Midnight Madness is less than a week away, which is the unofficial start of college basketball. I guess it’s good for generating some interest among the fans, but in reality it is a glorified practice where nothing much is accomplished, and since it is almost four weeks before the start of the non-exempt season, much of the interest will fade between now and the actual start of the year.
Before I begin, I realize that what I’m proposing is virtually impossible as far as it being implemented. I’m writing about an ideal, not a likely reality. Now that we have that out of the way….
I wish basketball were a spring sport instead of a winter sport. Basketball is hugely popular, second only to football, and in many parts of the country it beats football. As popular as it is, the beginning of the season goes virtually unnoticed. Major League Baseball starts off with a bang with Opening Day. Week One of the NFL football season is a big deal. Week One of college football is a big deal. Those sports start off with a bang. College basketball starts off with a toy pop gun. It isn’t until after Thanksgiving that the general sports fans become conscious that college hoops has even begun and it really isn’t until after the Super Bowl that it becomes the country’s most paid-attention-to sport. Three months out of the five month season are kept on the backburner as far as the general sports fans are concerned. On top of that, many of the important out of conference games are played either when classes are not in session, or during the home stretch of the college football regular season. That takes a lot of energy out of and attention away from what are quality, high stakes match-ups early in the year. As someone who has talked extensively with many NCAA selection committee members, they put just as much emphasis on the November and December games as they do on the conference games.
There are certainly exceptions to the rule. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is an event that produces some showcase games. Many fans have embraced the 24 hour Tip-Off Marathon that ESPN puts on. So, there is a smattering of intriguing OOC games, but for the most part there are many quality match-ups that go unnoticed by your general American sports fan, even though they are high stakes and high quality match-ups.
My solution would be to make it a spring sport instead of a winter sport. Instead of starting the non-exempt season on the second Friday in November, it could begin sometime in mid-December. The schools are on break, so this would be a perfect time to play the exempt tournaments like the Preseason NIT, Maui Invitational, Paradise Jam, Old Spice Classic, Puerto Rico Invitational, and countless others. Players would not have to miss a week of class, and fans could have an easier time traveling to the games due to it being the holidays. More importantly, we wouldn’t be tipping off the season at a time when college football is at peak interest, and basketball is at most an afterthought. Yes, there are bowl games in December and early January, but with the exception of January 1st, there are generally only two or three a day, so there is plenty of room for basketball games. It would definitely increase the amount of time college basketball has to bask in the spotlight.
Making it a spring sport does something else. It allows for a fall season. Soccer is a fall sport, but there is a spring season of about five games. Baseball is a spring sport, but there is a fall season of about ten games. Making basketball a spring sport would allow for a fall season of about four or five exhibition games, which would improve the quality of play when the regular season tips off in December. I know there is a combination between two games where schools can either play a closed scrimmage against a div1 school, or an exhibition game that is open to the public against a nondiv1 school. We could still have that. It’s just that we’d do it in early December instead of early November.
Last, but not least, there is an academic advantage to starting the season later. Having basketball in the spring frees up the entire fall semester, and the schedule can be worked out so final exams in the spring are in no way effected. As it is now, you play a few weeks, then you stop for a week (well, most schools do) to focus on fall final exams, and having that lull in the middle of the year is a distraction. Moving it to the spring would eliminate that.
March Madness has a great ring to it. It’s a phrase that is very marketable. April Madness or May Madness doesn’t quite sound the same, but that is really the only downside that I can see to keeping it as a winter sport instead of changing it to a spring sport.
Having said all that, I am a college basketball diehard. The general sports fan is largely unexcited at the start of the season, but I am not a general sports fan. I am excited. Midnight Madness is the first taste of basketball, and it will descend upon us this week. I just think it would be better for everyone if it was five or six more weeks into the future.