College basketball tastemakers are decrying the proposed transfer rule as the end of college basketball as we know it. This, of course, is pretty insane. However, let’s imagine what it would be like if those arguments were taken to the logical extreme.
Welcome to the death of basketball.
There used to be basketball here.
There was always basketball in this city. From the time Dr. James Naismith’s brainchild first made its way to the sleepy Ohio town, the city fell in love with it. The local college played its first competitive basketball game in 1903. The Saints, as they were once called, would play clubs. High schools. Other universities. The university name changed. The Saints’ nickname changed to represent the history of two great inventors, brothers, born of the city that gave the university its name.
The city rallied around its university basketball team, which scratched its way into the national spotlight after taking a sabbatical to face the horrors of war. They nearly became national champions. The city became a synonym for basketball. The national tournament expanded to 64, then to 68 teams. The city that birthed the Saints were deemed worthy of the title of permanent hosts for the four extra games. The St. Mary’s Institute Saints, who became the Dayton Flyers, used to play basketball here.
That was a long time ago.
That was before everything changed.
In retrospect, college basketball was always going to walk over this city. Cities like Richmond, Virginia. Cities like Normal, Illinois. Cities like Moraga, California. This game was not meant for these cities. It was destined to spend more and more of its time in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky. Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Michigan. The powers that be had made those places their homes long before.
It was, in a way, a relief when they finally dropped the pretense.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the end of basketball. Perhaps it was with the realignment trade winds that blew teams across the map in search of the next windfall. Perhaps it was the vast chests of cable television money that infected the sport. Perhaps it was the invention of the television. Perhaps it was the first time a college student threw a ball into a peach basket in front of a crowd without seeing a cent of the ticket price.
It’s less hard to figure out where it spiraled so far out of control.
In 2017, the National Collegiate Athletic Association decided to do away with the restrictions placed on transfers. The floodgates had finally opened. The levies had broken. Players who were threatened with a lost year had previously been scared into submission. Those who would turn in incredible years in Albany, New York, or San Diego, California, or Arlington, Texas would see out their tenure, dominating opponents not fit to share the court with them while watching their future basketball career prospects wither on the vine. Just as it was intended.
But with the new rule, the radical and dangerous rule that allowed college athletes to switch schools just as college students can, there was no stopping the flow. Every year, the best players from college basketball’s hamlets would leave for the biggest shows in the country. The coaches, those brave and worldly defenders of the old order, were powerless to stop it. They couldn’t be expected to provide a good enough experience for their athletes that the athletes would choose to stay. They couldn’t be expected to develop relationships with their players strong enough to keep them in town.
The coaches were railroaded by a system saddled by the greatest of possible flaws: it so clearly favored the players.
Yes, there used to be basketball in Dayton.
That was before their most prized natural resources, their players, were free to leave. That was before the slow death that followed.
It was a slow bleed. It started innocently. A 12-point per game scorer here. An all-conference defender there. But then it came quickly. The senior died out. The one-and-dones came to Dayton, Ohio, but they left to become Buckeyes in Columbus, not Cavaliers in Cleveland. And what was the point of continuing to play? Continuing to hemorrhage talent to bigger teams? Continuing to allow players to go where they would be happiest and most successful?
No, that was an impossibility.
And so, eventually, the balls stopped bouncing. They stopped bouncing in Spokane, Washington. They stopped bouncing in Valparaiso, Indiana. They stopped bouncing Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
They stopped bouncing in Dayton, Ohio. The echoes from empty gymnasiums howl outwards from all corners of the country.
This is the future we chose.
This is the future we deserve.