When the puff of smoke came out of the chimneys in East Lansing and Tom Izzo ended his tap dance with NBA riches, telling the Cleveland Cavaliers that LeBron James or no LeBron James, he was staying with Michigan State, it was another reason for college athletics to sigh a breath of relief.
No one likes rapid change and the college game has been staring down the barrel of it ever since Duke hoisted its national championship trophy.
First came the supposed tourney Armageddon, an assumption that the NCAA tournament bracket would turn into a spreadsheet of 96 teams. Then came the even more terrifying threat of mega-conferences.
Hand-wringing, sermonizing and soapbox orations about the Super-Size-Me greed of the college game ensued (present company included), while everyone pondered the very end of college sports as we know and love them.
And then 96 became 68 and the Pac-16 became the Pac-11, the Big Ten the Big 12 and the Big 12 the Big Ten.
And while I still contend that 68 could become 96 and the Pac-16, Big 16 and SEC Extra may only have been temporarily shoved to the back burner until DeLoss Dodds figures out a way to print more money for Texas, the baby steps of change are welcome in an arena where it took 23 years to move the 3-point line one foot.
Izzo’s decision won't have as much impact as Kansas heading to the Big East or landlocked Oklahoma heading to the Pac-10 would have. But it’s an equally important win for college sports.
The NBA has turned college basketball into a rental center and makes a living off plucking the game’s best and brightest just when they’re finally shucking their high school habits and coming into their own.
For once, someone stared at the Benjamin-wrapped carrots of the NBA and said "no."
I’ll admit it. I like Tom Izzo. I like how he coaches. I like what he stands for. I like how he treats people and I like that, in a business I fear is losing its characters along with its character, he doesn’t take himself terribly seriously. (Anyone who can show up at Midnight Madness dressed as Sparty one year and a hippie the next doesn’t take himself too seriously).
But I also like that the college game gets to keep him, that a future Hall of Famer and arguably one of the best in the game has decided that a great job at a college is even better than what might (after July 1) become the best job in the NBA.
I like the fact that, while we still mourn the death of John Wooden, another coach has chosen loyalty.
After Wooden’s passing, I wondered if his endless tenure at UCLA had become as quaint as his endless devotion to his wife, Nell. That if, in an era of chronic ladder climbing and impatient fan bases, anyone would both choose to stick around and be allowed to do so.
Izzo reaffirmed that it can happen and that change, as we’ve learned since April, isn’t always for the better.