A Few Minutes With ESPN's Jay Bilas

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana --- When he played for Coach K at Duke, Jay Bilas was the consummate team player, the kind of guy who wasn't afraid to take a charge or take on the assignment of checking the other team's best scoring threat. Now as a member of ESPN's College Game Day crew, Bilas has become a guy who isn't afraid to speak his mind about his favorite subject. Gator Country caught up with Bilas for a few minutes Friday at the RCA Dome.

Franz Beard: What has been the biggest surprise for you getting to this point in the tournament with these four particular teams making the Final Four? I know that Mason's a great story but there isn't a number one seed left.

Jay Bilas: That's surprising but it's really not a shock. Any time you have four teams that were as good as those teams were, and for not one of them to make it is a surprise but at the same time, I think the line this year between a one or a four or a three is thin as it has ever been. I don't think that there was truly a GREAT team this year although I still think that UConn was the best team and had a chance to be the number one team at the end of this journey. You still have to play you but they didn't guard as well as they did earlier in the year and they got beat. I think Florida's the best team left but I don't know for sure that they will win, especially with the three point shot. A hot team and a team with momentum can be really hard to beat and all these teams are going to be hard to beat.

FB: It's amazing how few McDonald's All-Americans are left in the tournament and how many are going to be watching on television. I think UConn's got more McDonald's All-Americans on its team than there are in the four teams that are here. Is this a sign that there is parity in the game?

JB: This is an odd year. This is the first time since 1980 that there is not a number one seed here and the first time since 1979 that there has been a mid-major here. That doesn't mean to me that we have parity because I don't believe that. I don't believe we have parity. I think we have a more cyclical game at the highest level. We've got guys leaving early and the game's gotten younger and some teams are more inconsistent year to year than they've been. To me it doesn't mean that we're going to see this thing every year. I still think there is an anybody can win it mentality but I don't think we're going to see this annually in my opinion.

FB: If we put you in charge of the NCAA for one week and you can change or implement any rules that you want, what would you do?

JB: I would tear up the NCAA rule book and start all over. I would take the cuffs off coaches in recruiting and let them just go out and recruit without all these ridiculous restrictions that try to even or level a playing field that can never be leveled. I would move back the three-point line and make it more of a risk-reward shot. Right now it's a reward-only shot and it's become too much and too big a part of the game. The last thing I would do --- and I think this tournament is great --- but I would change the selection committee. I would have the selection committee --- although I think they do a good job --- but I would make it a group of coaches emeritus, if that makes sense. I would want basketball people that have no stake in the process, without conference or school affiliations doing the selecting. Now I am not a believer in bias in this thing but I would love to take that discussion out of this process. It's not a healthy discussion that we have but we seem to have it every year. We leave ourselves open to it. The same thing with this ridiculous officials conspiracy theory that we had earlier this year … that kind of talk is irresponsible. If we can stop that talk by changing the makeup of the committee so there isn't even an appearance of any conflict then it makes things that much better.

FB: I'm a believer that the NCAA and the NBA need to get together to adopt a baseball-like rule --- you can get drafted out of high school but if you aren't drafted or don't sign you can't get drafted again until after you've finished your third year in college or you're 21 years old. I think something needs to be done to stop the NBA from raiding the college game by taking players too early and the NBA needs players that have been coached instead of these projects they're getting now. What are your views?

JB: A great idea but it won't happen because the NCAA and the NBA will never get together because they are cross-purposes. What the NBA Players Association needs to do is act in their own best interests. If they did that then they would put in a rule that wouldn't allow kids to come in until they finish their college eligibility. That would be much better for their game. They would have a more mature game and they would be able to better identify talent so they could better use their draft picks in making their decisions. But they won't do that until it hits them in the pocketbook. They've made it 19 now and one year out of high school but until it suits their pocketbook to do it otherwise, it will stay there. The players' association should agree to do it because part of their job is to preserve opportunities for their members and college kids aren't their members. I don't think they've done a very good job of running their union.

FB: I made a comment to Larry Conley earlier in the year that one of the reasons there is a growing trend of empty seats in NBA arenas is because if people want to watch high school basketball, they'll go pay $6 to watch high school kids. They don't have to pay NBA prices for a seat in an arena to watch kids right out of high school. At what point do you think the NBA raiding high schools and colleges of players that aren't ready to play in the league will come back to bite them in the pocket book?

JB: I love the NBA. I think it's a great game, played by great players and I watch it all the time, but what college basketball has, the NBA can't have and will never be able to duplicate. College basketball is a unique product that can't be duplicated anywhere else. The school affiliations --- people believe deeply in their schools and it's because people have the passion they have for their schools and the interest they have that this tournament has become one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports. It's because of the passion and the traditions. There is nothing the NBA can do to hurt this product. Nothing. They've taken players early and college basketball is more popular than ever. The games aren't as good because the players aren't as good as they used to be. There aren't as many senior lottery picks that stick around and it's affected the quality of play but it hasn't affected the interest and it hasn't affected the level of passion of the players. They still want to win as much as the guys did 20 years ago. They're not as good but they still want to win as much. This is going to only get bigger and better and it's going to stay as enjoyable as it is now. The NBA does need to look at what it's doing, though, and changes should be made not because it's hurting the college game but because they're hurting themselves.

FB: Last question. Who's been the most fun player to watch in this tournament?

JB: It's hard to argue with Joakim Noah. He loves to play and that's one of the things I've always loved about Billy (Donovan). He identifies with kids who love to play and there is an exuberance with Joakim Noah and the way he plays. He's far from a finished product but he's getting better seemingly by the week. He runs the floor and he plays with such enthusiasm. You can tell by the way he interacts with his teammates that he's a caring teammate and a good teammate. He's a great kid to watch. I hope for his sake he doesn't get all wrapped in what talking heads like me project him to be at the next level. I hope he sticks around and plays in college for awhile because he's a great college basketball player.

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