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Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: NIL is very bad news for Colorado schools, Jeremy Bloom is still wrong, and Nuggets need a G-League team

@MarkKnudson41

Strike One: The impending “Name, Image and Likeness” rule change in college sports, which will allow college athletes to profit financially from endorsement deals and the like, is not only terrible news for collegiate sports, but it’s doubly terrible news for Colorado schools.

This Pandora’s Box that’s being opened by politicians will allow for an unprecedented level of sleaze and corruption in college sports. Agents and boosters will run amok. Highly ranked recruits will be available for purchase. The idea of “monitoring” the amount of money that players can “earn” is a pipe dream. The biggest schools with the deepest pocketed boosters are going to be able to lure the largest number of top recruits and pay them the most money. That should be obvious to anyone who isn’t a politician solely interested in gaining attention (and votes.)

That “level playing field” that fans say they want? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t give money to these ‘poor, exploited athletes’ (a ridiculous notion to begin with) AND maintain any semblance of balance in college sports. Without restraints, the rich are going to get richer, period.

Let’s look at the local impact. With boosters now allowed to essentially “buy” recruits for their school of choice, how many top-flight players are going to be coming to Boulder or Fort Collins? The answer is fewer and fewer. Why? Ask yourself: Who are the local big money boosters for these two schools? Are they going to be willing to spend to outbid those from Texas or California with the promise big dollars to high schoolers who agree to come to our state? Coors? Otterbox? Styker? They’re all smarter than that, even if they have emotional attachments.

Coors isn’t suddenly going to pull money from their national ad campaigns to give it to an incoming CU quarterback recruit. Sorry Buff fans. And Stryker may love Sonny Lubick, but not enough to create a slush fund to buy quarterback recruits for the Rams.

Face it, without large, passionate followings – which neither school has – the return on investment for companies who put dollars into “sponsoring” specific college athletes is negligible. Therefore, it’s not happening here, period.

The gap between the high profile programs and those in Colorado will become deeper than the Royal Gorge. All because some short-sighted politicians believe they had to stand up for the rights of “exploited” college student-athletes – who are getting a free $100K education and an opportunity to graduate with zero student debt. Ya, them.

Around here, companies will seek to be promoted by the actual professional athletes. We will continue to see Von Miller, Nikola Jokic, and Charlie Blackmon, doing local TV commercials. Don’t expect to see any featuring Warren Jackson, Patrick O’Brien or KD Nixon.

Strike Two: The NCAA’s begrudging acceptance of the NIL movement was seen as a victory for former Colorado football and USA Ski Team stalwart Jeremy Bloom. He tweeted, “On this day in 2002, the NCAA robbed me of my ability to ski in the Olympics and play college football. Yesterday, they admitted they were dead wrong and changed their entire stance on name, image, and likeness. Big win for all future college athletes.”

Back then, and again today, Bloom had every right to be upset. He’s just upset at the wrong people. The NCAA wasn’t wrong back then. They’ve only changed their stance because ill-informed politicians have forced them to, not because they know they were wrong. They weren’t wrong.

Bloom lost to the NCAA in court – as he should have – and has always blamed the organization for robbing him of his final year as a Buff. While his frustration and anger are very much justified, he’s still mad at the wrong entity.

Bloom should be pissed at the US Ski Team, not the NCAA.

For context: While he was a Buff, Bloom had a teammate most football fans know well, Joel Klatt, now a Fox Sports TV analyst. Klatt was one of several college football players who before enrolling in college signed professional baseball contracts out of high school and played in the minor leagues. They got paid salaries by their teams for doing so. And they could still play college football.

Bloom didn’t play baseball. Instead he was a professional skier – good enough to be a National Champion at age 15 and to become the youngest male freestyle skier to ever make the US Ski Team. He won a World Championship at 19 years old. He was an elite skier.

But here’s the rub: Even though they are professionals by every possible measure, the US Ski Team’s athletes survive in an outdated “model” that didn’t – and still doesn’t – allow them to be paid a salary, like a minor league baseball player, or even a member of the USA Soccer teams (look up the ongoing struggle of the USWNT striving for equal pay.)

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Instead, the skiers are forced to raise their own money through endorsement and sponsors deals in order to train, travel, and eat so that they can compete.

This was/is archaic and wrong.

Prior to this awful NIL legislation forcing their hand, the NCAA could still enforce their appropriate rules against financial gain/sponsorships for individual college athletes. Therefore, Bloom had to decide between being a professional skier, which included raising his own money for training, travel, etc. – or being a college athlete.

Who can blame him for being pissed?

The US Ski Team should have been paying Bloom a salary, thereby eliminating his need to earn endorsement money. They should have been paying for his training, his travel, meals…all of it. They should have been treating him like the professional athlete he was.

Instead, they treated him like some dude scraping to make a team. He had already earned more than that. He was already an Olympic caliber performer. He should have been compensated as such. But he wasn’t, and it forced him to punt on his second career as a college football player.

Bloom got a cup of coffee in the NFL, but Buff fans were left to wonder what could have been if the electric receiver/kick returner had been allowed to play for Gary Barnett for one more year. We’ll never know because the US Ski Team robbed him, and everyone else of the chance to find out.

Strike Three: Out: the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule. In: High school basketball players turning pro. And the Denver Nuggets need to adjust. Soon. Player development is becoming the job of professional teams, not colleges.

Currently there are just two NBA franchises that do not have an affiliate of their own in the “G” (developmental) League – Portland and Denver. Being one of those is a bad look for the Nuggets, especially now with more emphasis being placed on player development. As a franchise, the Nuggets have gotten less and less “cheap” over the years, but for whatever reason, Kroenke Sports has not seen the light and jumped into the G-League with both feet. Given that their training facility is relatively small by NBA standards, it’s time for a program-wide face lift.

Currently, when the Nuggets or the Trailblazers want to send a player down to the G-League to get more playing time or experience, they have to send said player – in the Nuggets case – to one of five G-League teams they’ve had arrangements with over the past two seasons. These are G-League teams owned or operated by other NBA franchises. In 2020, it was the Windy City Bulls who were compensated for adding a player to their roster whose rights belonged to Denver.

There’s talk that Omaha may land an expansion franchise in the G-League for 2021 and that Denver could be the affiliate. Imagine the marketing possibilities involving Peyton Manning.

However it finally happens, when the Nuggets and the rest of NBA finally gets this all correct, every NBA team will have its own minor league affiliate where it can groom players. Some players may be needed sooner rather than later, while others may be longer term prospects. Teams could spend draft picks and G-League roster spots on a high school players if they so choose, understanding that in most cases, these could be guys they see as the longer term projects. Better that than wasting a pick on a foreign-born player who will continue to play in the Euro league and never see the city that drafted him.

The G-League would be a whole lot more fun to watch AND much more beneficial to NBA teams if there were first round picks and up and comers suiting up every night, rather than just fringe guys who might be candidates to fill a roster spot for 10 days when an injury occurs.

The growth of the G-League would not only help the Nuggets, but it will end up helping the CU Buffs and the CSU Rams as well. In fact, it’s already helped Tay Boyle’s team. Recently, UCLA lost out on the services of five-star high school recruit Daishen Nix, who opted to turn pro with the G-League instead. Now Boyle’s team won’t have to face him two or three times per season.

Now if the Nuggets can just figure out the best way for the G-League to benefit them like that.

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