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NCAA rule changes: is a split coming to Division 1?

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What will the NCAA do? Whatever makes them the most money.

Are these guys even playing the same game that UK is?
Are these guys even playing the same game that UK is?
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

There is a talent gap at the Division 1 level of NCAA basketball. I mentioned it when writing about Murray State last summer, resulting in a hilarious level of hot-and-botheredness on one of their message boards. Coach Mack obliquely acknowledged it when discussing the 30-second shot clock. It's almost so self-evident that it doesn't merit mention; the one seeds are better than the five seeds who are better than the sixteen seeds who are better than the teams who they beat to get their automatic bids. It's turtles all the way down, or at least until you get to Grambling, who usually isn't better than anyone.

Here's another news flash for you: this gap is predicated almost entirely on the abilities of the individual players who make up the teams. Obviously there are some coaches out there who run specific, unique systems that account for their perennial success, but by and large the best way to consistently win college basketball games is to get the best guys onto campus and then go from there. Even Coach Dale needed Jimmy Chitwood to take Hickory High all the way.

With 351 teams holding 13 roster spots each, the number of players in NCAA D1 basketball for a given season could theoretically top 4,500 and is regularly over 4,000. The very best of those are stopping by UK or one of a handful of other schools for a single year before progressing to the NBA. On the other end of the spectrum exist all manner of limited players: the too slow, the too short, the one-handed (both figuratively and literally)... players who, for whatever reason, did not land on one of the teams that you're going to see on TV on a regular basis.

One set of those players has the skill to grab the ball at the end of the shot clock and have a decent chance at making something happen; not the way NBA players can, but at least in a way that won't make you recoil in horror and then pen 500 words on how the game has become unwatchable (unless you're a member of the media looking to drive some eyeballs to your site in the cheapest way possible). The other set relies on ball and player movement, specific schemes, and the luxury of 35 seconds to break down an opponent's defense.

Put the ball in the hands of Central Arkansas with six seconds on the shot clock and let them run at a good defense and you'll get the idea. To me, watching good coaches set and adjust game plans to compensate for the shortcomings of the roster is part of what makes college basketball so great. I don't see the same appreciation for that among the folks who make the rules.

At some point in time, the powers that be will realize that (a) there are at least two different games being played here (they probably already know that, really) and (b) they can probably find a way to monetize breaking off the best teams into their own tier. Thank goodness for the cash cow that is March Madness; without that tournament, I think we'd be staring down the barrel of just such a split.