The rule changes from college sports that we'd like to stick around
Eric Shelton/Clarion Ledger via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The rule changes from college sports that we'd like to stick around

For most sports fans, the Final Four ends the collegiate seasons of sports that move the needle: football and men's and women's basketball. The 2020-2021 year was challenging in so many ways. There was a lot not to like and situations that we'd never want to see again. Fans grew frustrated at not being able to attend games as well as not knowing if games would actually be played, but imagine what the players had to go through just to make these events happen. These are college kids that got robbed of a true college experience, compromised their education, and put their own health at risk so that we may enjoy that games and the schools could cash in on those lucrative television contracts.

We also saw how fragile the college financial system can be and how fractured the leadership really is. That was no more apparent than in college football when ten conferences had ten different views on what to to do with their seasons. The ACC and Big 12 decided to start on time, the SEC waited a few weeks, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 originally canceled their seasons before deciding to cram one in late in the year. Leagues were making moves on their own with a very distinct line drawn. That's not good for the health of the sport, and certainly not when times are tough.

It wasn't all bad, however, as some of the necessary changes that came up during the year were not only admirable but are changes that may be worth revisiting in the future. Some are smaller and more aesthetically pleasing while others would take a major overhaul of certain aspects of how collegiate sports typically run. If you were willing to make changes during a pandemic to fulfill your needs, then maybe they could stick around to meet the needs of everyone.

Here are some of the changes we saw during the 2020-2021 year that we'd like to see continue when things get back to "normal".

 
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Free agency

Free agency
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA did a couple of things to help the student-athletes regarding their eligibility. One, they allowed each player to have an extra year of eligibility, including a "super senior" season where a senior can come back and play an extra year without costing the school towards their scholarship limit. Second, the transfer rules were relaxed to allow players to change schools without penalty. This has led to an already swelled group of players entering the transfer portal (a list a player can put himself on that allows other coaches to legally recruit them) and giving everyone a sort of free agency. The NCAA was already trending toward this kind of action before the pandemic, but this was like ripping off the band-aid and opening up the flood gates.

No matter what happens after this, it will be hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube (too many cliches?). Players are getting a taste of the kind of power most student-athletes before them never had. Some are transferring to get out of a situation they don't like. Others are looking for opportunities that weren't available for them when they were initially being recruited. Fans may be stressed that the old way of building a team through developing players that are stuck there is over, but the transfer market works both ways. We are in a Wild West period of player movement, and at the core of it is doing what is right for the athletes. 

 
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Notre Dame in the ACC

Notre Dame in the ACC
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There are Notre Dame fans that want to keep their school's independence and there were ACC fans who weren't keen on the idea of the Irish's one-season football membership, but it really worked out for both programs. Notre Dame already plays five ACC games every season and is a member in most other sports, so the relationship is there. They can work out the television deals and money to make this work just as they did in 2020. Notre Dame gives the ACC a foil to Clemson as well as a historic power that they've been lacking. Notre Dame gets a better platform to reach the college football playoff. 

 
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NCAA tournament games on Mondays

NCAA tournament games on Mondays
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Mondays typically suck for most people. The start of the workweek after doing whatever you did over the weekend. During the NCAA tournament, you at least have the water cooler talk about what happened over the weekend. Not this year.

We had second-round games on Monday. And we had regional final games on Monday and Tuesday. That was pretty cool.

I have long been the guy that didn't want to see the NCAA tournament change in any way. It seems near perfect with that massive amount of basketball starting Thursday and going on through the weekend, then a pause for three days before we do it again. But I'm all about this Monday and Tuesday basketball. For starters, the First Four was much better when it all happened on Thursday. Having those 16 vs 16 matchups staggered with the 11 vs 11 games was more fun, and having those games further removed from Selection Sunday really made me want to watch them even more than usual.

Add that in with ... 

 
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Sweet 16 on the weekend

Sweet 16 on the weekend
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

... the Sweet 16 on the weekend rather than on Thursday and Friday night and we have a much better viewing experience. In the past, four Sweet 16 games were squeezed in a five-hour window on Thursday and Friday nights. This year, each Sweet 16 game was on its own and spaced out over a weekend day. Then Monday and Tuesday night featured two regional final games that were scheduled separately. That needs to continue, especially since the Final Four is still a Saturday/Monday deal.

Having the tournament shift like this could also allow for the NCAA to expand the tournament to 72 or more schools. You could have two "First Four" (first eight?) days on Wednesday and Thursday and the 64-team events begin on Friday again and keep the 2021 schedule. Or you could have the two days of "First Four" games on Thursday and Friday, have a Saturday and Sunday of first-round games and Monday and Tuesday are for second-round games ... and then pick up the Sweet 16 on the following Saturday.

In any event, keep the Monday tournament action. 

 
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Ditching the divisional format

Ditching the divisional format
Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the ACC, I liked that they ditched the divisional format in 2020. That league has had some duds for title games, and ending the divisional format gave us a matchup of two teams who ended in the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 has done this for a while and it would be nice to see it in other leagues. Originally, the Big Ten had the "Leaders" and "Legends" division so they could get an Ohio State-Michigan title game matchup that never happened. The ACC did the same by separating Florida State and Miami to get that rivalry in a title game (it didn't happen, either). Let's just have the leagues' two best teams face off for the conference championship instead of the more-than-occasional mismatch for a conference crown.  

 
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Casual wear for coaches

Casual wear for coaches
Sam Owens/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

I've always found coaching fashion interesting in sports. Why do baseball managers wear the same uniforms as their players? Football coaches are walking billboards for their teams. In basketball, a great suit and tie is the usual choice for coaches across the country.  

This year, college basketball coaches went casual and it went over really well. What was once reserved for the Maui Invitational and Bob Huggins became the norm across the country. Sportcoats were ditched for polos, sweaters, and vests. Dress shoes were replaced by sneakers (Roy Williams' shoe game should be noted). Sure, some coaches will love to go back to dapper wear but I'd love to see the casual look continue. 

 
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Spring football

Spring football
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

No, not the spring football where the giant schools have camp and an enormous scrimmage to get the fan base roaring. Initially, a few FBS leagues had decided to delay their seasons until spring, but every one of those leagues would end up playing at some point in the fall. Over 300 schools in the FCS, Division II, Division III, and NAIA would, however, decide the postpone their football seasons until the beginning of 2021. You know what? I like it.

With the big-time college football season over and the Super Bowl ending the NFL campaign, it is nice to have some form of meaningful football being played in February and March. Sure, it takes a geographically gifted league and school to be able to pull off football in February but it is quite a treat for football fans. Those conferences and divisions get a lot more publicity than usual and with networks, craving live content (and football) it could be advantageous for these leagues to get some extra exposure and income. Plus, ya know, it's more football for us!

 
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Starting college basketball Thanksgiving week

Starting college basketball Thanksgiving week
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-2021 college hoops season began during Thanksgiving week this year -- the day before Turkey Day, to be exact. As much as I love college basketball, this should be a move that is permanent. College football hits the end of the regular season that weekend, so it makes for a nice hand-off to college basketball. Typically that week is used for those tournaments held in exotic locales, which is a great time to start a season. I mean, why not see your team begin their season in the Maui Invitation, Pre-season NIT, or the Battle 4 Atlantis?

What are you really missing out on? College basketball has been trying to find a way to pump up the opening of the season and this does that. Instead of a bunch of cupcake games, just get on with a good slate of games around a holiday where sitting and watching television is part of the tradition.  

 
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Entire NCAA tournament in one place

Entire NCAA tournament in one place
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This isn't something I want to see all the time, but maybe every four or five years the NCAA can hold its entire tournament in a city or state. I was for having a bubble of sorts for the 2021 tournament before the season began, and the organization decided to hold the big dance in and around the Indianapolis area. So why not try this elsewhere, like in an Olympics-style rotation. 

Before the season, I suggested Philadelphia as a cool place to have the tournament since there is a mixture of old and new arenas that would be a great setting for a college basketball tournament. Places like Los Angeles and Atlanta could pull it off as just one city, but areas like Arizona, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and the Bay Area could host the entire event. Imagine a Texas tournament with games in Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, or a Florida event in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. Sure, logistics like hotel rooms (as you well know, minimal fans are attending this year's tournament) would need to be addressed, but cities are able to house the world for Olympic events and Super Bowls. There is a way to make this happen. 

 
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Fewer bowl games

Fewer bowl games
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not the guy who typically whines about there being too many bowl games. Far be it for me to tell these student-athletes that they don't get rewarded for a decent season by playing an extra game in a vacation locale, but 2020-2021 was a bit nicer without all the bowl clutter. There were a total of 13 bowls canceled last season, with three bowls that were supposed to debut wiped out as well. That left us with just 25 bowls last winter, a much more manageable schedule for fans to, frankly, care about.

Not to say the bowl season was great by any means. Teams like 2-7 Mississippi State "earned" a bowl bid due to bowls needing to fill slots, which we don't want to see again. But is that much worse than seeing a 6-6 team from a Group of Five conference play in the RedBox Bowl? Or that there are three bowls held in Orlando (two within days of each other)? Lop off some of these games and make bowl week a little more special.

 
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Spaced out benches

Spaced out benches
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Both college football and basketball expanded their benches this past season due to the pandemic, but it was much more noticeable in hoops. Usually, the bench where the players and coaches sit is a bunch of chairs crammed together where six and seven-footers must crush themselves together just to grab some rest on the bench. In 2020-2021, the chairs were socially distanced by having rows of seats and a more spacious bench area for the players and coaches. I'd like to see that continue in some form. Maybe it can get condensed a little, but I like seeing the players have a bit more room to move around. Yeah, the fans love being close to the action but we've broken the seal on removing that access and it may not be as big a backlash to back the fans up to let the players have their space. 

 
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Dumping the SEC "cupcake week"

Dumping the SEC "cupcake week"
Mickey Welsh-USA TODAY Sports

If you root for an SEC school, you know the drill. After seven weeks of your favorite school going through a brutal schedule of conference foes, they take a week off just before Thanksgiving to run up a 50-0 smackdown on some FCS school before playing their rivalry game.

No fan likes it, aside from the ones that enjoy a gimme win and opposing fans troll the SEC for this snack before dinner. Well, the SEC ... due to its rule to play zero non-conference games this season ... passed on having those cupcake games in November. Instead, we got business as usual in the conference as the season wound down. It isn't about playing cupcakes -- that's what September is for -- but having this break from the season to have a detour right before the climax of the season is boring. 

 
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On-the-fly scheduling

On-the-fly scheduling
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This was much more of a thing in basketball than football, but both benefitted from some on-the-fly scheduling. We got a great BYU-Coastal Carolina football matchup due to the two programs coming to an agreement just days before they played. In basketball, the whole season featured teams attempting to schedule games to help fill in gaps in the schedule. North Carolina famously went to Twitter to beg for someone to play them. In college basketball, where resumes need to be strengthened, it would be nice to see schools come together to give us some extra matchups.

 
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Army-Navy on campus

Army-Navy on campus
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

I've always liked the Army-Navy game at a neutral site, but I have to admit that seeing in played on one of their campuses was extremely special. Typically the Army-Navy game is played in Philadelphia, Baltimore, or East Rutherford but this season, due to the pandemic, the rivalry was played at West Point. That was the first time since World War II that the game was played on campus and brought an extra bit of edge to the rivalry. Neither school can accommodate the crowd that usually attends this game so it should continue to be played at NFL stadiums most of the time. But every once in a while, they should bring it back to the academies and bring an extra bit of oomph to a game that has plenty of it.  

 
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Broadcasting remotely

Broadcasting remotely
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This has been something that has been a bit of a process even before the pandemic, but one working from home became a must for many industries, sports networks made the adjustment with their broadcast teams. Instead of play-by-play guys and analysts jet-setting all over the country to call games, many stayed in their home offices and called their games remotely. While there were some adjustments for them and fans listening to them, it isn't like it changed the viewing experience much. Sure, the broadcasters couldn't schmooze with players and coaches before the game or at practice so they could drop in some insider tidbits, but that actually made the on-site sideline reporter more valuable.

Not every broadcast team should work remotely nor should it be used exclusively, but it should be a much more utilized part of sports coverage moving forward.

 
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Hearing the action

Hearing the action
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Let me be clear: I want to see the crowds back at games. With that, it will sadly mean that we won't get to hear all the crisp sounds of the games. In football, we could hear the audibles clearly and the defense calling out adjustments. In basketball, it is nice to hear all the chatter between players, coaches, and referees. You can hear coaches calling out plays, yelling at players, and yelling at officials. In a Kentucky game early in the season, it was hilarious to hear John Calipari yell at his players to "get up and get back" as they lay underneath the basket. We need to find a way to keep that access when fans get back to packing arenas. 

 
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Ability to use common sense when making decisions

Ability to use common sense when making decisions
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The NCAA and college athletics have been called out for not using common sense when enforcing their own rules. Not that the NCAA was a beacon of common sense in 2020-2021, but they and their member organizations did drop some of their stuffy rule books to do what was right. One controversial example was the Big Ten's decision to allow Ohio State to play in the conference championship game despite the Buckeyes not playing in the previously agreed upon six-game regular season. Sure, there were many people who were upset that the conference bent a rule that benefited the Buckeyes, but it was the right thing to do. Ohio State was undefeated, beat the second-place team that would've taken their place, and were a victim of other programs having to back out of games against them. Ohio State deserved to be in that championship game and the league pushed their temporary rule aside to make that happen.  

It happened in basketball as well. In some smaller conferences, your conference record wasn't the sole metric for where you were seeded in your conference tournament. Some leagues weighed your record according to the schedule that you played. With so many uneven schedules, 8-4 records aren't always created equally. For example, Oakland (who went 10-10 in league play) was a No. 3 seed in the conference tournament ahead of 10-6 Detroit Mercy because of this weighted format.

The NCAA and the conferences need a little more compassion when it comes to extenuating circumstances. Even when we aren't in a pandemic.

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