>Why College Basketball Sucks

Posted: April 6, 2011 by Keith Stone in college basketball, NCAA

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This year’s barnburning NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game featured a team that went 21-9 in the regular season and made 12 shots while shooting less than 19% from the field. The other program is under three years’ probation and their coach is suspended for their first three conference games next year for “failing to create an atmosphere of compliance.” The game epitomized everything that is wrong with the sport. It still has its defenders but since more underclassmen started jumping to the NBA in the mid 90’s, the product has really suffered. It is vastly inferior to the pro game and borders on unwatchable. In addition, the NCAA and the schools are corrupt and the athletes aren’t devoid of blame either.

March Madness is college basketball’s saving grace. It’s the anti-BCS. The regular season is fairly moot; UConn won the Title after finishing ninth in the Big East. It’s ironic because with a longer regular season, it would make sense for college basketball to have a postseason that wasn’t a total crapshoot.

But then again, the single-elimination nature of the tournament is what makes things dramatic and exciting. It makes it easier for casual fans to follow. Everybody and their mom has a bracket. There’s no better way to increase interest in the games than having money and bragging rights with your buddies on the line. It’s the same with the NFL. Fantasy football pushed the league into the next stratosphere of popularity.

Also like the NFL, the sheer number of games being played at around the same time makes for an awesome event, especially the first two rounds. There’s nothing like being in a bar and being able to watch six games at once that end one after the other.

March Madness is a great product, but is it the best way to determine a champion? Ohio State was consistently the best team all season and lost a heartbreaker. Pitt was the best team in the toughest conference and lost on a silly foul 80 feet from the basket. A program shouldn’t have its Title aspirations dashed because of a single bad day, questionable call, or injury. If the NBA had a single-elimination playoff tournament, it would be the coolest thing ever, but being the best isn’t about being perfect and catching the breaks every single game. It’s about sustained greatness and persevering through adversity. March Madness doesn’t reward such qualities. Seeing Cinderellas like Butler and VCU advance is fun, but are they good or just lucky?

The game itself is choppy and too slow. The main problem is the shot clock. It’s way too long at 35 seconds. This isn’t 1962. Yeah, it encourages “playing the right way” and more ball movement. It also encourages me to look at my watch. The real problem is at the end of games. An eight-point lead with two minutes left is almost insurmountable and leads to lots of dribbling and lots of intentional fouling. That’s not what basketball is.

Another rule that needs to be changed is being able to call a time out when the opponent is in possession of the ball. Only Zack Morris should be able to do that. At the end of games, coaches always (ALWAYS!) want to call time when their team is behind. The interminable breaks in the game are annoying and take away from the action on the court. The NCAA doesn’t mind because that means more commercials.

Most coaches are idiots and use all their time outs, which means lots of choppy play. How are coaches not able to discuss both offensive and the ensuing defensive strategy during a huddle? Plus, it always seems like teams are out of time outs when they really, really need them. If the ball was allowed to be moved up to half court after a time out, coaches would change their philosophy. The endings of the games seem to go on longer than the romantic comedy your girlfriend dragged you to.

The makeup of these teams has also led to the detriment of the sport. With talent fleeing to the NBA, players are younger and less mature. Teams haven’t had years of coaching to develop chemistry. As a result, you have a lot of jacked-up shots and players that don’t know when to go for a quick 2 instead of a 3. That’s exactly what happened in the UConn-Kentucky semifinal game when Kentucky’s Brandon Knight took an ill-advised three-pointer down by two in the final seconds instead of going to the basket or looking for an open man. Of course, Knight is a freshman. Don’t forget the aforementioned Pitt foul that got them bounced. It’s not good basketball. In fact, it’s awful basketball.

There’s just no continuity from year-to-year. The exciting thing about being a sports fan is that it’s a years’ long soap opera. Can Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs finally get over the hump this year and win the Title? Will Josh Hamilton sustain his form or crumble after losing in the World Series? Those are the fascinating plots that really keep you tuning in game after game and there’s none of that in college basketball. We had a nice story in Butler this year, but besides the coaches, how many plotlines in college basketball go for more than a year?

Unfortunately, there’s really not a good solution to keeping kids in school. The NCAA could start paying them but it wouldn’t come close to what the NBA would. It might help, but they would never do it. The NCAA has always had a holier-than-thou attitude when it comes to its student-athletes. They’ll say that they’re providing them with a free education and great life experience. It’s true. But it’s also true that the NCAA just signed a $10.8 billion TV contract with CBS and Turner Sports for the Tournament. Throw in the money it earns from other TV, ticketing, and merchandise, and it’s sitting on a goldmine.

The NCAA is a bunch of hypocrites. They’ll do anything to make sure a kid isn’t receiving improper benefits, be it a new suit or concert tickets, while they’re selling out and holding big games in football stadiums that aren’t built for pretty basketball games. All the while, the NCAA is preaching grades, ethics, and regulations.

The schools are implicit in the hypocrisy. They’re making a ton of money too. Like the NCAA, they say it’s all about the student-athletes and their well-being. But these programs will do anything to get a player. In the corrupt matchup of the Final Four, UConn was on probation and Kentucky’s John Calipari had his two previous trips to the Final Four vacated because of misdeeds. And these are the successful programs! Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl got caught and only got fired after his team bombed out of the Tournament. These universities know something bad is going down, but it’s only after their program is caught or starts losing that they’ll do something about it.

Then there’s the players. The biggest myth that hardcore college basketball fans throw out is that the kids do it for the love of the game. Most of them will never make the pros and this is their last shot of glory. It makes sense, but for the top players in the top programs, it’s just a stepping stone. These kids are already getting paid under the table and reaping the (improper) benefits. Let’s not pretend that they’re more innocent than Olivia Newton-John in Grease.

For those less talented and less compensated players, it’s fun to see them play their heart out for pride. But these kids wouldn’t be in the situation they were in if all the upperclassmen stayed. They don’t shoot as well and they don’t pass as well. When I was in college, it was a successful day if I remembered to eat three meals and I was one of the good ones. You have a 19-year-old players dealing with finals, girls, parties, money, friends, and the other random craziness of college. With a few exceptions, it’s just not going to translate into the best basketball possible especially when you have a worldwide audience and the hopes of an entire school on your shoulders.

College basketball is still a decent product. It’s a great opportunity for underprivileged kids to get an education and the Tournament is fun, dramatic, and unique.  However, there are numerous problems that must be addressed and I didn’t even mention how unlikable Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils are. Despite the corruption and hypocrisy which will never end, the situation on the court can be improved. A more uptempo game is key. Championship Games shouldn’t be 53-41. As for me, I’ll be sticking with the athleticism, bravado, and unabashed greediness of the players and owners in the NBA.

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