College Basketball Exhibitions: No Longer Open Season
November is the time when college basketball season finally begins.
It’s also the time when top teams tune up against exhibition
Chances are your favorite team’s preseason schedule looks decidedly
different this year. Where are the Marathon Oils, Athletes in Action,
Nike Elite, and EA Sports teams who typically tour the country?
names are now obsolete in college basketball thanks to an NCAA rule
change adopted back in April. Division I schools can no longer compete
against non-collegiate competition.
fact, a travel team appeared on this season’s tilt only if a binding
contract existed prior to October 21, 2003 (like Georgia Tech
and VA Tech who both played EA Sports).
So what made the NCAA take such a stern look, at what appeared to be,
AAU ties for one. Certain club teams had connections with coaches who
were affiliated with some of the nation’s top prep talent. Several
coaches claimed they felt pressure to schedule these teams or lose
There’s no doubt one incident which became extremely public last
season, sped up the legislation process.
controversy ensued when UCONN scheduled a makeshift travel team called
the Beltway Ballers. The
Ballers took a 102-44 pounding, but the
center of controversy swirled around McDonald’s All-American Rudy
Gay’s recruitment. Gay’s AAU team was sponsored by the same group that
owned the Ballers.
Baltimore club team received $25,000 just for showing up in Storrs.
Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams, who was also recruiting Gay, turned
down a chance to play the Ballers.
Williams was quick to imply that the game was scheduled to secure
Gay’s commitment to the Huskies.
Terp’s coach was quoted as saying, “we
could’ve scheduled an AAU team and given them $25,000 dollars like
some schools I know.”
Though UCONN was guilty of no wrongdoing (according to the rules), the
riff between Calhoun and Williams became public.
was it a case of sour grapes from Williams or was this a legitimate
wasn’t easy for the Maryland coach to watch such a gifted athlete walk
out of his backyard and into a Connecticut uniform.
were coaches buying exhibitions or buying recruiting relationships? A
question the NCAA answered by eliminating the notion of impropriety.
The exhibitions were soon history.
coaches will claim this practice was not a prominent part of the
college basketball landscape. However, most will agree that even if it
happened once, it’s worth fixing. We all know it happened more often
majority of Division I coaches were unfazed by the ruling and
considered it a plus. Conversely, others thought the competition had
been downgraded and scheduled closed door scrimmages against other
Division I schools.
May, Kansas’s Bill Self was one coach who provided his stamp of
approval. "I am
all for playing exhibition games against four-year institutions," Self
said. "I think this is a great exhibition game. From their
perspective, they (in-state Division Two schools) would rather play
them as exhibition games rather than regular season, too, because they
don't count on your won-loss record."
Scheduling Division II opponents is nothing new for the Kansas
Jayhawks. Since 1992, KU has played two
in-state opponents during each regular season. The goal in mind was to
help bolster the budgets of their in-state buddies.
tradition will continue at KU when the Jayhawks
play a duo of DII schools in each exhibition season. Four state
schools exist so each school will travel to Lawrence every other year.
This year the honor belonged to Emporia State and Washburn. Next year
Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State take a turn. The $20-$25,000 each
school receives to play these games goes a long way in helping to
finance each school’s athletic program. More Division II schools will
reap those benefits thanks to the new legislation.
Conflict of interest and possible recruiting issues were not the only
reasons coaches were happy to make the change. At times, the club
teams were disjointed and seemingly could’ve found 5 players from the
stands and been more competitive. Other times the competition was very
stern (like the Harlem Globetrotters). Regardless, teams have a much
better chance of playing a well-organized squad that plays together.
Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini
disposed of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 78-58 in their
exhibition-opener. The 2nd year coach gave Division II
exhibition games his stamp of approval.
teams we’re playing now at least have a team concept and have been
together for a certain amount of time”, said Weber. “They can control
tempo to a certain degree and give you some different looks that help
you prepare a little better for the regular season.”
offenses and set styles; two other elements Division I coaches looked
forward to from their Division II foes. The exhibition season is
coming to a close and the jury is still out, but most coaches have
already reached their verdict.
were Head Coach Mike Brey’s comments after
his Notre Dame team defeated St. Joseph’s
Indiana in an exhibition game 80-67. "I like the new rule having to
play college teams (in exhibitions)," said Brey.
"It was great for us. We had to prepare against a difficult system.
They played hard. I don't know if we'll play against a team who
changes ends as hard as they do."
praise from a coach who’s team could contend for a Big East title this
year. Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams backed up the notion that
these exhibition opponents can certainly alert coaches to potential
trouble spots. The Terps trailed Bryant
College at the half, but won 100-85.
find out what you need to find out. I was concerned if there was a
blowout, we wouldn’t find some things out,” said Williams. “But the
way Bryant hung with us certainly gave us a chance to see some things,
and one is that we’re not playing good enough defense.”
Division I coaches attempted to dissect their problems, their DII foes
relished the opportunity.
DII and III schools lack the athleticism, size, and depth of their
Division I counterparts? In most cases the answer to that question
would be a resounding – Yes. They’re willing to take the beating
because it’s not about a margin of victory. It’s about the financial
lift given to their athletic programs and the experience of a lifetime
provided for the players.
for example Kentucky Wesleyan who has won 8 national championships.
But arguably, the program’s most unbelievable 7-day span came when
they took on Kentucky and Louisville in exhibition contests. It’s
more then an exhibition game to these teams.
Kansas, some Division I schools attempt to keep the finances at home
by playing and paying their DII neighbors. Penn State paid
Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference member East Stroudsburg
University $5,000 to come to the Bryce Jordan Center and find out how
they stacked up against the Nittany Lions.
Again, as ESU Head Coach Jeff Wilson will reiterate, it’s not about a
final score but the unparalleled experience his players were a part
was an experience that no one else in our program’s had. We got to
play in a Division I Big Ten arena and see where our team is at”, said
Wilson. “It was a great experience for our kids to compete against
athletes of that caliber and in that kind of atmosphere.”
Wilson chose to play Warrior-style basketball against their formidable
Big Ten foe. The result was an 87-46 loss, but it was not a wasted
trip for ESU.
question is do you play your style or do you walk it up? Our style is
to run and press” said Wilson, who was also an assistant coach at the
Division I level at Lehigh. “We chose to play our style and that’s to
run and press. A lot of teams might have chosen to have a better
chance at winning by walking it up and using the 35-second shot clock.
We decided to press to see what we could do against their team.”
According to Wilson, the games are a no-lose proposition. “No
negatives come out of these games as long as everyone’s healthy. Our
guys came out of it healthy, their guys are healthy. There are no
Warriors, like many other Division II and III teams, would like to
make these games an annual occurrence.
don’t know if we’d play two games like this but I’d definitely like to
play one every year”, said Wilson. “Maybe play one Big Ten team and
one lower level Division I team to see where we’re at.”
that leaves my assessment of the situation. I think the travel team
impact on recruiting was overrated. I don’t believe these games made
the difference as to whether a team landed a talented prep star.
However, I think arm-twisting occurred with the potential for more. I
just don’t believe it actually mattered much in the final outcome.
That being said I love the rule change, and anything that attempts to
clean up college hoops is a good thing.
highlight of the rule is the big boys are able to give back to the
little guys financially. The cash flow isn’t the same in Division I,
II, and III. A guaranteed payout is a huge boost to any athletic
program. This has to be a lift in for their recruiting too. I’m sure
there are a bunch of travel team coaches and organizers who don’t
share my enthusiasm. They can thank the few bad seeds for costing them
these opportunities. Bottom line is that’s not what matters most in
this equation. Club coaches can no longer manipulate the system.
DI coaches aren’t convinced the “new” competition is up to par. I’m
convinced it’s a step above most of the travel teams that showed up.
Collegiate teams run a system with set plays, they’ve played together
for a longer period of time, and they will certainly bring their best
effort. Ask Kansas if Washburn was decent competition, ask Maryland
about Bryant. The margin of victory in these games was not as wide as
you might’ve thought
an opportunity for the kids to play in a Division
I arena, against elite competition to find out how they stack
up! In my mind with this new rule everybody wins. Makes you wonder why
they didn’t just schedule these games before.