Coach K: NCAA can’t afford to again lose tourney

  • Covers college basketball
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2011
  • Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday said he doesn’t think the NCAA can afford to lose another postseason tournament, which generates more than 90% of the NCAA’s annual revenue.

Krzyzewski’s comments follow reports that the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament cost the organization more than $375 million.

“We’re the thing that the NCAA is most concerned about because men’s college basketball and the tournament pays for something like … it produces 98% or more of the money for the NCAA,” Krzyzewski said on Tuesday’s edition of Keyshawn, JWIll & Zubin on ESPN Radio. “We need to have the tournament. We can’t have it where two years in a row you don’t have the NCAA tournament.”

Appearing on the same show, Kentucky coach John Calipari promoted the idea of college basketball proceeding with a bubble format, saying both the WNBA and NBA showed “the path” for both regular-season games and the NCAA tournament. He said the season could begin with a round-robin, bubble version of the Champions Classic, the annual mega-event that features Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.

“Do we go and play the Champions Classic in a bubble without fans and we play each other?” Calipari asked on the show. “We all play each other, round-robin. You walk away with three games. Do we put in a bubble or a pod Kentucky-Louisville or Michigan State with three ‘buy games?’ Detroit, where my son plays, Murray State and East Tennessee State with us and we play a round-robin so that we can get the buy games where those teams really need that money? We can do that. Do we do it that way? Is the NCAA tournament in a bubble?”

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said Monday he has prepared “contingency plans” to potentially shift the start of the season if necessary due to the pandemic. Per NCAA rules, teams can commence full practices 42 days before their first games.

Gavitt said he expects a decision about the season’s start date, currently Nov. 10, to be made by mid-September.

Last week, the NCAA executive told ESPN that officials have discussed an NCAA tournament in a bubble, which could include replacement teams (a method successfully used by The Basketball Tournament this summer) on standby if positive tests warrant the elimination of a participant. Gavitt has repeatedly stated that a traditional tournament is the preference while acknowledging the NCAA’s current exploration of the costs and logistics attached to a possible bubble tournament.

“I know Dan Gavitt, right now, is looking at all kinds of different options,” Calipari said on ESPN Radio. “What I’m happy about is we’re doing it now. We’re not waiting until two months from now saying, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ No, we’re doing it now to try to figure it out. But we have a different path that the NBA and WNBA have both shown us that you can do this.”

While the timing of the college basketball season is uncertain, it’s clear that coaches and officials intend to create a variety of options to potentially move forward. Gavitt told ESPN he hopes to have a “Plan B, C and D.”

Per the NCAA’s public audit, the group generated more than $867 million off the 2019 NCAA tournament. While Power 5 programs generate most of their revenue from football, the bulk of college basketball’s 353 programs are in leagues that don’t have access to that financial pipeline, which increases the value of the NCAA tournament. A strong run can result in millions of dollars for a conference.

When Loyola Chicago dazzled the nation with its 2018 Final Four run, it made $8.5 million for the Missouri Valley Conference. The financial stakes for those leagues during an economic downturn could have significant consequences across the country.

That’s why Krzyzewski believes the NCAA must host a tournament in 2021, even if it doesn’t start in March.

“I think that’s where you should start,” Krzyzewski said on ESPN Radio. “Make sure you have the tournament. It doesn’t make any difference when it is. Because we don’t even know when the NBA season is going to be next year. And we should look at them to see how they navigate the waters going forward. They’ve navigated them really well with the bubble.”

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