June 23, 2024

Dan Hurley to the Lakers: Time to put an end to the hysteria about what departure would mean to college sports


On Aug. 31, reigning College Football Playoff champion Michigan will open its 2024 season against Fresno State. The Wolverines will not have J.J. McCarthy, the quarterback who won 27 of his 28 starts as a collegian. They will not have Roman Wilson, the receiver who caught a dozen touchdowns in 2023. They will not have running back Blake Corum, who crossed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two seasons. That is the natural order of college sports: players exhausting their eligibility and moving on to go pro in sports or something other than.

They also will not have head coach Jim Harbaugh, who accepted the same position with the Los Angeles Chargers after serving two suspensions totaling six games but still managing to win every game he did and did not coach on the way to the championship win over Washington.

Here’s what they will have: more than 109,000 people in the audience at the Big House.

Someone is going to need to explain how that represents “the end, the very end, of college sports as we’ve always known them.”

The reigning men’s basketball champion Connecticut Huskies may not have Dan Hurley much longer as their head coach. He is considering an approach from the Los Angeles Lakers to take over their team.

You know what happened the last time UConn was forced to replace a genuinely great coach? The Huskies won three titles in the next dozen years, a better championship pace than even the best sequence from Hall of Fame legend Jim Calhoun.

In the past 50 years, college basketball watched John Wooden, Dean Smith, Bob Knight, Billy Donovan, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski depart – taking with them a combined 25 national championships — but somehow Hurley accepting the Lakers job would precipitate “the end, the very end, of college sports as we’ve always known them.”

College sports not on verge of collapse

Many who are in the business of covering college sports lately have been eager to proclaim the collapse of college sports was arriving because a particular coach chose to leave the sport. This was presented when Coach K announced he was leaving Duke, even though he was 74 years old on the day the news broke, and when Williams retired at 70, a few years after the last of his three national titles. It was, too, when Jay Wright left Villanova at 60, but Wright has turned down every approach since to coach any level of basketball.

The story broken by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski regarding Hurley, though, appears to have been precisely the opportunity they sought. Hurley is 51. He led UConn to the past two NCAA titles, becoming only the eighth coach to lead repeat championships.

On the Thursday edition of his program, “Greeny”, veteran sportscaster Mike Greenberg (over)reacted to the Hurley news with the statement already referenced, then continued: “I think this is the end of college sports as we’ve known them. It doesn’t mean they will not continue to be fascinating. It does not mean they will not reinvent themselves in ways that may even be just as interesting, and certainly more profitable, but the sports that we have followed all our lives … the way these have been for the entirety of your lives, they are no more. And I think says that more than anything.”

Really?

It says that more than an athlete playing for four different colleges in six years? Because guard Charlie Moore went through Cal, Kansas, DePaul and Miami and had that covered by 2022. It says that more than paying Georgia’s Kirby Smart being paid $13 million a year for a job that was well compensated when it was one-fourth of that, or Jimbo Fisher getting $77.6 million in exchange for never coaching the Texas Aggies again, ever? It says that more than an athlete transferring for a guaranteed two-year payout of $800,000 and a car, with the announcement of that transaction coming not from the athlete or either of the affected universities but rather the CEO of the company sponsoring the payment?

The NCAA always has maintained, even in court, that agreeing to compensate athletes beyond the education provided would diminish the interest of the public. Instead, as Caitlin Clark earned an estimated $3.1 million in endorsements and was ubiquitous in State Farm television ads during March Madness, a record 18 million viewers tuned in Iowa’s NCAA Championship game against South Carolina. Purdue’s Zach Edey had his own Purdue hockey jersey – you can buy one at Dick’s website for $119.99 – but still there were 74,423 watching at State Farm Stadium in Arizona and 14.8 million viewers watching on Turner Sports. When Michigan defeated UW in the College Football Playoff final, there were 25 million in the TV audience.

It’s possible that without recent developments in NIL compensation for athletes, either Clark or Edey or both might have been compelled to seek professional opportunities sooner and not been around to make the 2023-24 season so compelling. Many who might have entered pro leagues have remained in college because it’s plenty lucrative, which has enriched the competition as well as the athletes. As a result, college sports actually are better.

The recent changes in college sports certainly will be a part of Hurley’s decision whether to accept the Lakers’ offer. Such significant developments as the disappearance of the Pac-12 Conference and the settlement of the House v. NCAA case, which will allow programs to share as much as $22 million of revenue annually with athletes, demonstrate it’s more difficult than ever to predict the precise course of the future.

MORE: Dan Hurley faces unprecedented choice with Lakers offer

Even to hint, though, the departure of Hurley or Harbaugh – or both – represents something calamitous is to ignore all that has happened without material impact on the competition or its popularity. Such a suggestion is contradicted by all available evidence.

College sports has been changed for a while

College athletics has not been the same – and that’s a good thing, honestly – since the NCAA refused to consider a settlement conference with the attorneys representing the class in the O’Bannon v. NCAA case, which the organization lost at trial and led to an award of $42.2 million. It also opened the door for future name/image/likeness payments to college athletes.

One could argue, and I have, it’s not been the same since Texas decided in 2009 that $3 million wasn’t enough to pay football coach Mack Brown, that he needed a 40 percent raise even as athletes had their rewards capped at room, board, books and fees.

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, who came along well after Brown left, recently told On3 Sports, “We’ve lost our voice of what college athletics is about. No one wants to hear that, but only 2% of our student-athletes are going to go pro. The rest of them are going to be doctors, lawyers and great productive citizens.”

They might want to become ADs. Del Conte recently signed a contract extension that will pay him an average of $2.75 million over the next seven years. Is that what college athletics is supposed to be about, or merely one more example of college sports ending as we’ve known them?

Honestly, I’m getting lost in the hyperbole.





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