IOWA CITY — For 31 years, the Prime Time League has served a dual purpose.
It provided college basketball players at Iowa and Northern Iowa an opportunity to hone their skills in games against one another during the summer months. And it also provided fans a chance to see their heroes in action in games played in the Iowa City and Waterloo areas.
Randy Larson, the Iowa City attorney and restauranteur who founded and directed the league, announced Thursday that the league will not operate this summer.
"With the opportunity created by an NCAA rule change to have four hours of practice together each week in the summer, and another four hours of individual skill work with the players, there just isn't a need for it," Larson said in a statement. "When we started 32 years ago, college coaches couldn't even watch their players scrimmage; now they can actually coach them all summer, which is great for the players."
The league has had six teams in recent years, with NCAA rules stipulating that no team could include more than two Iowa and two UNI players.
The PTL has had difficulty getting enough players to fill out the other roster spots the past few years, however. High-level high school players have opted to play AAU basketball instead and small college players who once populated the league have had the chance to participate with their teams in summer leagues.
There were comments on social media this week indicating that the lack of participation in the league was especially acute this summer, but it still was a surprise when Larson pulled the plug less than a week before games were scheduled to begin.
In his statement Thursday, however, Larson said the time demands on the major college players was the primary reason for discontinuing the league.
"Between summer school classes and homework, strength and conditioning workouts, and now eight hours of either practice or skill drills, the coaches at Iowa and UNI concluded that their players were just being asked to do too much," he said. "They correctly wanted the summer to still be the off-season, albeit one with much more development than it used to have when coaches didn't get to help the players improve."
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and UNI coach Ben Jacobson both thanked Larson for his efforts in orchestrating the PTL all these years.
"Randy did a great job helping young players develop during the summer," McCaffery said. "The league was his idea, and he loved doing it."
In its early years, PTL games were played at Iowa City High School but in recent years they alternated between the North Liberty Community Center and the Cedar Valley SportsPlex in Waterloo.
Larson, who was a walk-on player at Iowa State in the 1970s, said he always wanted the PTL games to be fun while also giving players more structure than they received in ordinary pickup games. He felt the component of having fans in the gym enhanced that.
"The fans made the games special," he said. "But the players' well-being has to come first. While I'm sure some of the players that I loved the most, really loved playing in Prime Time, I'm sure not all did."