College basketball is finally hitting its stride, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time on the sports calendar. With football over and the NBA being so boring that nobody even noticed they changed commissioners, March Madness is ready to roll and boy are we ready to appreciate the favor. And why is that? Simple…College Basketball is unwatchable anytime other than March.
Regardless of your take on the pro game, there’s a very high school-like quality to college basketball games. (which might be related to the fact that…I don’t know…they just got out of high school maybe?) It’s a seemingly endless sea of white guys that look like Luke Walton playing a game that has moved to the streets over the past thirty years.
If it feels like you aren’t that familiar with the college game, it’s probably because you don’t feel the need to care. It’s not high on people’s priority list, even for people like me who consider themselves to be big sports fans. So let’s take a look and see why pre-March hoops might be saving us all money when it comes to that Ambien prescription.
1. Harsh reality: Very few of these guys are going to see action at the next level
There are thirty teams in the National Basketball Association, and twelve roster spots on each of them. Unless my calculator was designed by Al Gore and substantially wrong about everything it cranks out, that makes for 360 opportunities at the pro level. So even if all current NBA players were to spontaneously combust at the same time, 99% of the nation’s college basketball players would still be surfing Craigslist a year later looking for jobs that someone with a “Diversified Studies” major could do.
When I use the term 99%, it seems like that’s a gross exaggeration. You’d think that number would seem high, but I can’t stress how few of these guys end up seeing actual NBA time. With very few exceptions, there are holes in almost all of their games that cause scouts to determine that it won’t translate to the pros. In fact the actual percentage of college basketball players that don’t play in the NBA is so high that I can’t round it up to the next point, because then it would be 100%. Which would great because it would make my point even stronger, but it would be factually inaccurate.
Regular season college ball gives us even less of a reason to remember these guys’ names. Now a lot of the players on the teams in the Final Four could be looking at NBA careers, so that’s an easier sell. But convincing me to watch Wisconsin play Northwestern on a Thursday night when I have a million other things to do because “I have to see this guy” is probably not going to be enough to convince me, unless the guy can fold his cock like a pretzel. And even then, by my age I’ve pretty much seen it all and I highly doubt they would show it on national television. But they should.
2. If it feels like the games don’t mean anything, it’s because they don’t mean anything
It’s not college football – each game early on in the year is rarely going to significantly affect your tournament seeding. In football, the season is much shorter so if you shit the bed once the odds that you are going to end up being the national champion are very low. In college basketball, it’s not like that.
Even if you’re a perennial powerhouse like Georgia Tech or Syracuse, if you lose to Colgate in November it’s not going to be the end of the world for you. You’re going to the tournament regardless, and this is one of the reasons why you aren’t going to be crying your eyes out if you miss that game.
And that feeling is what can make you choose to ignore the regular season games if you so desire. Sports fans are generally pretty organized individuals – they know what time the games are on and how to work around the rest of their schedule so that they can watch the games. But as with most organized individuals (sports fans or not) they also prioritize. And for some odd reason, spending time with your children is usually going to trump catching the Iowa-Penn State staring contest that’s going down on the Big Ten Network.
3. The fans
I’m going to get a lot of shit for saying this, but college basketball fans suck. College basketball arenas in North America are packed to the gills with drunk and stoned college kids that probably believe travelling is still a real call. They are annoying as hell, and make the broadcast itself eat a heaping plate of dick night after night on one of ESPN’s 24 different networks.
In this category I have to put the bands as well. This is a huge part of why college football is hard for me to sit through. The sound that a college pep band makes is like fingernails being ran across a chalkboard, and by “fingernails” I mean “butcher knife” and by “chalkboard” I mean “poor Malaysian kid’s throat”. They are some of the most untalented, unenlightened individuals on the planet and calling them musicians is a fucking sacrilege. They know twenty 30 second songs, each one is worse than the previous one, and wouldn’t know what a vagina looked like if it walked into a room with white walls and was labeled. Anything that makes you want to turn the sound down on your TV makes for bad TV. Why are we forgetting some of the building blocks that allowed us to have those 24 networks for sports in the first place?
Speaking of broadcasting, there’s no possible way that these guys calling the games can know and/or care this much about the players. “Derrick likes to play video games and enjoys pop tarts…” Really asshole? How do you know that? Do you hang out in his dorm room fridge and take notes? You’d better hope that guy isn’t a criminal justice major, because that’s probably the one page he did read in his four years on campus and now you’re on your way to jail.
I could really go on forever with this one, my many bad experiences going to high school and college basketball games make me want to reheat my own vomit and pour it into my nostrils. All you really need to know here is that a regular season college basketball game is a short-attention span amusement park that will make you wish you were deaf.
Oh, and Dick Vitale should be euthanized.
4. There’s no bracket, and the bracket has become college basketball’s primary marketing tool
This is a tough one because as die-hards…we all hate the person in the office who wins the bracket bragging rights because let’s face it – they don’t know the first thing about basketball. But what we have to understand here is that the bracket is kind of all college basketball has left. After Tom Izzo and Coach K go to the big stress factory in the sky, that bracket is college basketball’s sole reason to exist.
This is exactly why everything that goes on before the brackets are printed draws very little interest for people like Dubs and I who are not easily amused. Without the bracket, college basketball is just something that your grandfather talks about. It becomes a “back in my college days, I was quite the athlete myself” stories, and nobody wants to be on the receiving end of those. It also becomes a chore, as opposed to something that you are supposed to be watching for entertainment purposes.
And as for the people who win their office pool who don’t know anything about basketball in the first place, you have to remember that the business of college basketball is just that – a business. They have to think in terms of how they can get people who have no idea what the Big East is to watch their product during the one time of the month when it matters. That clueless dirtbag who is now 150 dollars richer is exactly the people who the NCAA is trying to reach, and the bracket ensures that they will be able to make that connection.
5. Once the tournament starts, regular season rankings are meaningless
One of the reasons that the NCAA men’s basketball tourney has become so popular is because it’s a one and done show that has the potential for unexpected success stories. This is America – we love a good underdog story, we tear up every time Peyton Manning goes to visit sick kids in the hospital, and we love it when Butler finds a way to worm their way into the national sports conversation.
That being said, I can’t see why there is so much debate over who is ranked where on the talking heads shows. We are well aware that rankings are done based on what sportswriters have learned in their traditional approaches to covering the games that they love. That’s why Duke will always be ranked higher than they should be – It’s a legendary program, they have a “once in a 500 year period” coach, but most importantly they have the history that dictates they will never be ranked correctly. Pile that onto the fact that they are in the ACC, and you can see why Middle Tennessee State is going to need to have an incredible year in order to make Duke appear momentarily irrelevant.
As far as I know, these athletic departments don’t get any sort of monetary reward for being number 25 as opposed to being unranked. And if they do, that’s insane and pretty much seals the argument in favor of these guys actually getting paid to do this when you consider all of the revenue they generate.
6. No matter how good college basketball is, it will always lack being a professional sport
This kind of returns to my first point about how few of these guys make it to the NBA, and it should also probably go without saying. However, it’s an important point to close out this article with because it’s true. The overall quality of play that you see in college basketball will never match that at even the D league NBA level.
Now a lot of people get this twisted, and here’s an example: I’ve heard a very, very close friend of mine who is well-educated and well-versed in the world of sports journalism make the argument sober as the day he was born that because the college guys are hungrier that the college game is more fun to watch. He also tried to tell me that he felt the players in the NBA don’t really play defense or hustle that much, and that they can appear lazy at times.
That second part I can see where he’s coming from – the pro season and the college season are both excruciatingly long, with the average length of the NBA playoffs now around two months – but as far as the first part, with all due respect that’s one of the most insanely stupid things I’ve ever heard uttered out loud. Aren’t we taking quality into consideration here?
Say that you are at a horse race and you have purchased your tickets for the day’s gambling activities. Do you want the horses to run at a steady pace in a straight line, or would you rather see them a little bit more amped up and sloppily run into each other leaving the jockeys to have to continuously try to jump back on their horses?
Okay, so maybe that’s a bad example…Now that I think about that, it would actually be hilarious as shit. But can you see why my buddy might be wrong there? This isn’t a sport where everybody gets a trophy. (Although the fact that there are still sports like that is fucking mind-blowing when you consider how soft this country has gotten) You want to see the best of the best, right? Consider this – we are a culture so obsessed with seeing the best of the best that we have awards shows now for sports. And if you were to throw out all of the other ridiculous awards shows for everything else we ingest because they are unnecessary, we would still want to see the best of the best.
The best of the best is what we strive for in all that we do. Where the tournament gives us that, the regular season NCAA game leaves us wondering what we just watched and why we should care. We don’t watch sports to ask questions, we watch sports to get answers.
The playoffs are the most important part of any season in any sport, and this should not surprise anybody. However, the drop-off in the quality of play in college basketball before the tournament starts is like none other in any sport – college or pro. You know how can I prove it? Consider what the NCAA has done with the four play-in games. They’ve taken four games which are for the most part completely unnecessary and have essentially tricked you into thinking that they are important because they are a part of the tournament.
Think of how ridiculous that is. Have you ever actually watched one of those games? Of course not, because you know in your mind that they are really regular season games. And the NCAA knows that too, because they put it on TruTV. How am I supposed to take a game seriously if the other 363 days a year the network it’s on fills their programming schedule with shows that feature Danny Bonaduce and Tonya Harding making hacky jokes about video clips off drunk people knocking over displays inside of gas stations? Quick – name your favorite TruTV analyst. See where I’m going with this one? You’re only as serious as the medium by which you choose to get your message across.
So this year, take all this into consideration when watching the tournament. Learn to enjoy the 1-16 and 2-15 matchups, because when it comes to a playoff structure college basketball has got it right. But at the same time, they’ve created a monster in the sense that it has made their regular season games unwatchable for a majority of the sports viewing public. Sure, the venues will be packed because alumni and student body is always going to buy tickets. But I’d be willing to bet that we haven’t seen a significant spike in regular season college basketball viewership in some time, and will likely not see one in the very near future.
So…Anybody want to go get a pretzel?