A vision of the future

Much like Al Capone was eventually brought down for tax evasion, the NCAA’s slow march to death was made official last Friday over, of all things, video game image rights.

Al Capone, a sleazy egotist who ruined an untold number of lives. And the NCAA. Two peas.

Anyways, if you missed it, let me explain.

No, there is too much, and I have a word count – whoa, big sense of deja vu here.

A federal judge ruled in O’Bannon v. NCAA that, obviously, the NCAA is violating antitrust laws by prohibiting NCAA athletes from profiting off their name and likeness. Or at least, it’s obvious to anyone who has taken a sophomore history class and had to write a three-paragraph essay on the difference between a monopoly and an oligarchy.

The NCAA is appealing, because #merica, and our country became a superpower on the strength of boundless natural resources and our appeals system.

Still, they won’t win the appeal and this was the first official step in what has been clear for sometime – the NCAA as we know it is going to die.

Sure there will still be an organization with the initials NCAA in the foreseeable future, but it will be a husk of its former glory, an artifact no one quite remembers the original purpose of. Much like telephone booths. Or the Pontiac Silverdome.

Division I football and basketball players are going to get paid. As they should. They bring in millions upon millions that line the pockets of everyone but the labor. It has been shockingly anti-American that this farce has been allowed to continue for so long.

But this doesn’t mean amateur athletics are dead. In fact, the banner for true amateur athletics has long been carried outside Division I play.

Just look up the hill at the SDC and Michigan Tech.

***

This seems as good a part as any for an awkward segue.

This was my last week at the Daily Mining Gazette. As such, this will be my last column in Houghton.

While searching for a topic for a farewell column – always a surreal process – several thoughts sprang to mind.

“I thought I knew snow growing up in Wisconsin – boy was I wrong.”

“Always bring sunscreen to the U.P. Track and Field finals.”

And of course, “When late – blame the bridge.”

Instead, I’ll stick with what I know best, the reason I came here two and half years ago fresh out of journalism school.

Division II athletics.

Growing up in Milwaukee, my exposure with the D-II level was limited to, well, nothing. The only D-II school in the cheese state resides in Parkside, and no one goes to Parkside if they don’t have to.

As such, I came here a blank slate, with no preconceived notions about what to expect.

Tech hoops coaches Kevin Luke and Kim Cameron and the Huskies blew me away.

The quality of basketball at Tech is good. Like, really good. Like, Jay Bilas gushing over wingspan good.

If you are a hoops junky, you can get lost in the help principles, the rotating and communication, the way they create space for shooters with pindowns and ball rotation and the way Ali Haidar’s chest hair drips sweat.

As a beat reporter, I saw the same level of commitment from the players and the same attention to detail as coaches that I ever saw in my four years at Wisconsin-Madison. I watched game film with Luke once – he asked what I saw wrong on a particular play the Huskies gave up a three.

He played the sequence a handful of times for me – kid drives, ball gets kicked out, swung around the horn for a corner shot. I eventually half-heartedly guessed that the initial ball-defender was too close, his closeout allowing him to get beat off the dribble.

Obviously, I was wrong. Instead, Luke pointed to Alex Culy’s help defense in the lane, claiming his then-junior was a foot and a half too deep. Culy was neither the principal defender, nor the one who gave up the shot. But the chain reaction from that misstep led to everything else in Luke’s mind.

“Classic Culy,” Luke moaned. “He is always over-helping. Three years and we can’t get him to change.”

Again, this was 18 inches. Luke was obsessing over 18 inches on one play.

In a game they won.

Division II sports are fascinating. The elite players – no matter the sport – are just as skilled as D-I athletes. They shoot as well, handle it, see the court, etc… all the same. You won’t find a better pure shooter in D-1 than Ben Stelzer. Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett can hit a receiver 10 yards away as well as most major conference passers and better than any current Badger quarterback. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone like Sam Hoyt play basketball.

The difference between the two classes of athletes is just that – athleticism. The skills are there, just in a package that’s four inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than their D-I brethren.

And they play the same way, with the same commitment, the same intensity, without the same fanfare.

Division I football and basketball are moving in a direction filled with unknown. Will colleges become a glorified minor league system? Will colleges cease to play a role all together?

None of that is clear.

But college amateurs will still exist. They play in front of 1,000 fans instead of 10,000. They play for a scholarship instead of a draft pick.

And they deserve your attention, local sports fan.

Trust me, they’re worth it.

Michael will be moving to Milwaukee to reunite with his two great loves – his family/friends and microbreweries. To stay in touch, follow Michael on twitter @michaelbleach where he will surely occasionally weigh in on the Huskies because he just can’t help himself.