A recent article in USA Today discussed the recent trend in college basketball that it appears to be declining in popularity. Maybe that is too strong of a word, but it clearly is in the shadow of its’ big brother college football in terms of overall popularity and attendance.
Although college football still punches itself annually in the groin by not having a true playoff system it does have the one thing college hoops is sorely missing; a meaningful regular season. You can argue all you want to about how difficult Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans’ schedule is year in and year out but the difference is that they can afford to lose games and still receive a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Izzo would be the first to tell you he schedules tough opponents to ready his team for the Big Ten, the Big Ten Tournament and the field of 64 rather than doing it to ‘impress’ pollsters. A 30-0 record to him means nothing if it comes against teams you’ve never even heard of before.
Last year, the NCAA tournament saw a significant decline in attendance at its’ tournament venues. You want reasons for this? Here’s a couple;
1. Economics. Why spend the money on tickets, parking, concessions, etc when I can enjoy the game from the comfort of my own home or local watering hole for far less?
2. Seating. If I do buy a ticket to an NCAA Tourney game, you know where I’m going to be sitting? Nowhere near the court that’s where. When you watch the tournament this week take note of the number of press tables set up for journalists and radio/TV play-by-play guys on each side of the court. You’ll be lucky to be within 75 feet of the actual surface and it isn’t much better on either end where the cheerleaders are subjected to a space similar to that of a sardine can. I’m not paying good money to sit in the nose bleeds just so I can say, “Hey I was at that game! Saw it with my binoculars but I was there!” I can watch it even better in HD and see instant replays too.
3. The One and Done Rule. Anyone remember that great NCAA performance by Kevin Durant in which his Texas Longhorns lost in the second round of the tournament? Ya, me neither. I’m not blaming Durant; the guy is an amazing freaking talent and I would have gone pro too, but the NCAA tournament is watered down because of the lack of talented players like him. Can you imagine LeBron James or Kobe Bryant having played two or three season of college ball? That would get people more interested. The NCAA is essentially the NBA’s bitch and dictates whatever it wants to it. There are certainly some extremely talented guys who do play three or four years but they are not in the same stratosphere as the guys who leave after one year.
College basketball has some issues to take care of before the decline snowballs. Football is now working towards a true playoff system that will not only increase popularity but will continue to so without making the regular season a joke.
March is one of the most exciting times for any sports fan and college hoops is the epicenter of that excitement. There is no reason the atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium or Rupp Arena cannot be had at NCAA tournament games. The fans are what make those venues and the games so exciting and in contrast these tournament games look like funerals simply in the name of money.