backlash and frustration when an accusation comes about way after the fact, such as with the recent claims made by former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants.
McCants last played in college in 2005, when he helped the Tar Heels win the NCAA title, yet he didn't go public until this month with claims he took "paper classes" and had grades moved around to avoid being ineligible. That's nine years between when this allegedly happened and when he's brought it up.
While it's better that something like this comes out during the offseason, when it can avoid becoming a distraction to a current team, having it revealed after such a long hiatus brings about more disdain than an allegation this serious should garner.
The O'Bannon Trial
Since June 9, a federal courthouse in Oakland has been the de facto center of the college sports universe. That's where former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon's anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA is being held. In the end, the potential ramifications of whatever U.S. District Court judge Claudia Wilken rules could change the college landscape forever.
O'Bannon's suit centers around the claim that selling television broadcast rights for college basketball, college football and other sports without compensating players is unfair because the players involved are the main attraction and the key revenue draw. A win for the plaintiffs could lead to players getting paid to be on TV, thus blowing open the wall that keeps college athletes considered amateurs.
The trial does have the potential to have a major effect on college hoops, but odds are any rulings won't trickle down into an actual impact for some time. Fans should have a vested interest in what comes from the case, but it's not exactly the kind of summer activity that keeps you entertained.
Most college basketball fans just wish a decision would get made and changes would be implemented. No need for the long, drawn-out process. Like expanding the NCAA tournament from 64 to 68 teams, we just want it done without too much discussion or debate.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.