COMMENTARY| As a huge football fan, I cannot truly turn my attention to another sport until after the Super Bowl (it’s just so hard to say goodbye to love of my life). But I realize more and more every year that it’s becoming less about saying goodbye to football and more about not being fully entertained by the sport that follows: the NBA. Becoming more and more commercialized and with too many players seemingly having their own agendas, I have begun to realize that if I’m going to watch basketball, I’d much rather it be college hoops. Please don’t misunderstand my stance. I am not an NBA hater. I am a fan of the league. I mean seriously, who turns their channel from the NBA Playoffs come May and June? However, I don’t believe I’m alone when I say I am more geared up for March Madness than the NBA Finals. Here are my 9 elements to the college basketball game that makes it more fun to watch than the NBA:
1. Playing for the Love of the Game
There are 351 Division I schools during the 2013-14 season. Each school has 13 scholarships available. That’s about 4,563 players (and less than that for women) playing college basketball. Not everyone who plays college ball has a want to play at the pro level, nor will everyone who wants to play at the pro level actually make it there. Yet every night, college basketball athletes appear to play with passion and heart. They are not motivated by scoring a bigger contract the following season if they play to a certain standard. It’s the impression of genuine “love of the game” that just gives it a different feel that true fans can admire.
2. Every Game Counts
There is no “blow half the season until the All-Star break” in college hoops. Unlike the NBA where teams can afford to take some losses, every game counts in the college spectrum. With an average of 30 games a season, the more wins a team has the better they are ranked, and the higher they are seeded. There is no reward for losing; no first round draft or lottery pick is gained for blowing a season. This reassures the fans every game will be played wholeheartedly since every game matters.
3. The Traditions
The chants, the pep band, cutting the net down after winning it all along with the pre-game rituals are traditions of college sports that just don’t translate well into the pros.
4. College Fans
They are loud. They get under the opposing team’s skin. They are best in the business of fan-hood. They are college students. The atmosphere when watching a college game is in itself a spectacle of fun. The student sections brings the most excitement as they all dress alike, jump around, and bring the noise. The Oklahoma City Thunder is the closest franchise to bring this atmosphere to the NBA arena and even then it can’t compare.
5. True Rivalries
In the NBA rivalries vary from year to year. They change like the wind. Even the cemented ones (i.e. Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers or Detroit Pistons vs. Chicago Bulls) have shifted. Not in college. Rivalries don’t’ switch because of lack of talent or TV appeal. If anything, teams play harder when facing a rival. 20 years ago Duke hated North Carolina and 20 years from now -I’m willing to bet- Duke will still hate North Carolina.
6. Cinderella Stories
The top of the NBA pyramid is so monopolized by the same teams on a consistent basis that it’s become predictable who has the best chance to win. The small market team or the 8th seed rarely has a fighting chance to go all the way. Not in college hoops. Try telling George Mason (’05-’06) or Florida Gulf Coast (’12-’13), among other teams that were counted out, that it can’t be done. Everyone loves a good Cinderella Story.
Yes the NBA has upsets too, but the NBA doesn’t have storming the court. There is little to no direct fan engagement on the professional level. On the college level however, the fans get to celebrate the upset in true direct fashion. Seeing an unranked team go to battle with the nation’s best, come out on top, then have the fans rush the court and celebrate with the players is one of the most enjoyable pieces of basketball that the pros just don’t offer.
8. Selection Sunday
Just the thrill of not knowing who is going to be seeded where is awesome. Add to that, teams gathering around as a unit to wait to hear their name being called for a chance to win a championship, and that’s Selection Sunday. It’s already known where the pros will be by the beginning of April so there really is no anticipation of who will be seeded where, who will playing who, and who is most likely to go all the way.
9. March Madness
One and done. That’s it. With the pros, there may be some good games within the series, but normally the dominate team will eventually win. In college, any team can have an off night. There is no play tomorrow. So teams have to bring the best they have all tournament long and that means even the most dominate team can fall. It’s not predictable. Each year brings a new set of challenges with new players and a new Cinderella story to be on the lookout for. If nothing else makes college basketball more exciting and fun to watch than the NBA, March Madness does. So bring on the brackets!