When beloved Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright announced this week that he decided to resign because he “lost his edge,” you and I were surprised. And sad because he’s one of the coolest guys in college basketball: classy, successful, and good for the game.
Hardly anyone saw this coming. He’s only 60 years old. Top hoops coaches don’t usually drop out at 60; they chase more national titles.
But maybe we should have seen this coming.
I suspect part of the reason he lost his edge is he knows he can’t control who plays on his basketball team anymore. When coaches lose control of their battleships, they’re lost at sea.
College basketball now twists in rough and unchartered waters. At the end of each season, any player can transfer to another school and play the next season. This is radically new enough.
Also novel, and more importantly, is any of those players can sign name image and likeness deals, meaning a player can sign a multi-million-dollar contract with, say, Mcdonald’s to be in the company’s ads.
Coaches have become vulnerable to the whimsical shifts of players wanting to transfer for more money or playing time. Wright knows his power to control who plays on his team, and strategically plan and envision his future rosters, has been undermined. His roster situation was potentially chaotic.
Wright’s resignation follows the recent retirements of Roy Williams and Coach K. Although none of them said so, I believe these structural changes played into their decisions. They’re older men, but still, they got out in part because their kingdoms have been messed with.
Notice the trend. Watch it continue.
More major college basketball coaches will be stepping down over the next few years. Who’s next, Bill Self? They’ll conclude they don’t have enough control over who plays for their teams from year to year.
The Great Resignation powers on. It started in the business world. It’s now raging in college hoops.
Why is this happening?
I believe Covid-19 gave people a lot of time to think about their lives and what matters most to them. Many concluded they weren’t happy with their jobs and/or careers and decided to leave and embark on new journeys.
Resignations are in vogue.
But what does all this mean for college basketball?
It means more skilled coaches will leave the profession. As that happens, the quality of play and development of players will plummet.
From an entertainment perspective, you and I will see a less impressive brand of basketball – if we keep watching at all. And when you and I and millions of other basketball fans tune out, college basketball loses money.
How did we get here and where is this going?
These new freedom players have to transfer willy-nilly and make money that hasn’t been thought through well enough. It’s upended the entire structure of college basketball. The entire American institution is on the rocks.
There’s less loyalty and trust between coaches and players. I’m not against players making money and being able to transfer. That’s only fair because coaches can jump ship for more money and better opportunities whenever they want.
But something needs to be fixed and I don’t know what it is. But here are two ideas to consider:
One: Cap the amount a player can earn in name, image, and likeness money at $500,000 a year. This way they won’t be tempted to just run for millions of dollars, which is so enticing, but rather think twice about transferring because the money they can make has a limit.
Now I get it, why should players have a payment ceiling but coaches don’t? Well, it’s not equitable but at least the players can get some money but not so much that they’ll constantly leave for the highest bidder.
But who will enforce this limit? The NCAA? No clout at this point. The federal government? Seems this is a private enterprise and the government doesn’t have the authority to decide how much money people make.
Two: Make the players sit out one year before they can play for another school. This will deter some of them from transferring who don’t want to be sidelined. But again, who tells them they can’t? Right now the answer seems to be nobody.
It’s messy. Greed and self-interest – always tough to untangle — are at the core of it all.
I do know this: As more good coaches retire, the quality of play will drop off and I’ll be less enthralled watching the games.
This predicament is bigger than just basketball. Over the past several years, corporations didn’t respect their employees enough and so the workers have spoken by walking out the doors.
Across a vast range of industries, we’re now hearing about massive talent shortages. On a broader scale than I’ve ever noticed, companies scramble to find people with the skills needed to accomplish corporate goals. They’re being nicer to their current employees, offering them free lunches sometimes and stuff like that. But you don’t win back employees’ trust with ham and cheese.
Everybody’s running around chasing their own personal goals and aspirations.
Companies and college basketball programs are left wondering what to do and how to survive. Their disrespect of employees and players has been their downfall.
Those still around now thrash about to pick up the pieces and put this enigmatic and incohesive puzzle back together. But many pieces are missing, in some cases gone forever.
And as far as I can tell, nobody knows where to start.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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