This year’s March Madness did something historic before any of the games even began. For the second time in college basketball history, three teams from one conference were number one seeds in their respective regions of the bracket. This conference was the Atlantic Coast Conference or ACC, and its level of dominance doesn’t bode well for what’s to come in college basketball’s future.
The NCAA, whether sufficient in this or not, tries to pride itself on giving players and young athletes equal opportunity to become successful in their sport. This applies especially to basketball, where a select percentage of the players are granted the opportunity to play in the NBA and eventually make a decent sum of money. A single conference dominating the landscape creates a dent in the ability for all players to receive a shot at proving their worth. In order to prove themselves worthy of being able to play professionally, college basketball players need to play against the best. This shows whether they can or cannot compete at a high level when facing very capable opposition, a vital element to playing in the NBA. Although March Madness provides a worthy outlet for this due to all the best teams being placed in a single bracket, scouts and league executives will tell you that this is simply not enough to determine a prospect’s worth. Regular season play, which tends to be mostly against in-conference teams, gives a much broader lens to look at when evaluating a player. So in order to compete against the best in college basketball, prospects are forced to commit to the big-name conferences, namely the ACC. This leads to a massive talent influx for the ACC, which is great for them, but terrible for everyone else. This lack of parity throughout college basketball is extremely hazardous in regards to the necessity to create a level playing field and to allow for players on smaller teams and schools to shine.
Take Ja Morant for example, a projected top three pick in this year’s NBA Draft who played for Murray State this past season. He proved himself very worthy of playing in the NBA even within the lesser competition he was going against in his less-paid-attention-to conference, but it didn’t come without reserve from scouts and executives in the NBA. Because of where he played, he was looked over, like many others are, as simply being the beneficiary of playing in a far less elite conference than one like the ACC. The issue lies in the fact that most NBA teams don’t have the liberty of being able to take risky fliers on prospects that don’t have proven experience against elite competition, so the prevailing thought that they simply were really good because they weren’t going against anyone else good becomes the default for most scouts.
The ACC has created a conference that is fun to watch and provides an opportunity for high-caliber prospects to compete against one another. The problem with this, though, is that it has become increasingly difficult for anyone outside of that conference to truly make a name for themselves. Until the system changes, the ACC will continue to recruit the best players and claim many of the number one seeds in the tournament, leaving the other teams and players to fight for scraps. The full impacts of this are yet to be seen, but the early signs have shown a disturbing trend towards it being very bad.