Pay-For-Play: College Basketball’s Newest Tournament

It is a wonderful time of the year for sports fans. The NBA regular season is starting to wind down and the playoff picture is slowly starting to take shape. MLB Spring Training is in full swing with Opening Day a mere two weeks away. The NFL free agency frenzy has been making headlines although it officially began yesterday, and the NCAA Tournament officially tips off today with 68 teams vying for the national championship and fans everywhere are frantically filling out their brackets.

This year, though, there is a special twist being added to the madness of March – college players will be paid to play basketball. Wait, what?!

Before you take to Twitter and defend your hot takes saying that college athletes should get paid, let me explain. No, student-athletes from all 64 (68 including the “First Four”) teams will not be paid. Instead, only seniors whose teams do not advance to the Final Four will have the opportunity to earn some cash for their skills.

3X3U National Championship Sponsored By Dos Equis. Photo via Twitter.

The 3X3U National Championship sponsored by Dos Equis is a 3-on-3 tournament open to every college senior in the country. One hundred twenty-eight players will make up four-man teams representing all 32 DI conferences, making up its own bracket-style challenge. Each player will be selected by a committee and invited to the event. This tournament was intended to bring more attention to the already ultra-popular Final Four weekend and will take place at St. Mary’s University’s Bill Greehey Arena, a mere 7.8 miles from the site of this year’s Final Four – the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX.

This tournament is a first-of-its-kind event in college athletics. The bracket style format is similar to that of The Basketball Tournament (TBT) which takes place every summer, but also blends aspects from the upstart Big Three league that debuted last year. Don’t go claiming victory against the NCAA saying that they’re finally paying student-athletes just yet; the 3X3U National Championship has no affiliation with the NCAA.

The NCAA Tournament is likely a last go-round in competitive basketball for many of the seniors participating. According to a NCAA study, 1.1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players will play in the NBA, while 19.1 percent will play in another professional league. For the majority of seniors, they will “go pro in something else,” so for those participating in the 3X3U Tournament will be getting officially paid to play basketball for the first (and maybe the last) time ever.

Games will follow international 3-on-3 competition rules (yes, it’s a thing), and be played on a half-court in two 10-minute halves. The first team to reach 21 points, by one and two-point baskets, wins the game. Unlike The Basketball Tournament, the 3X3U is not single elimination. Instead, teams are rewarded at each step along the way. Every victory in pool play, the quarterfinals and semifinals awards $1,000 per team. The team that wins the championship will earn $50,000 to be divided among the players ($13,750 before taxes per player).

The minds behind the event come from Intersport, a Chicago-based sponsorship, marketing, hospitality and production agency. The company will pay for all players’ travel and hotel accommodations as well as provide per diems. It will also bring in two NCAA-certified referees for each game. Building on the uniqueness surrounding this tournament, it will capitalize on the increased popularity of streaming games. Each game will be broadcast on Twitter and ESPN2 between Friday, March 30 and Sunday, April 1. It is worth noting that Intersport is no stranger to the college basketball space, as the company also determines the participants for the 3-point and dunk events as well.

Although the participants in this event have technically exhausted their collegiate eligibility, the fact of the matter is that this is a unique opportunity for these student-athletes to earn money for a skill that they have crafted for, in most cases, nearly their entire lives. While it does not compare to the earnings of NBA players, most players will not have the opportunity to play (and remain) in the NBA so it provides them some additional exposure and a few more days to continue their careers. As if the Final Four needed any more hype, it will be interesting to see how the tournament plays out.

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