Friday, May 24, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Support for your favorite college team now measured in $$$

| April 19, 2024 1:30 AM

Are you a serious Gonzaga fan?

A real, heart-and-soul Zagaholic who would do almost anything to see your guys back in the NCAA title game?

Here’s an idea: Send the program a couple million dollars.

Sure, I’m joking.


No, I’m not.

Donors already have been generous enough with the Zags that this team can compete at a really high level.

The Little Gang That Could has grown into a bona fide powerhouse, a program that has sailed into the Sweet Sixteen no less than nine straight times, the longest current run by any school.


How about playing in the national title game twice since 2017?

It’s all been a blast, but be wary.

The Zags’ world is only going to get tougher.

Quite a few big sluggers across the college basketball landscape are really throwing the cash around, and it’s going to make more of a difference each season as we move forward.

The Zags’ Cinderella story — from obscurity to national power — didn’t happen in the world of NIL and the transfer portal.

These are new and difficult issues for smaller universities who want to keep playing with the big boys.

When Gonzaga made its first crazy run to the Elite Eight, and then parlayed it into one of the great tales in college sports, the secret was under-the-radar recruiting and coaching.

SADLY, it’s tough to cook with that recipe anymore.

Money available from “Name, Image and Likeness” changed intercollegiate athletics into a semi-professional competition.

Then the transfer portal — a truly poor idea — changed things even further by eliminating the redshirt year that was required if student-athletes wanted to change schools.

Now it’s basically free agency, with collectives (organizations founded to raise and dole out money on behalf of specific schools) paying players to switch uniforms.

The original idea was that NIL money was supposed to be for athletes who were already enrolled, but of course the Daddy Warbucks characters that hang around all these schools immediately broke that rule.

Cash is pouring into the collectives, and they’re pouring it toward whatever athletes the coaches want or need — high school kids, community college stars and, of course, current university athletes from other schools who have entered the transfer portal.

Would the collectives urge a player to enter the portal, even if he (or she) hadn’t considered it?

Without a doubt.

This spring’s big hoops spender is a repeat winner (if you call this winning).

Kansas tossed out in excess of $4 million last year, and collectives representing the Jayhawks are jacking up that number this time around.

Funny item connected to KU: When a story about that $4 million was published online, an unhappy Jayhawk fan commented, “All that money, just to get run off the court by the worst Gonzaga team in a decade.” 

KU HOPES to change the narrative next season.

Center Hunter Dickinson is considering a move to the NBA (a slick negotiating move), so one of the Kansas collectives is rounding up cash to give him a raise.

Ditto for Australian freshman star Johnny Furphy.

The Hawks also have picked up some prized transfers from the portal buffet: wing AJ Storr from Wisconsin, and guards Zeke Mayo (South Dakota State) and Riley Kugel (Florida).

Indiana is another school whose boosters are splashing the cash.

The Hoosiers missed the NCAA party this year, and that can’t happen, so they’re paying out for our old friend Oumar Ballo (most recently of Arizona), and Washington State freshman guard Myles Rice.

The Zags, meanwhile, have landed 6-7 wing/shooter Michael Ajayi from Pepperdine, which lost three players to the portal.

Useful post players are in the most demand, as you’d expect, and I can’t help thinking that a first-class center might push Gonzaga to the Final Four.

I suspect the Zags would love savage dunker/shot blocker William Kyle III from South Dakota State — who has two years left to play and, for the short term, could allow Graham Ike to operate more on edge of the lane defensively.

But what do I know?

Just one thing.

If you have a spare million in the petty cash drawer, it would really help.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press four times each week, normally Tuesday through Friday unless, you know, stuff happens.

Steve suggests you take his opinions in the spirit of a Jimmy Buffett song: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.”