Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Sakash: College basketball devolving

There was once a time in this country when college basketball was unquestionably the king of hoops. After Michael Jordan retired for the third and final time, college ball took center stage and built a reputation as the most exciting and, at least as far as ratings were concerned, the most entertaining basketball available for viewing pleasure.

If something doesn’t change, however, the NBA will soon regain the national spotlight. That is, if it hasn’t done so already.

The Association’s star-power and off-court Melo-drama (pun vehemently intended) coalesced with a diminishing product on the college level might mean curtains for the once-untouchable NCAA. That threat doesn’t exclude the NCAA Tournament either.


It was only but a few years ago when twice as many fans tuned in to the Final Four than the NBA Finals. But that trend has changed.

Last June, the NBA Finals featuring the Celtics and Lakers drew almost 5 million more viewers than the college title game between Duke and Butler.

Beyond that, in a list of the 100 most watched sports telecasts of 2010, college basketball’s championship night came in 43rd, behind, among other events, 19 NFL regular season games.

Yes, a championship bout between Duke, one of college basketball’s most reviled programs, and a mid-major Cinderella in Butler, which only tiptoed into the Final Four due to a weak tournament field, might excise viewership.

But don’t forget in 2009 the NBA Finals again out-drew the National Championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State, two popular programs from power conferences.

It is possible the NBA’s misplaced popularity was self-inflicted. Over a stretch of about five or six years the Association’s perennial championship teams consisted of players such as Tim Duncan, Richard Hamilton and Dwayne Wade (before he was “Dwayne Wade”); players who, for the most part, had personalities as glittery as a bag of charcoal.

But now, with the star-power back on top of the pro-game, fans have slowly but surely filtered back into the professional basketball world, leaving the college game behind with its table scraps of one-year wonders.

The NBA’s premier athletes haven’t done the NCAA any favors either. Once derided by the public for a lack of effort, especially on the defensive end, teams like the Celtics and the Lakers have reinvested themselves in team defense, quelling the belief that NBA players don’t give their best effort on a consistent basis.

However, there are other contributing factors to why college basketball has dulled over the past few years. The NFL’s popularity has blossomed into the sports world’s equivalent of a monopoly.

More often than not, by the time the NFL regular and post-season buzz dissipates, the college basketball schedule has run through half of its slated games. The big-time non-conference matchups, the individual performances and the beginning of conference play all get lost in the NFL regular season shuffle.

Certainly there are true hoops-fans who follow the game throughout the season, but a casual fan doesn’t usually watch college ball until their favorite NFL team has played its last down. Even then most wait until the conference tournaments begin before immersing themselves in the college basketball season.

As ominous as the state of the college game may sound, it’s not all bad.

The one piece of college basketball that no force on the planet can dilute is the NCAA Tournament. The fact that the NBA has become more popular over the last few years doesn’t take away from the excitement generated by March Madness.

It’s hard to argue that the first weekend of the big dance isn’t the most exciting four days of sports of the year. Fantasy Football may reign atop the sports-gambling community in terms of money, but from the amateur to the self-described expert, there are likely many more “bracketologists” than Fantasy Football managers.

Although, regardless of the NCAA tournament’s popularity, the talent at the college level has still suffered.

Even though the NBA has an age limit, players are still allowed to abscond from academic responsibility after a single year of college service, reducing the amount of talent available to coaches and their programs.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, that rule will never change as the NBA stands to make hoards of money on those players ready to make a splash at the professional level.

And because those great players often leave early, the rivalries that once burned between storied programs are all but extinguished. The fans try to drive the rivalries that remain, but the players who stay in school for one year can neither invest in a program’s history nor contribute to it.

As cynical as it may sound, the college game has evolved into a minor-league system for the NBA. But don’t fret; the NCAA will always have its place, especially in parts of the country that don’t currently host an NBA franchise, and always during that magical time in March.

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