College basketball, problem solved
Posted November 13, 2013
I'm not sure if you've heard the news or not, but the sport of college basketball is dying. Interest in the game, attendance and the ability for Joe the Plumber to recognize the starting line ups of the top teams in the country is at an all-time low — similar to the current approval rating of members of congress (which, for the record is at a staggering 9%). Never mind that Joe the Plumber and his Wednesday night bowling league buddies also couldn't name the starters along the offensive line of their favorite NFL team, the point is that some people don't know the names of the players and therefore college hoops is one step away from being thoroughbred horse racing — relevant only for a 6-week stretch from May to the middle of June.
Accept in the case of college basketball, the body is only suitable for viewing from mid-February through the first week in April.
Alas, I do believe we've discovered the antidote for whatever it may be that ails the college game, and we didn't even need Alexander Fleming-like ingenuity to figure it all out. Tuesday night in Chicago, in the span of about five hours, everything that was wrong with college basketball (according to some) became everything that was right about the game.
The Champions Classic, a made-for-ESPN double-feature, brings together four of the most-storied college basketball programs in the game, but last night showcased even more than the names on the front of the jerseys. Last night, between Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas and Duke, we saw at least a dozen (probably more) first round picks in the next NBA draft, at least half of those likely to be gone in the top half and quite possibly the first three overall selections. But honestly, that is relatively common in these early-season events. What separated this from other tournament-like entities was that with very few exceptions, all of these players demonstrated a skill, if not a flair, that was so incredibly appealing that it will have no choice but to carry into the season.
Duke's Jabari Parker was electrifying in a similar way that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was a year ago -- minus the autograph sessions. Julius Randle dominated the middle for Kentucky like defensive end Jadaveon Clowney has done for South Carolina. And, why is it that Florida State's precocious freshman quarterback has made us forget that the Seminoles last quarterback was taken 16th overall in the most-recent NFL draft but we have a hard time remembering his accomplishments. Jameis Winston is the hottest thing going in college football even though he's just nine games into his career. Similarly, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins has played just twice and you can tell the absolute star he's destined to be to the point that I can't recall a single player off last year's Jayhawks team that probably should have ended the year in the Final Four.
There have been many criticisms of college hoops over the last few years. The best players don't stick around long enough. The sport is dominated by younger and younger players who aren't ready to excel and haven't developed the skill necessary to be successful at the highest level of the college game. And, without "known commodities", the casual fan can't wrap his (or her) mind around the lack of star power in the game and stars are what sells tickets.
That would all make sense if they all weren't problems that college football has to deal with on a yearly basis and I don't hear anyone talking about how that sport is on life-support. Even though football is experiencing declining ticket sales even in the pigskin-equals-oxygen Southeastern Conference. This just in, ladies and gentlemen, college sports -- regardless of the game -- experiences a lot of player turnover EVERY YEAR. It's the nature of the 4-year window we get to watch even the best players.
Now, with the enormous amounts of money available to the athletes in the professional ranks, and the limited window in which to tap into those riches, players are looking for the earliest possible opportunity to graduate to the pros. Do you blame them? I certainly don't. Would it be great if players stayed longer? Would it be better for their development as players, as people? Would it ultimately be better for the NBA -- and NFL? Of course it would, but do we want to live in a fantasy world or reality?
Last night, for all of college sports' warts, we watched not only the coming-out of three uber-stars of basketball's future, but we also discovered other wonderful players and saw two games played at such a high level it was hard to believe that there were so many underclassmen involved -- and it was the only second week of November. If you watched last night, I'll bet you'll tune in just about every time Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are on television.
Last night was the type of performance that creates fans, no matter how broken the game appears to some.