Thamel: College Basketball A Billion-Dollar Business With No One In Charge

The NCAA is in trouble, Pete Thamel says, and it needs to act with more urgency

The DA Show
April 08, 2019 - 11:45 am
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Pete Thamel dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Monday to discuss his latest column, which effectively sounds the alarm for college basketball – and the NCAA in general.

The problem? Tonight’s “generationally unsexy” title-game matchup between Virginia and Texas Tech could soon be the rule, not the exception. 

“I think tonight’s game will be close, I think it will be exciting – I’m looking forward to it,” Thamel said on The DA Show. “But I don’t think America is particularly riveted by Texas Tech/Virginia. I know certainly fans are if you really love college basketball. Basically, if you have a KenPom account, you’re really excited about this game. But do you think the Boston market and the New York market are gong to be riveted to see maybe if De’Andre Hunter shows up for a half tonight? I think there will be a lot of empty seats in the stadium. You probably wouldn’t watch this matchup on ESPN in December, right? If it was on a Tuesday night in some challenge that they make up now to try to spice up the early season – (a lot of people still wouldn’t watch it).”

Which is why Thamel expects low ratings tonight – and lower ratings in the post-one-and-done era. 

“This is a billion-dollar business predicated on free labor,” Thamel said. “It’s the greatest business model in America. And they don’t even have a plan. They’re going to lose the best 20 people in their labor force in two or three years. Imagine this season without Zion. That’s what we’re staring at at this point. Jarrett Culver and De’Andre Hunter are your best players – and they’re great. They’re awesome players, they’re awesome teams, and they’re great coaches and they deserve to be here. 

“But the reality is there’s less juice,” Thamel continued. “There’s definitely going to be less ratings. . . . This is what the reality of the game is becoming. So you can ignore it and stick your hand on your ears and write love letters to Tony Bennett, which is great. He deserves them. He’s an awesome coach. But when you talk about the mainstream appeal of the sport, it’s not going to be there in the upcoming years the way it has been in the last few.”

Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, among others, believe the NCAA is not prepared for the end of one-and-done and needs to be more forward-thinking.

Well, don’t hold your breath.

“The NCAA is a historically reactive organization,” Thamel said. “I got a text from an NBA guy yesterday who (coached) in college, he’s (been gone for) a handful of years, and he said he was blown away with how lazy and non-forward-thinking the NCAA is. I just think that’s the case here. . . . At the end of the day, no one can argue this: college basketball is a billion-dollar business with no one in charge – and they need to start acting differently.”

Thamel, though, doesn’t want to sound too fatalist. 

“People aren’t going to stop watching the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “They can gamble on it. The bracket has been the great bail-out to prevent forward-thinking for this sport. The bracket has basically saved the game from people having to think and evolve – until they’re absolutely forced to with a knife. The games could be terrible, and people are still going to watch because they’re gambling on it. It’s basically reality TV for buzzer-beaters. The bracket and the tournament have been so successful it’s impeded forward progress and evolution. These guys who have been around for 40 years are basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s get a plan together.’”