SPORTS: Is there the will to heal college basketball’s ills?

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I had a terrific lunch-time conversation with someone involved in college athletics, a person whose perspectives I admire because I know he hasn’t come to them easily.

The jumping-off point for our discussion was the recent formation of the College Basketball Partnership, or CBP. It is a collection of coaches, administrators, broadcasters and NCAA staff, convened at the urging of NCAA President Myles Brand.

Its task is to “address the challenges and opportunities” facing college basketball, especially at the Division I level.

It’s an overdue attempt to address the symptoms of the illness before the illness becomes fatal. But talk is easy. What will the panel accomplish in substance?

Among the initiatives are-or should be-an effort to distinguish the college game from its professional counterpart, the NBA. Sadly, the two have too much in common: high-salaried, hyperactive, big-ego coaches; showboating players; insulting fans; a deteriorating game caused by (a) players’ poor fundamental skills and (b) the lack of rules enforcement by inept officials; virtually total control by the whims of the all-mighty master, television; games played on all nights of the week; cross-country scheduling and travel; the proliferation of commercialism; players and coaches who come and go so quickly, either to the pros or to another school, that there seems to be no continuity … well, need I go on?

College basketball has long been my favorite sport, but I have to admit my passion is on the wane. Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s because my three favorite programs-Indiana, Purdue and Butler-are struggling so.

As we assessed the state of the game and what we hoped the CBP might accomplish, my friend and I agreed on some things, and were not in concert on others.

I suggested there needed to be some way to ensure that those arriving to play college basketball as freshmen would stay to play through at least their junior or senior years, preferably for the same university. I championed an agreement-not my idea-with the NBA and its players’ association that would be similar to the rules the NFL and Major League Baseball and their players’ associations have: that once a student-athlete enrolled in college, he could not turn pro until his incoming class had completed its junior year.

My friend scoffed at the notion. He said college basketball shouldn’t ask the NBA for any cooperation or participation and was unlikely to get any even if it did.

We agreed that college basketball should address officiating, rules enforcement and, more specifically, the adoption of the international rules, including the trapezoidal lane. Today’s international game reminds me of the college game I once loved: wide-open and free-flowing, with good shooting, outstanding movement and excellent spacing.

As far as officiating, we’d both start with this simple dictum: Call the darn foul. The hand checks, the body-on-body bumping in the lane and the moving screens are just a few of what should be renewed points of emphasis.

We concurred that a much trickier proposition is what to do about the influence of television, given the lucre it provides. The recent ACC-Big Ten Challenge is a prime example of a made-for-TV “event” that had teams traveling midweek and playing late games-and in the week before final exams.

I’ve long advocated regional scheduling, especially for midweek games. And no midweek game should start later than 8 p.m. local time. But do the commissioners, the power coaches and the administrators on the CBP have the nerve to say no to TV and yes to the kind of scheduling that would keep their athletes on campus more, especially during the week? I’m skeptical.

Even the NCAA needs to strongly assess its adherence to the dictates of CBS in the staging of its tournament. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a 10:20 p.m. start on a Thursday is just wrong.

Finally, as it addresses challenges and opportunities in Division I, all of Division I needs to be represented. The CBP has no voice speaking for the Butlers, Ball States, Indiana States, Valpos and IUPUIs. It needs one, if not several.

We shall see what the partnership comes up with, and if it has the gumption to put principles, the beauty of the game and student-athlete welfare ahead of the cha-ching. Brand, Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski and others are bullish about what the CBP can accomplish.

I’ll be bullish when I know it’s not bull.

Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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