Thoughts on Reform in College Sports

I’m a college professor and former high school basketball coach who has taught many college athletes over the past decade. I’ve recently listened to two books that I highly recommend, books that have got me thinking a lot about what reforms might be needed when it comes to men’s college basketball and football or any other sport that generates significant revenue for its university.

college sports, pay for play, NCAA, college basketball, football, Indentured, Joe Nocera, Jeff Benedict, Ben Strauss, Armen Keteyian

The Professional Minor Leagues Give Athletes a Choice Other Than College

Three Ideas for Reform

  1. Negotiated Player Contracts: These contracts could be anything ranging from partial one-year scholarships to full rides with monthly stipends in the thousands of dollars. These contracts could include the sort of healthcare provided or scholarships that are honored even after professional careers have ended. For many schools and most athletes, nothing would change. There’s nothing about being a student that means you can’t earn money. That some football and basketball players would get paid wouldn’t disrupt parity. There’s already nothing equal or level about the college football programs at places such as the University of Texas compared to Bowling Green. Title IX? Check out Alabama’s football coach’s salary versus whatever the volleyball or softball coach makes. The main problem here is that billions of dollars are being made on the hard work of and talents of 18-22 year olds while they get very little in return. If all the sudden the University of Kentucky basketball players were earning $1,000 a month stipends, I don’t think this would make their fans any less enthusiastic.
  2. Freshman Sit Out Their First Year of College: While I’m all for the athletes who bring billions of dollars to their respective conferences earning some of that money, I also think they ought to be students. I don’t think players have any business coming through school for a couple of months before not even finishing their second semester in college to turn pro. I don’t blame today’s current players. They are doing the best they can within the current system. For those students who are going to represent their colleges on the playing field or court, they ought to be students at those institutions. For athletes who really want to be students too, that first year will be an important step to getting off to a strong academic start. The requirement would also discourage those players who aren’t interested in being students from ever showing up to college in the first place.
  3. Continued Development of Professional Minor Leagues: I don’t think potential professional athletes should have to wait a year after high school to turn pro. I don’t think young people who are only interested in playing a sport should be pushed hard into going to college. I’m excited for young basketball players to have something such as the NBA Developmental League where they can continue to develop much in the same way young baseball players have for decades.

I hope this post can be the start of a thoughtful conversation in this digital space about what might work best when it comes to NCAA sports, revenue, and the working conditions of college athletes. Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I hope you’ll be willing to contribute to the conversation.


Back in the Zone / Back to OKC

Was that a zone defense Golden State played?

zone defense, Golden State, Warriors, Steph Curry, Steve Kerr, OKC, Thunder, Westbrook, Durant

not a zone

Watch along the baseline in the clip above. #40 Harrison Barnes chases Durant to the corner. If defenders chase the man they are guarding to a different part of the court, you’re looking at a man-to-man defense. If defenders point to each other and pass off offensive players to each other to guard, then you’re probably looking at a zone. At the end of this play, it sure looks like Golden State is in a match up or 2-3 zone, but they aren’t.

Extra note: In Golden State’s man-to-man defense, usually everyone not guarding the ball has a foot in the lane. They are really packed in, and when you combine that with the fact that sometimes the Thunder players don’t move (happening less in the playoffs) it’s easy to think that Golden State is playing zone.

zone defense

match up zone defense 

In the clip above, watch ponytailed #12 Steven Adams in the blue for the Thunder. When he runs away from Golden State’s Bogut in the paint, Bogut just lets him go. He points to Curry to pick up Adams. Switching every screen has a lot in common with playing a zone defense.

In a zone, you match up with the person in your area. Theoretically, this means Golden State could have someone like their center Bogut match up with Durant when he tries to post up in the lane but have someone faster and more mobile like Draymond Green defend Durant when he is on the perimeter.

I remember Coach Bob Knight saying that the offense’s advantage versus a zone is that they get to pick who they want to attack. Want to play your little point guard on top of the zone? How about we put Dirk Nowitzki up there to shoot threes over your little guy? The defense’s advantage is that they get to pick where their players play.

zone defense, Golden State, Warriors, Stephen Curry, OKC, Thunder, Durant, Westbrook, NBA, Western Conference Finals

looks like a zone

On TNT, Chris Webber sounded like he was in disbelief that Golden State went to a zone. I tend to agree with CW’s assessment that this is indeed a zone. The aspect of this play that gives me pause is when Golden State’s Andre Iguodala seems to beat a screen and chase Durant to the top of the key. I think A.I. probably abandoned his post for a second so that Durant wasn’t left running free or else Kanter came down and tried to pin him inside so Durant could get free for a shot.

It might be interesting to see if Golden State tries to play more zone in Game six.

Yeah, Golden State played some zone, but Curry was back in the zone as a shooter


Curry back to his old MVP self

In the upper right hand corner, first Curry goes back door off a down screen. Then he runs off a down screen on the other side of the court to the perimeter. Adams can’t decide if he should chase him or not. This is the kind of play where the defense pays so much attention to Curry that the screeners are left open.

Although Curry’s percentage was below average, he was 10-10 from the line, making circus moves around the hoop we are used to, and scored 31 points.

What do I mean the screeners get open?


#12 Bogut screens for Thompson


It’s most impressive when the player with the ball realizes the screener is open and find him. In this case, this is most likely a set play out of a timeout. Pay attention to #12 Bogut. He is heading to screen for Thompson, a fantastic three point shooter. When everyone runs out to the shooter, Bogut gets free for the dunk.

When Ezeli hits two, you know it was Golden State’s night

Festus Ezeli, Golden State, Warriors, Curry, Steve Kerr, OKC, Durant, Westbrook

Swish, swish!

Festus Ezeli shot 53% from the line during the season and 42% in the playoffs. Here, near the end of the third quarter, he makes the both. Game six coming right up on Saturday night in Oklahoma City!

Ode to Steven Adams

With the biggest props from game 4 of the Western Conference Finals going to Russell Westbrook and his triple double, I wanted to write about the play of Steve Adams, some of the stuff that doesn’t make the postgame barrage of highlights. However, I ran into problems coming up with a title that would set up the list of of Adams clips I wanted to share with you. Thus–with props to John Keats for providing a model I could follow–this “Ode to Steven Adams’ Game Four” was born:

Thou ponytailed big man,

practitioner of the baby hook

Steven Adams, Thunder, OKC, Durant, Westbrook

nice little flip shot from Adams


Long jump shots are sweet,

but long jump shots blocked are sweeter

Steven Adams, OKC, Thunder, Golden State, Warriors, basketball, NBA, defense, switch screen

Adams blocks Curry’s shot


Let them grab your jersey,

Nothing will deny you from at least a tip

Steven Adams, Thunder, OKC, Westbrook, Durant

Adams keeps possession alive for Thunder


Curry so dangerous on the screen and roll

but your big mitt got a piece


Deflection by Adams


Reggie Miller, voice of TNT, say’st,

You look like Arvydas Sabonis with the long pass.

I think you must have played dodge ball.

Steven Adams, Reggie Miller, TNT, Thunder, OKC, Durant, Wesbrook

Adams throws a strike