College basketball will never have the offseason reach professional sports operate with. Without a real free agency, the speculation coming with it is absent. Instead, at least traditionally, the focus lasts roughly a month after the NCAA Tournament ends, with an eye on the coaching carousel.
Thanks to the relatively new NBA Draft withdrawal deadline rules, giving players nearly the entire month of May to make a decision, college basketball names remain in the limelight longer. Not only those superstars casual hoop heads already know, but under-the-radar types who are just now coming into their own.
While it isn’t perfect, and regardless how one feels about the absurd number of players who declare without any sincere chance of being invited to prominent NBA combine events, college basketball should be grateful for it — even if it’s only because of the extended life the draft provides.
A similar thought could be had when talking about the transfer portal. Over the last few years, over 700 players per offseason hurl their names in the abyss, hoping to find the grass is greener on the other side.
Popular narrative is to yell about a lack of commitment regarding some of these student-athletes leaving one place for another, though a majority of the talent leaving is actually transferring down or out of Division I hoops. Furthermore, when compared to regular college students, student-athletes actually move about schools at a lower rate.
Nevertheless, this isn’t a discussion on ethics, a lack thereof, labor rights, NCAA ideals or anything else falling within those conversation pitfalls. It’s about college basketball’s reach, and how the sport is better off by having the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline and transfer portal around in terms relative to that specific situation only.
Popular college basketball reporter Jon Rothstein often tweets a phrase, suggesting college hoops fans and media can sleep in May. It’s a recurring theme he uses throughout much of the sport’s season, especially when he’s trying to highlight crazy shenanigans happening off and on the court. And yet, with the withdrawal deadline and transfer portal growing in prominence, the Sports Illustrated and CBS reporter might want to push it back yet another month.
Without recapping the entire month, over the last few days alone, May featured some stunning news. Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear pulled out from the NBA Draft and deciding to hurl his name in the transfer portal as a graduate transfer; Quentin Grimes, a former five-star prospect, decided to transfer away from the Kansas Jayhawks; and two of the best mid-major players in the country, Vermont’s Anthony Lamb and Siena’s Jalen Pickett, both decided to return to school after toying around with the idea of starting their professional journeys early.
That’s great publicity the sport would otherwise not receive. For those returning, after receiving increased recognition thanks to NBA Draft gurus scurrying to cover each potential next big sleeper, semi-stars were created for fans — both professional and college — who would unlikely be aware of budding superstars like Lamb and Pickett.
Moreover, for the transfers, it allows for speculation. Who will jump where and how will it impact whatever program? With the increased movement, especially for players once projected to be top flight talent, offseason content won’t be limited to the coaching carousel. Rather, folks and fans can fill the air with conjecture, openly asking about the best destination spots for a player such as Grimes.
Of course, it doesn’t mean this is happening for every player or on some insanely grand scale. Whatever rise in interest the NBA Draft process brought those two mid-major stars is likely minimal, although growth in popularity, not matter how tiny, is still growth.
It’s the little victories for college basketball, honestly. The NBA Draft withdrawal deadline helps to put a few players on more people’s radars. The NCAA transfer portal allows for fun conversation to happen well after the actual season ends.
In a roundabout, twisted — because none of the players are getting paid — way, this is the closest college basketball will ever come to the NBA’s wildly popular free agency period. The conjecture is different. Lower and less impacting results happen at the amateur level. However, the discussions around the sport are expanding well beyond early April now, and for the first time in a what seems like forever, it’s not due to scandal.
There’s complications coming from both. You’ll read about coaches being upset about roster turnover, forced to deal with up-in-the-air scholarship situations the withdrawal deadline and transfer portal present. On the flip side, there’s player rights to consider and a whole other bunch of complicated scenarios.
All things to consider if the conversation turns to whether or not the NCAA should embrace these mechanisms as branding tactics. Given there’s no tangible data that can back how this helps college hoops, or refute it for that matter, there may never be an easy way to have the embrace-or-not debate.
Regardless, for fans, it turns a supposed few month a year sport into nearly a half-year adventure. If we’re lucky, Jon Rothstein is wrong. We’ll actually lose sleep in May.
If we’re fortunate, may we never sleep at all.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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