I finally got to exhale last night as ESPN formally kicked off the 2010 College Basketball Season with a 24-hour marathon of college games. YES! Leading off ….UCLA and Cal St. Fullerton. Followed by Hawaii at 4, a “Bloody Mary Special” at 6 with Monmouth and St.Peters and some must-see TV at 10 between Clemson and Liberty. Given this stunt ….I ask …..Could ESPN be any more lame?
That is one question but a larger issue is: Can College Basketball get any worse? I hope not because we are at multi-decade lows right now. The quality of play is awful, the transitory nature of the sport crushes fan interest, the regular season has NO importance, the ratings are awful, the sport is over-exposed by a factor of three and success is weighted entirely on begging kids to stay in school. In my mind, it all adds up to a giant turd sandwich. And in honor of this sandwich, I thought I would offer a dozen or so reasons this morning on why college basketball is so flawed.
* Since Kevin Garnett decided in 1995 to skip college, the sport has been drained of its best players. Basically, College Basketball is now a giant under-22 game where 80 percent of the best under-22 players are playing in the Pros. And yet we still care? Why is that? Why do we care about who wins a battle of also-rans? It’s like caring about who wins the Oscar for best actor in a year when Day-Lewis, Clooney, Depp, Penn, Deniro, Decaprio, Nicholson, Hanks and ten others aren’t eligible. I’m sorry, I just can’t get around the fact that the sport is short on piranha and long on tadpoles. Quiet everyone …..the Academy for best actor goes to Robin Williams ….. for Old Dogs.
* As a corollary to the above, the sport is just not played as well as it used to be. Contrary to the NBA, where play has never been better, CBB has become a slow game that is really just a three-point shooting contest. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s unwatchable because it isn’t. But it is far inferior to the NBA and that is inarguable. (By the way, the quality of play in the NBA probably at an all-time high and it’s a shame that nobody is paying attention.)
* Success in the sport is now contingent on one thing and one thing only …..getting players to stay in school. How can you maintain enthusiasm for a sport where the most important week for the sport is the week heading up to the draft declaration deadline. Let’s be honest here ….the only reason that Florida won in 2007 and UNC won in 2009 was because they had multiple players stay in school when dozens of their peers were leaving. Does anyone think Florida would have won in 2007 without Brewer and Noah? Or UNC last year without Tyler and Lawson? Sure, early defections have always played a role in determining competitiveness but it has gotten to the point where it is the dominant factor in the sport. I am not down with it.
*These early defections make the game incredibly transitory and hard to follow from year to year. Way back when, I could name 80 percent of the starters for each team in the big three conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten). To this day, I still know who played for Illinois and Maryland in 1984. You want the names of guys who played for Arkansas in 1989? I got five of them. Now? I couldn’t name a guy other than Dee Brown who has played for Illinois since they went to the Final Four in 2005. And Arkansas? Other than Joe Johnson and Ronnie Brewer, I don’t think I could name a player who has played in Fayettville since 1995.
* The regular season doesn’t matter one iota. Sure, it plays a role in seeding but nobody cares about conference titles anymore. And more importantly, the tourney is hardly selective so no team with a shot at winning the title has to sweat selection. As a result, the games are not much more than exhibitions. I still watch but given the ratings, I am not sure anyone else does.
* CBB fans are always pointing to “enthusiasm” as a reason for favoring the Sport over the NBA. Really? Enthusiasm? That’s your best answer? I’ll let you in on a little secret ….enthusiasm in CBB is down about forty percent from the highs.
Other things I don’t like about CBB
* John Calipari …..The chip on this used car salesman’s shoulder is a mile deep. Will be interesting to see what he bitches about now that he is coaching at UK.
* People stealing my invention: “Elite Eight.” I made that up in 1984 a full decade before anyone at CBS was throwing the term around. Making matters worse, it is now horribly mis-used. Whatever happened to calling that game by its proper term: Regional Final?
* Dukies ……enough with the leaping up and down …..for god sake, its Coastal Carolina. Worse yet, the kids at other schools who mimic the Duke kids. Worse even yet ….the kids who rush the court when they knock off the #18 team in the country.
* Teams from major conferences bitching about tourney snubs. Sorry guys ….you didn’t play well this year, you didn’t play anyone out of conference, and you wouldn’t have made it out of the first weekend anyways.
* People claiming the first two days of the NCAA tourney are the best days in sport. Really? 32 games …. 25 of which turn into Ambien tablets. You sit there for 24 hours over two days and five exciting things happen. That is the best the sport has to offer? Sorry, the second and third rounds is where all the action takes place.
* Worship of the Big East. Folks, its two entire conferences. Sixteen teams in two time zones. And you want to know why the conference had a big season in 2009? Simple, a disproportionate number of players were Zack Mayos (Office and a Gent) and had nowhere else to go so they stuck around for another year. (See above …early defections) Evidence? The conference had just three players selected in the prior year’s first-round and two were seniors. So the BE basically caught the top of their cycle while every other conference was ebbing or bottoming. That made the year “relatively” good, not “nominally” good. And let’s see how the BE compares after you stick Love, Mayo, Westbrook, Lopez and Bayless back in the 2009 Pac-10 or D Rose back on Memphis. I know one thing …the former happens and UCLA has one of the BE’s one -seeds and probably UCONN’s FF spot.
* Mike Patrick ….one of the five worst announcers in any sport. His presence at the ACC tourney is enough to make me a Big Ten fan for two days in March. When you team this guy up with Dick Vitale you have a combo as rotten as John Allen Muhammed and Lee Malvo.
* ESPN’s decision to start Digger and Hubert over Doug Gottlieb. Hubert is alright but playing Phelps over Gottlieb is like taking Kathleen Turner over Diane Lane in the over-forty category. Egregious foul on Bristol.
* People using the term “March Madness” in lieu of “the NCAAs,” “the NCAA Tourney,” or “the Tournament.” My ears swell when I hear someone blurt out ….”I can’t wait for March Madness …….” Other no no’s …….use of the terms “Big Dance” or “Dancing.” Call me a traditionalist but it’s still a basketball tournament.
* Dick Vitale …….nobody has been worse for longer than Dickie V. He has been an abortion since at least 1989. In that respepct, he has Clarence Thomas beat by a year.
* Jay Bilas ……JB has still not found a coach he is willing to criticize other than criminals like Dave Bliss and Jim Harrick. You want a cheerleader for the entire coaching profession? Look no further. Here is a SAT question ….Objectivity is to Jay Bilas as (Integrity, Slimey, Deceitful, or Trustworthy ) is to Bernie Madoff.
* Radio Heads in March offering tourney thoughts on teams they have never seen. And I mean NEVER. This one has WFAN’s Mike Francesca written all over it. He simply is the master of speaking out his ass. If you are going to ask him about Oklahoma State, you might as well follow up with what he thinks about 19th Century poetry or the yield curve.
* Tourney Expansion: Yeah, that is all we need ….take a tourney that is already struggling with mediocre teams and dilute it to hell. Expansion is being fueled by two things …… the NCAA trying to bleed the last dollar out of the next tourney broadcaster, most likely ESPN, and coaches like Jim Boeheim who want to set up an entitlement for the coaching union. Folks, we can’t find 34 deserving at-large teams right now and Beoheim wants to bump this number to 65. Such a move would obliterate what remains of the regular season and result in a tourney that is more watered down than a spring break cocktail.
There, 1400 words of venom. I know you probably think I enjoyed that but I didn’t. In fact, it really pained me as College Basketball was at one time, my first sport, even ahead of baseball. As such, I feel like I just ripped my first born. But hey, even kids sometimes grow up to disappoint.