This March, for the first time ever, college players will publicly and officially be paid to play basketball.
Back in August, news came down aboutthat would bring more attention and fanfare to the Final Four: a 3-on-3 tournament featuring college basketball seniors who would be playing for a sizable money prize. Now, less than two months from Final Four weekend, we have the details. Intersport, the marketing company behind the event, released the particulars Monday morning.
It's going to be called the 3X3U National Championship, it's sponsored by Dos Equis, and most importantly every college senior in the country -- who won't be playing in the Final Four -- is up for selection.
Yep, all 32 Division I conferences will be represented, meaning there will be a big bracket, a tournament truly representing every corner of Division I college basketball. Players from the SWAC could bang bodies with the Big Ten, Big East or SEC's best. There will be four players per team (128 total players will be selected/invited for the event) and the tournament will run over three days from Friday, March 30 through Sunday, April 1. Location: St. Mary's University's Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio. If you're planning on attending the Final Four and want to know the distance between that venue and the Alamodome, it's 7.8 miles away.
Aside from actually playing in the Final Four, this is the coolest sendoff imaginable for college basketball seniors. Only players who have exhausted their eligibility are permitted to hoop. Their amateur playing careers will be over the second their seasons end -- which means they can make money and not put themselves or their schools at risk.
To be clear, the 3X3U National Championship is not affiliated with the NCAA.
What's more, teams will win money prior to the title game. It's not winner-take-all, which is a good thing considering the players who will be involved in this will be getting officially, publicly paid to play basketball for the first time ever. Prior to winning the championship game, every victory in pool play, the quarterfinals and the semifinals will net a team $1,000. The championship winner gets $50,000. For the champ, that adds up to $13,750 per player before taxes.
Yes, you'll be able to watch the tournament. The event will be broadcast live on Twitter and on ESPN2. Here's the format: On Friday, March 30, there will be 24 pool play games that will run from 7 p.m. ET until approximately midnight. Those games will be broadcast on Twitter.
On Saturday, pool play continues and will be broadcast on Twitter from approximately 11 a.m. through the 4 p.m. hour -- the event is trying to become the thing to watch before the Final Four tips later that evening. The championship on Sunday is a best-of-three and will be broadcast at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2. Quarterfinals and semifinals will precede that, beginning at 2 p.m..
"Sports fans on Twitter are highly proactive, engaged, and receptive to discovering something new -- especially when its basketball being played at a high level," Andrew Barge, Head of US Sports Broadcast Partnerships at Twitter, said in a statement. "This franchise represents our continued commitment to innovation and experimentation, while delivering unique, premium content to sports fans on Twitter. We're excited to work with Intersport and introduce 3X3U to our basketball-obsessed audience."
Barge is right. The Twitter audience is likely to be the most successful gateway for an event like this.
As for opting to include all 32 conferences, Intersport vice president Drew Russell said that having the potential for a team or teams from the MEAC, NEC, Ivy League, etc. getting to the championship game would bring the spirit of the NCAA Tournament to this particular event.
"It felt right and we wanted to be as inclusive as possible," Russell said.
I must note that I am on the selection committee along with many other college basketball media members, including people from ESPN, The Athletic, USA Today, NBC Sports, The Ringer and more. The committee is spearheaded by NCAA.com's Andy Katz. Intersport opted to put the decisions of the player nominations and selections on the shoulders of the people who follow the sport most closely year-round. The committee is monitoring all leagues and teams and is seriously devoted to picking the best, most competitive field possible.
Our latest watch list will post later this month. The final selections will be made by March 29. We will have to wait to see how the Elite Eight plays out, because college seniors who lose in the regional finals will be eligible to compete in the 3x3U National Championship.
"Really, what we want to do with this thing is make it the most unique environment in college hoops," Russell said. "These are guys that have poured their blood, sweat and tears into their careers. Now they can showcase their talents one final time, take their money home, and this will expose them to the 3-on-3 game, which is going to be an extremely viable thing going forward."
Intersport will pay for all players' travel, hotel and provide per diems. They will be flown in the Wednesday before and practice on Thursday in order to be totally familiar with the rules of international 3-on-3 competition. Games will be played at halfcourt, be 10 minutes long or get decided by the first team to score 21 points. A field goal will be worth one point and a shot beyond the arc will be worth two points with possessions alternating after a made basket. There is no checking at the top to commence a new possession, in accordance with international 3-on-3 rules. Teams will not have coaches; they will be self-coached by the players competing.
Intersport will also bring in NCAA-certified officials to referee the games. Two officials will work a game, and tip times will be staggered to avoid games ending at the same time. On Friday and Saturday the arena will have two games running at once throughout.
"We kind of want to create a little bit of chaos there," Russell said.
Russell anticipates the event to draw a lot of buzz not just because it's pay-for-play, but because of the 3-on-3 format and the fact that so many coaches -- who will already be in San Antonio for the Final Four -- will attend the event to support the guys they just spent years coaching.
As for pool play, leagues will be clumped in a snake-like style and be based off RPI and/or KenPom.com rankings, Russell said. In that scenario, the highest-ranked league (the Big 12) would wind up in the same pool as the lowest-ranked conference (the SWAC). There will be eight pools of four teams. One winner of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. This will be done to keep the big leagues -- the Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big East, Pac-12, Big Ten and the American -- in separate pools.
Yet it could be a free-for-all because there is no correlation between metrics of traditional in-season conference play vs. what a 3-on-3 competition will provide. March Madness just got bigger, and potentially even better.