One-semester sports are starting to get a buzz in the NCAA. As much as there is a push for a football playoff, most ideas try and end the season before the start of the spring semester. Dan Wolken of The Daily is not the first person to lay out a plan for a college basketball season that starts in January and ends in May, but his is one of the more complete and detailed efforts.
The reason for the push for one-semester seasons is that it often good not just for ratings and marketing but seems to make sense for academics as well. I’m not entirely sold on the academic benefits though. Squeezing games into one semester could mean more missed class time and finals during conference or NCAA tournaments. Perhaps a year-long season with fewer midweek games and a lighter practice schedule is better for academics.
If you move the basketball season to the spring, it’s not just a matter of moving the start and end dates. Some other rules would change and in the end, basketball would look a lot more like non-revenue sports than it does now.
1. Fall Basketball
Just because basketball teams would not be playing games in the fall that counted doesn’t mean there would be no fall basketball season. No sport is stuck with the NCAA’s strict limits on offseason practice for an entire semester.
- 30 days of practice and competition;
- During a 45 consecutive day period;
- During the months of September, October and November.
There would games as well. Basketball teams are currently limited to 27 games plus an exempt tournament or 29 games. Teams could play some of those games as exhibitions in the fall, or use their exempt contests like closed practice scrimmages or games against non-DI college. This would make scheduling easier, cutting down on the number of non-DI games played during the season and non-conference home and home matchups.
2. Academic Rules
The two biggest one-semester sports, football and baseball, each have their own special academic rules. This is to address the issue that if student-athletes have no competition that counts during a semester (spring for football, fall for baseball), they have less motivation to be eligible for that semester.
To combat this, football student-athletes are now required to earn nine (rather than six) hours during the fall term or risk being suspended for the beginning of the following season. Baseball student-athletes must be eligible at the start of the fall semester to play in the spring; they may not regain academic eligibility after the fall term.
As a spring sport, basketball would likely get some version of baseball’s rule. While more difficult classes might be scheduled in the fall, student-athletes would still need to enroll full-time, meet the six-hour rule for the spring, and meet the 18-hour rule for the academic year or miss the entire following season.
3. Summer Basketball
If basketball became a single semester sport, there would be less need for the new summer practice rules. It would be less useful for competitive purposes, but more importantly it would be hard to even find the time. If the season lasted until late May, it may be a challenge to schedule the eight weeks of practice that coincidences with summer school terms, fits with the July recruiting periods, and is worth having when the season just ended.
It does not necessarily mean the idea would be scrapped. It would still be beneficial to have student-athletes work out with an institution’s coaches rather than private trainers, which avoids some potential amateurism issues. On shakier ground might be summer basketball leagues which could be less popular after a season that ends in May. Then again, that has not stopped summer baseball leagues from flourishing.
4. Transfers and Midyear Enrollees
Finally, it would be interesting to see how patterns of transfers develop. On the one hand, a midyear transfer looks a lot more attractive because after sitting out one year, you will get to play in the entire following season. On the other hand, some of the issues that cause midyear transfers, like a lack of early playing time, would not come up because the season has not started.
Midyear freshmen enrollees, which were something of a trend this year, would become more popular. This would make the spring NLI signing period for basketball less important. Some prospects who would have signed in the spring will instead wait, graduate from high school, and then be available to enroll for the following spring semester when the situation surrounding a team is clearer. It might become the norm for one-and-done athletes to spend only a single semester in college.
Like my idea for a year-round football season, the biggest problem with such a radical change is that you cannot test it. You do some comparable research and make inferences, but it comes down to a leap of faith that this is the right thing for student-athletes and the sport.