Who likes college basketball?

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
2:58
PM ET
Apparently not that many of you.

That's the premise of this column by Clay Travis at FanHouse, wherein he discusses and bemoans the relatively short nature of the college basketball season and the way other sports have managed to knock it off the casual sports fan's appointment-viewing calendar. My own snarky lead sentence aside, Travis makes a few valid points:

College basketball's difficult sporting reality really hit me in the wake of this past weekend when two events occurred. First, Tennessee upset undefeated, No. 1 Kansas and it took SportsCenter 40 minutes to get to the highlights and second, an undefeated Kentucky opened its conference season against Georgia, and many Wildcat fans chose to watch the Cincinnati Bengals play the New York Jets, instead.

Consider this my own private tipping point. When Wildcat fans choose NFL football over college basketball, there has to be something larger at issue here, right? What has happened to relegate college basketball to the interest backburner? And is there any reason to suggest that college basketball will ever be something more than a six-week national obsession?

Clay has a point. College hoops has and does take a back seat to football for much of its season, whether that's college football in the fall (when college hoops is still ramping up and nonconference games are the main attraction) and NFL in the early winter (when the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl truly dominate the sports landscape, because everyone likes to watch humongous humans destroy each other's hopes of living past 50 for our amusement). This is not a new problem. It might not even be a problem. But take it from someone that spends the summer months thinking just as much about college basketball as in the winter: college basketball's season is far too short and far too splintered for anyone's good.

Which is why Travis' solution makes some sense, too:

I've wondered this for a long time, but isn't the college basketball season set up to fail? Why has it ever made sense to begin college basketball just in time for Thanksgiving, then have to take a prolonged break for finals, cut into Christmas season and then New Year's, and play in arenas without students on campus for the first half of the season? [...] Why not start the college basketball season later, say right after Christmas for actual games, and extend college basketball season into the first week of May?

This could work. You still bump up against attention-hogging pro sports, of course. The NFL will still be there, and this would push college basketball's grand exit into the start of baseball season, but no one watches baseball anyway, so that's not really a big deal. (Joking! I watch baseball. Baseball's all right with me.) And anyone with a slight penchant for organizational obsessive-compulsive disorder can see the benefits: College football in the fall, college basketball in the spring. Simple, easy, sensible, organized.

Some assorted, slightly disorganized musings here:
  1. Does this draw more fans to early season college hoops games? Yeah, maybe. It would require a seminal shift on the part of college basketball coaches and players, but it could be done.
  2. The main problem is this: Casual fans are casual fans. As long as the NCAA tournament exists, lots of casual sports fans -- including far too many people who say "can't watch the NBA because nobody plays defense"; grr -- will ignore most of the season and wait for things to get really good come tourney time. That's college basketball's bread and butter, and that's not going to change.
  3. In the end, though, this almost feels like a moot point. It's 2010. If I want, I can record two college basketball games and watch them back to back after the NFL is over and still be done in time to catch Morley Safer and the septuagenarian crew on "60 Minutes." Or I can go on this thing called the Internet and find highlights of everything that happened in sports that day; I can watch college hoops highlights to my heart's delight. Then, when I'm done with that, I can spend two or three hours culling Twitter and RSS for interesting college hoops news, all while the NFL is on my TV. Worrying about the divided attentions of casual sports fans is a 20th century problem. Now everyone's attentions are divided. Sports fans, even casual (or, if you prefer, lazy) ones, don't have to choose anymore. They can consume it all. Most of them do. Changing the college hoops calendar doesn't seem likely to change that.

In the meantime, those of us who don't wait until February to start thinking about our brackets will be just fine. We'd watch college basketball in June, if you put it on our TVs. You tell us when. We'll be there.

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