NEW ORLEANS — All around him, the madness spun. The cameras clicked and the bass line bumped and the cans of light beer twinkled from the hands of blue-clad fans in a seating bowl that sloped gradually outward from the rectangular tract of wood that anchored it all.

As Mike Krzyzewski arrived at the baseline, he wound his way through one last rampart of credentialed onlookers who’d gathered to watch the culmination of 47 years of work. A thin but meaningful smile cracked his familiar pucker as he leaned in to say a few words, first to the cheerleaders, then to the pep band. After a few minutes of glad-handing, the legend returned to his battle station. Leaning against the padded underbelly of a Superdome rim, he studied the drills in front of him, and then shifted his gaze to somewhere further beyond.

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If this was the last practice of Krzyzewski’s brilliant career as the finest organizational architect in college basketball history, it should be noted that he began it with a warning. Settling in behind a microphone for his final press conference before Saturday’s Final Four matchup with North Carolina, the 75-year-old head coach looked out at the media assembled before him.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to talk to you all again,” he said. “But I want to clear up one thing.”

With that, he launched into a five-minute monologue that was one part pregame speech and one part prophecy, a rambling but cogent expansion on remarks he’d made the previous day concerning the future of a sport he’d spent the previous four decades fashioning into its present-day form.

“This is a transformational time for college athletics,” he said. “When you transform, the main thing you transform is structure, organization. The structure we have right now does not work.”

There have been moments this weekend where Krzyzewski’s ride into the sunset has taken on the feel of an evacuation. There are storm clouds looming on the horizon of college sports, and everybody can feel the charge in the air. At the end of last week, more than 1,000 men’s basketball players had reportedly entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, a staggering number that would amount to nearly a third of the sport’s scholarship athletes. Combine that with the usual procession of one-and-done freshmen declaring for this year’s NBA Draft — Duke’s Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin are expected to be two of them — and the stage is set for an unprecedented offseason of disruption that coaches and administrators are scrambling to reckon with. The stakes are nothing less than existence of big-time college sports.

On the basketball court, the current logic leads in one direction, to a world where Division I presidents are no longer able to maintain the fiction that they have spent much of the last two decades cultivating. They can operate their athletic departments as for-profit feeder systems for professional sports leagues, or they can operate them as organizations that exist to facilitate amateur athletic competition between student bodies. They cannot operate them as both. Such a house cannot stand.

“This is a time not to look at knits and bits,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a time to look at the whole thing. It’s a time to look at and see: Do you do something like football and they’re under one roof? Do you organize men and women’s basketball under another roof? Do you do that in different segments of the NCAA? Do you have different houses, not try to put everyone in one house? Do you have leadership groups for each of those houses? Do they have the autonomy then to handle situations at that level that never gets to the big house?”

Until last year, it was at least possible to willfully delude yourself into thinking that the status quo could survive. As the NCAA’s agitprop reminds us on every television broadcast, the vast majority of college athletes go pro in something other than sports. This year’s Villanova team is one shining example, a collection of legitimate student-athletes fashioned into a competitive team the old-fashioned way. Read their bios, watch them play, evaluate their professional prospects, listen to them speak: They are very much representatives of the name on the front of their jerseys, critical threads in the fabric of student life. But they are also an outlier.

On the whole, the business of college sports irrevocably changed last summer, when the NCAA made an accurate read of the political and legal tides and realized that it had no choice but to eliminate the restrictions it had long placed on its athletes’ freedom of movement and earning potential. When it decided to allow athletes to accept money in marketing deals, the NCAA knew it was creating a radical new world where recruiting would turn into a competition between well-heeled boosters. And when it decided to allow them to transfer schools without sitting out a year, it knew that it would lead to an annual feeding frenzy that would eventually lead to a near-total decoupling of the student from the athlete. Soon, they will have nothing left with which to construct their delusions. Clearly, these are athletes, and theirs is the business of sports.

“We’re at a place of a huge disjuncture, if you will, around college sports,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said on Thursday. “This is just my opinion, we have a relatively short window of time during which the schools, especially in Division I, need to decide what they want — and this is where Congress needs to come in as well — what they want the relationship between student-athletes and their schools to be, what the governance structures can be currently in the legal environment, and similarly how the rules and structures at a national level, at a divisional level, at a conference level, can be made and should be made.”

From Krzyzewski’s perspective, that needs to start with a reconsideration of the longstanding big-tent structure of the NCAA. He did not get into specifics, but you can imagine some of the possibilities. Presidents of big-revenue athletic departments need to work with the NBA to eliminate the revolving door of one-and-dones. They need to work with Congress to identify a legislative solution that grants athletes their agency but also enables college sports to return to their only viable mission. College athletics only have a purpose if they consist of college athletes — students who are fully invested representatives of their universities.

“And it has to start with structure,” Krzyzewski said. “If we don’t do it with structure, you’re just trying to do the same thing in the same house. It’s crazy to me. And I’m getting out of it, but it’s crazy to me. As a leader, it’s the only way to do it. It’s the only way to do it.”

There was not enough time for him to make his complete case, and there is not enough space here to make that case for him. The important thing was his tone. The NCAA has a matter of months to reinvent itself. If it doesn’t, Krzyzewski won’t be the only one exiting the stage.