Whew, what a week for college sports. It was madness, all right.
The basketball wasn't bad either.
Take a step back and review just how much the landscape shifted, or how much groundwork was laid for a future that looks dramatically different.
• The U.S. Supreme Court grilled NCAA officials over the governing body's amateurism model, with several justices expressing skepticism of a system that restricts athletes earning potential within an enterprise that makes billions of dollars.
• The transfer portal kept humming like 5 p.m. at Grand Central Station with basketball players exiting and entering programs. The volume of transfers gives the perception that this is college's equivalent of free agency. This is now the new norm. Fans better get used to annual roster turnover. It's not just one unhappy bench player seeking a fresh start anymore.
• More stories surfaced — in conjunction with the men's and women's Final Four — about the potential earning power for college athletes when the NCAA finally passes name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation. A company called Opendorse specializes in social media branding and predicts that high-profile athletes could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars off their popularity.
• The public shaming of NCAA President Mark Emmert over disparities between the men's and women's basketball tournaments further exposed his inept leadership and resulted in promises to do better in providing equal treatment. The fact those dolts at the NCAA thought that nobody would notice or care about embarrassing accommodations at the women's event shows a remarkable degree of hubris and stupidity.
That's a lot of weighty issues. Watching it play out simultaneously underscores a tide-turning transformation happening inside college athletics. Notice a theme in those situations? Everything involves more control and power being shifted to the athletes. And the NCAA and member schools are scared to death of that.
The NCAA realizes it won't be able to hide behind its amateur model for eternity with Congress and now the Supreme Court pushing for answers as to why the business keeps getting richer and richer while athletes can't get a cut of the pie beyond scholarships.
Here is how Justice Brett Kavanaugh framed the situation: "It does seem that schools are conspiring with competitors — agreeing with competitors — to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars on the theory that consumers want the schools to pay their workers nothing. That just seems entirely circular and even somewhat disturbing."
The mechanism for paying athletes is complicated. I don't see a scenario yet in which schools pay athletes an outright salary. Too many variables involved.
Would it be available to every athlete or just those on full-ride scholarships? Revenue sports or non-revs too? And how much compensation since schools have vastly different financial resources?
My concern is that college administrators who cry poor would offset costs of paying athletes by eliminating sports, a trend that is happening already. That would result in fewer opportunities for athletes in nonrevenue sports.
Coaches will still make millions in salaries and expensive new facilities will continue to get built, which might seem hypocritical. But unless the entire system gets reinvented with schools calling a truce on the arms race, spending habits in those areas probably won't change much. As an executive once said, it's difficult to go backward on salaries.
That's why I've long supported the NIL model. Allow athletes to make money off their popularity by doing commercials or autograph signings or social media branding.
If a local car dealership wants Gophers star heavyweight wrestler Gable Steveson to appear in a commercial and get paid for it, where's the harm in that? A "regular" student has that luxury, so Steveson should too.
Social media is the new frontier for NIL. Companies are finding valuable advertising opportunities with athletes who have large social media followings.
Folks of a certain age demographic (hand raised) are baffled by this development, but apparently, it's a real thing. And a potentially lucrative thing for athletes. So give them that option.
Let college athletes make money off TikTok videos or by promoting products on their Instagram or Twitter accounts.
That would signal progress, not the end of college sports as we know them.