On the eve of yet another Duke-North Carolina matchup, two Blue Devils—one former, the other current—stood on polar opposite ends of a critical debate.
In light of recent reports surrounding the FBI’s probe into corruption in college basketball, ex-Duke guard and current ESPN analyst Jay Williams has been an outspoken proponent of the notion of a Final Four boycott by players in order to force the NCAA’s hand and create change in the world of college athletics. On Friday, the 36-year-old was in Durham for ESPN’s College Gameday broadcast from Cameron Indoor Stadium and spoke with the media about what many consider to be a radical idea.
“The idea of a boycott is something that’s come up for a while now,” Williams said. “Look, this is not anybody asking that of a 17-year-old, 18-year-old kid. I have a lot of people that come up to me and say, ‘You played in a national championship game, you played in the Final Four. How could you ask another kid to do that?’
“I wasn’t informed at 18 years old about how the sausage was being made. Nobody took time to talk to me about it, but after working at an agency and seeing how the innuendos of this industry come about, and studying the game for the past 10 years, it makes you pretty equipped to understand how this stuff works.”
Just 45 minutes later, however, Blue Devil senior Grayson Allen took to the same podium and reminisced on his memories of playing in the 2015 Final Four as a freshman when Duke ultimately wound up capturing its fifth national title.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone doing that,” Allen said. “That’s a very strong position to take if you’re going to miss out on the Final Four. I know being in the Final Four once, I would give everything to go back there and play. I might have a different opinion from other guys, but if you have an opportunity to play in the Final Four, for me, you’ve got to play.”
Of course, the two games in Indianapolis that year were a jumping point for Allen’s breakout sophomore season. In the win against Michigan State in the national semifinals, the Jacksonville, Fla., native’s thunderous one-handed jam was one of the signature moments of a memorable postseason run for the Blue Devils. He made an even bigger impact in the title game two days later, coming off the bench to score eight straight points for Duke and spark the team’s comeback against Wisconsin.
Now for Allen as a senior, a potential Final Four trip represents a definitive end to his collegiate career. So the question becomes: who are the current college players that would actually consider skipping out on what could very likely be the most important games of their basketball careers?
“That’s one of the biggest stages you can be on,” Allen said. “Guys are going to have big pro careers—a lot of guys who are NBA players are going to play in the Final Four—but I know when I look back on college, my favorite moments are going to be from the Final Four. I remember those games very clearly and I don’t remember a lot of games like that, so those are very special moments.”
A few weeks ago, after Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr.’s name appeared in a Yahoo! Sports report that suggested the freshman’s mother had a meal with the business associate of a disgraced agent, Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that college basketball “had been on its knees begging for change for years.”
But whether it’s via a boycott of the NCAA’s premier event or an evolution of the rules that govern the sport, the institutions that have now muddied college basketball may soon have no other choice but to change the system.
“I just want the players to end up having a voice and it’s about the attempt of potentially boycotting to force the hand of somebody,” Williams said. “I want every collegiate player to own their name and likeness—I don’t think that’s a difficult ask.
“When you look at the average cost of a scholarship, it’s $32,000 a year. Let’s just compare that to the NBA—you look at the gross revenue of what the NBA’s supposed to be doing, and the NCAA made over $700 million last year just in media rights alone. You see how much coaches are making. These guys are warranted in owning their own name and likeness, and we should be at that point where it’s 2018 and we allow a player to profit.”
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."