March Madness. All you have to do is say those two little words and you conjure up memories for most red-blooded Americans who like to watch college basketball. When I think of college basketball I remember watching The Big East Conference or at the time the Pac-10 Conference game of the week every Saturday when I was a teenager. I could look at most teams and name just about every player on most rosters or at the very least be familiar with all the players’ names. Oh, how times have changed.
I don’t get the same amount of joy watching college basketball anymore. To me, it’s a difficult game to watch. People are going to say “the game is pure” or “they play it because they love the game” or “it’s the same game it’s always been.” You want to know what I say to that? To put it appropriately, I call BS.
The product is not very good at all in my opinion. People like a good product on the court or field when they go watch their teams, but right now they are not getting their money’s worth.
Everybody knows that the NBA is a players’ league. Well, NCAA college basketball is a coach’s league and let’s just say that the coaches are micromanagers of their players. Every possession is grinded out like they are trying to figure out if there was somebody on the grassy knoll. The players are not allowed to freelance too much because that means lost possessions to the coach and it probably means that the player will find himself on the end of the bench or seated right next to their coach getting an ear full of discipline. So to the player it doesn’t benefit them in any way to play a little loose and free. The free movement of basketball isn’t there for college basketball because the college coaches want to play the game in a phone booth and not out in the open like it should be.
After watching Pac-12 (Pac-10 as a youngster) basketball all my life and in person the last couple of seasons it is readily apparent that players don’t have the same skill set they once had. Oh, sure, there are the occasional anomalies that come with that ability to do everything, such as Jahlil Okafor. But, for the majority of players coming into college basketball they have one skill they can do. Some have good ball-handling, some are decent shooters, some rebound or play solid defense, but there are not players that leave college being better players than they were when they came into college basketball. Why?
Let’s be honest about what has happened in big time Division One college basketball. The one and done player is killing the game. Many of these players are just not ready to play on the Division One level, but have talent so the coaches are pressured to play these kids and suffer through the growing pains. The other aspect of college basketball is that it’s just a minor league for the NBA. When players have the opportunity to leave after a semester in college, the product on the floor will suffer greatly. These players are not ready for the professional ranks after four months in college.
College basketball is to the point of being unwatchable to many sports fans like myself. It’s slow, can be ugly, and it is unskilled. For the people that tell me that a 54-50 defensive ball game is fun to watch, I just roll my eyes. If I want to see two people mugging each other I will just watch the next episode of “Law and Order”.
There are wrestling matches in the paint, secondary defenders getting charges off stupid calls, guards playing hand to hand combat at the top of the key, officials with quick whistles slowing the game down to a crawl, and cutters trying to avoid collisions. When you add all this up, it’s not a shock as to why the visual of college basketball is so brutal these days.
For the average fan, college hoops is boring to watch and the NCAA is not willing to change many things up to improve the product on the floor.
The NBA went through some changes to make the game more visually appealing to its fans. The fans and even people inside the NBA made complaints about how the game became ugly. So the NBA listened to them and over the last 20 years or so, the NBA has been a leader in making its game better. They have cracked down on hand-checking, flopping, backing players down in the lane, and for those actions, it is why the NBA is more visually appealing to fans now. It’s certainly more appealing to me.
The NCAA is suffering through a time where people are not paying attention to college basketball like they used to. Overall attendance is down, ratings are down, and scores are down. Teams are averaging about 67.2 points per game, the lowest average total since 1952, which tells me that college basketball players don’t have the offensive repertoire as they once did. They are certainly more athletic, but that doesn’t mean they are better overall players than their predecessors. Attendance is also down at college basketball games. Overall attendance is down for the seventh straight year and down roughly 360,000 people. In 2006 college basketball attendance averaged 5,237 people and now it averages 4,817. That may not seem like a lot, but to a school to lose roughly 500 paid people to a game means lost revenue that is difficult to recover.
What is driving these fans away? Are people being turned off by one and done players? The drop in skilled players? Maybe. To go along with the drop in attendance, the television ratings have also been declining. ESPN which carries a ton of games has had their viewing of college basketball drop by six percent in the last year. Has conference realignment affected this? I would say yes because the new conferences have taken away some very good rivalries which mean a lot to the fans of those schools, but to presidents of those schools it’s all about the money. Some type of change has to be made for college basketball to return to what it once was and the NCAA has to spearhead that change.
What can be done though? It’s not like the NCAA is an organization that likes to change things. It almost seems like the NCAA have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward that change for it to actually occur.
The NCAA has changed the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds to help out scoring, but when there are a lack of shooters in college basketball that point disappears. As I stated earlier, scoring is down to lowest levels in about 50 years, so what other changes does the NCAA need to look at to increase their ratings and slumping attendance?
Here are just a few ideas.
- Take away the possession arrow and replace it with the jump ball. I have hated this possession arrow rule since its inception, so I wouldn’t mind seeing it disappear.
- Move the three point line to the NBA distance which would open up the court for penetration.
- Get rid of the one-and-one free throw and make every foul the double bonus. This would eliminate the constant fouling at the end of many games.
- Make the 10 second backcourt time limit eight seconds.
- Put in the defensive three second rule.
Take those for whatever you want, but I think they would better the college game. They would open things up, provide for more movement, and make players play some better defense. No matter how much the NCAA likes to throw out the student/athlete story line, the NCAA is a business and if the product is inferior, the NCAA has to step in and improve it. I’m not saying that change will come anytime soon, but it needs to happen otherwise people will continue to walk away from college basketball.