Has College Basketball Lost Its Shine?

There are many reasons for sports-lovers to enjoy college basketball: March Madness and unpredictability make spring interesting, players come from small towns to play on big stages, and the wide-open nature of the field is a welcome reprieve from the top-heavy NBA. However, despite being a basketball nut, the college game has lost some of its allure in recent years.

I am a high school English teacher. Part of what I teach my students is to think about the author of a work of literature and decide where he or she is coming from in regards to the context of the pieces they read for me in class. For that reason, I need to tell you a little about myself:

Aside from being an English teacher, I am a basketball coach. Since October, I have spent countless hours in gymnasiums across eastern Ohio. In college, I got the opportunity to have a first-hand, front row seat at the passion and pageantry in college basketball as a student at the University of Dayton the year the Flyers beat Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford on their way to the Elite 8. I love basketball, but after long days spent coaching, watching basketball on television is not at the top of my list of priorities, and my perception of the college basketball climate certainly has something to do with that.

For many people like myself, part of the joy of watching college hoops comes from watching the development of players from year to year. Viewers crave the stories of small-town players go from playing sparse minutes to being major contributors in NCAA tournament games. The underdog story, for not only individuals, but teams, also, is what makes college basketball great.

College basketball has lost some of that feeling.

The current climate of college basketball makes it very difficult for casual fans to keep up with ever-changing college basketball rosters. Current rules say that potential NBA prospects must wait a year after their high school graduation before entering the NBA Draft, which has made college basketball merely a stepping stone to the NBA. The development that once took place in college basketball now takes place in the NBA.

Under the current rules, one must wonder whether college basketball prospects choose programs because they connect with a program’s philosophy or whether that decision is more based one which program allows a player an opportunity to play immediately and gain exposure by putting up numbers, even at the expense of team success.

Faced with the threat of players being in their program for only one year, college coaches are forced to play their young prospects extended minutes (often at the expense of older, more experienced players) in an effort to maximize the short amount of time said players spend in their program. College basketball legends like JJ Reddick, Gordon Hayward, and Doug McDermott are becoming fewer and farther between. It seems increasingly obvious that players who do stay in college for four years are the ones who do so because they lack NBA potential.

Perhaps the most troubling is that players like Emmanuel Mudiay chose to play in China immediately after high school rather than spend a year at an American university or that John Calipari had this to say last year after not winning a national title:

“Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think that goal was to win the national title and win all the games. It was to get eight players drafted…

“The mission statement for me would be to be a vehicle to help others reach their dreams, to be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on. Now, in our state, they want my mission to be win national titles… But my mission is bigger than that.”

Perhaps a positive is that that the current college basketball situation has allowed mid-major teams the opportunity to compete with the traditional powerhouses—teams such as Dayton and Xavier have each had great seasons at the expense of teams like Duke and Kentucky and much of this has to do with the continuity and their players developing within a system, gaining experience and confidence.

As far as who is at fault for my apathy toward college basketball, I cannot really entertain an answer. Whether others feel the same way I do, I cannot be sure of that, either. College basketball will be fine—I must admit that I’m looking forward to the respective conference and NCAA tournaments. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the closer I’ve gotten to the game of basketball, the farther my interest has gone from the college game.

E-mail Ben at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BBeldenCLE.