Coach K calls out NCAA for lack of hoops vision: 'We need a new model'

WASHINGTON – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took the podium at the NCAA tournament on Saturday afternoon and used it as a pulpit to bluntly address the future of the game. He didn't hold back.

In unusually candid comments, Krzyzewski called out the lack of NCAA leadership and vision regarding the future of the sport and its lack of preparedness to handle the imminent landscape shifts. With the end of the one-and-done era expected to come by the 2022 NBA draft, Krzyzewski grilled the NCAA's lack of plan and vision for the future of the sport.

"The NCAA is not prepared right now," Krzyzewski said. "They need to be in concert with the NBA in developing a plan that is specific for men's college basketball."

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Essentially, Krzyzewski said college basketball needs to be run more like a business in the face of increased competition, calling for a "new model" for the sport.

The current model doesn't allow athletes to get paid beyond a scholarship, expenses and a small stipend. Athletes cannot profit off their own image and likeness, a hypocrisy that's becoming more glaring as the television contracts have soared into the billions, coaching salaries have escalated to where Krzyzewski makes $9 million annually and recent federal investigations have shown a sophisticated black market to peddle players. "In this time, the definition of amateurism … it's outdated," Krzyzewski said. "We need a new model."

Soon, elite players like Zion Williamson, the star of this NCAA tournament, will no longer be required to attend college. Krzyzewski called for more to be done to make the collegiate option more attractive or at least evolved from the current space. The G League has grown into a much more nuanced and sophisticated feeder system to the NBA. It may end up a landing spot for more top high school players once they don't have to attend college for one season, a rule that went into place following the 2005 NBA draft.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski watches his team during an NCAA men's college basketball practice in Washington, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Duke plays Virginia Tech in an East Regional semifinal game on Friday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski watches his team during an NCAA men's college basketball practice in Washington, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Duke plays Virginia Tech in an East Regional semifinal game on Friday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The G League was founded in 2001 but wasn't a serious option for top high school recruits at the time. But the culture of when players jump to the NBA early has changed distinctly since then. Elite recruits who spend more than a season in college are stigmatized in the current climate, and many will now leave school at the chance of being a second-round pick. Will a rule change translate to a flood of top players skipping college to immediately turn professional? No one is sure, but Krzyzewski is unhappy with the lack of preparedness from the NCAA.

"We should already have a plan," he said. "And I think what you do is, the NBA has a plan, then we have a plan. And you say, well, do they mesh? OK. Oh, that's pretty good, your plan. In other words, we work a little bit better than our government, where we don't just sit on both sides of the aisle."

At the heart of Krzyzewski's point was acknowledging that the NCAA is a billion-dollar business that needs to protect its most vital asset – college basketball and the NCAA tournament. (The NCAA makes very little money from college football.) With competition imminent, Krzyzewski thinks there needs to be vision and leadership.

"The NBA is a business," he said. "It's an amazing business. They're going to have a model. What's our model? And how do we cooperate with [the NBA] and the players association."

That's why Krzyzewski called for some leadership to emerge that can show recruits that college basketball can remain a top attraction for elite recruits. While not explicitly calling to pay the players, he wants some discussion and vision of what the sport will look like and how it will market itself in a space that's suddenly more competitive.

"Tell me the environment that we're going to be in," he said. "I don't know what a youngster, how a youngster will be taken care of. Is the G League advanced? Do they have a TV contract? Look, if it gets to that — if a kid coming out of high school does not go to college and get marketed — I would think the NBA would want to market. So is there another form of TV there that the NCAA is then competing against?"

Krzyzewski has been close to Adam Silver, a Duke graduate, long before he formally became NBA commissioner in 2014. Silver is on Duke's board of trustees and has been a frequent presence at Duke games over the past decade.

Krzyzewski's call for cooperation with the NBA is complicated by the fact that the NCAA doesn't have anyone specifically in charge of basketball. NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt runs the NCAA tournament, which is one of the NCAA's most important jobs because the tournament drive's more than 90 percent of the organization's revenue. But for years there's been a call for college basketball to have its own commissioner to oversee the best interests of a sport in flux.

The name of ESPN commentator Jay Bilas has often come up in basketball circles, which would be a bit like Hillary Clinton joining President Trump's cabinet considering how much Bilas has criticized the NCAA over the years.

"And with all these things that are changing, it cries out for coordination of creating this new model," Krzyzewski said. "If we don't do it, our game's going to suffer. Our game is going to suffer."

In the macro, the NCAA tournament remains the lone fiscal bond between places like Miami and Maine staying under the same umbrella. Any drive for top schools to leave the NCAA would come from football, which isn't nearly as financially tied to the NCAA. (Football money flows through the conferences directly from the television contracts and essentially cuts out the NCAA.)

Michigan State associate head coach Dane Fife brought up an interesting point about how the NCAA tournament could look much different once elite players can again go straight to the NBA.

"It could go both ways," he said. "The parity could allow for March Madness to have even more madness. If you're the basketball fan that needs the dynamic athlete, the electricity and energy of the game, it could get boring."

Michigan State would likely be a beneficiary of the rule changes, as they've always been more of a developmental program that thrives off veterans, defense and coach Tom Izzo's refined system. Izzo said his biggest worry on the rule changes was the unintended consequences of kids turning professional that aren't ready.

"There's moving parts that I don't think we know, and then it will take five, six years to figure out," he said. "Was it good or was it bad? And I don't know. There's only a couple LeBrons and Kobes out there. There's a lot of people that have gone the other way. That's the only thing I worry about. It's for them."

The unknowns speak to Krzyzewski's point of protecting what college basketball and the NCAA tournament has built and being sure it's ready to handle a new era of more direct competition.

"All these [are] fundamental issues here that need to be looked at," Krzyzewski said. "And I don't see any discussion about those."

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