I love college basketball. I grew up in Big East territory in the 80s, and have obsessed over the sport for a few decades. I played in a keep-your-own-stats college basketball fantasy keeper league for several years, which was nerdy on an epic scale.
I believe the best sporting event every year, without question, is March Madness.**
That being said, I do agree with some things in today’s New York Times article about the diminished nature of college basketball’s regular season. By what metric is it diminished, though? Attendance? Well, attendance is down for every sport (even beloved college football!). Ratings? They’re not specifically mentioned.
The next major point the story whiffs on is comparing college football to college basketball. Silly. Pointless. The only sport college football should be compared to is the NFL because of season length (12 games vs. 16 games). College basketball has 30ish. Unfortunately, you can’t compare it to any other sport when you try to put a “value” on how much the regular season matters.
In my estimation, these are college basketball’s biggest “problems’ and none of this is new:
* There still is no “start” to the season. Yes, this year’s non-conference schedule in November was stronger, but we’re an event-driven culture, and the idea of playing four games at the same time in the same venue to start next season on Veteran’s Day is a brilliant one. I hope it happens.
* One-and-done. Three of the top five picks in the 2010 NBA draft were freshman. Three of the top four picks in the 2011 draft were freshman. The top three picks in the 2012 draft were freshman. Five of the top 10. The best players are leaving the sport so quickly, we barely get to know them. Take the five of the best players in the NBA. Kobe, Durant, LeBron, Melo and Dwight Howard. Combined years in college basketball? Two. Durant played a year at Texas, and Melo won a title as a freshman in Syracuse. I’m not saying the kids should be “forced” to stay a second year, and often, not going to the NBA when you’re “hot” can hurt your draft stock. But the best players bypassing the sport, or only staying for a minute obviously hurts.
* To a much lesser extent, transfers. This list from last season is absurd. How can fans keep track of 445 players transferring? Obviously only a handful of those matter – without going through the list by line, I’d guess maybe 25 have an impact on NCAA-bound teams – but something should be done. What? Not sure. Need to give it more thought. NOTE: I’m always going to side with players in this spot, especially when the coach bolts. But ESPN’s Jay Williams is right when he told the Times, “It’s becoming more difficult for the everyday viewer to follow, with transfers and one-and-done and conference realignment. It’s becoming more difficult for me to follow. Each year, you have to push the reset button.”
What sport doesn’t have problems?
The NFL has head injuries and a lengthy, recent history of off-the-field disasters. College football is a mess because conference realignment is confusing and annoying, the non-conference schedule is a joke, every bowl game but one is a glorified exhibition, and everyone is profiting off the players, who receive nothing despite generating millions for the Universities. The NBA’s regular season is too long, some (not me) bemoan the lack of parity, and the most prized free agents only want to play in a handful of cities, meaning you can’t miss with Top 10 draft picks, or you set the franchise back. MLB’s regular season is far too long, the World Series has been hemorrhaging TV viewers for years at a much more alarming rate than any other sport, the gap between big spenders and cheap owners is depressing, and stars getting busted for PEDs seems to happen on a yearly basis.
I don’t think there’s a “quick fix” to college basketball’s “diminished” regular season. Ideas on how to draw in the casual viewer? I’m all ears. The 4-game Veteran’s Day stunt isn’t a bad idea. Pushing back the regular season start in January? Not terrible. Turning the sport into the Champions League? I’d hear more about that. But I don’t think the situation is dire. No need to panic. [NYT]
** Except in World Cup years.