Just over a year ago, I wrote an article on The State of College Basketball. Thirteen months later, I'm even more concerned.
I'm a college sports fan and I always have been. Sure, I followed the pro stuff, but as far back as I can remember, college has been my preference. And "preference" is putting it mildly; there was a pretty big stretch in there when the NBA was reaching NHL level on my sports radar. For a sport as great as basketball to be nearing the level of hockey is absolute lunacy. But that's where I was for a while. Over the last few years, that's changed in a big way.
It's changed in such a big way that I'm not reaching hyperbole to say that I've already enjoyed these NBA playoffs more than any of the last 3 NCAA tournaments. And it's only going to get better. We're barely over a round in and there have already been 15-20 excellent games. The best players in the world are playing that way.
As mentioned, I've always been a college guy. Arguing with pro sports fans, I always had two arguments to fall back on: 1) Passion; and 2) Purity.
The first one remains and it's not going anywhere. The NBA is a business, and it's as simple as that. It won't ever be able to produce the same kind of passion as the college game. But the latter has dissipated. The argument was always that the college game was real basketball, the purer game. Even now, the NBA still has a little too much isolation for my liking, but it's not like it was a decade ago. But worse than that, the college teams can no longer claim that they aren't guilty of the same thing. Maybe they don't isolate the best guys every time, but they aren't executing real plays either. The overall talent level has increased, but the level of play doesn't even compare.
Brad Stevens and Butler deserve a ton of credit for what they've done the last two years. But if college basketball were healthy, it never would have happened. Just look at the last two Final Fours. Of the 8 teams included, you can't convince me that even 1 was national title worthy in any other season over the past decade. We're at a point now where the best teams still get the best talent, but they never become a team. We're at a point now where any team in the top 20-30 is capable of winning the Final Four. That's a great thing if you have 20-30 great teams. But we don't. This hasn't happened because the lower teams have upped their game. It's happened because the teams at the top have fallen down to the pack. College basketball is mired in mediocrity.
As a KU fan, I'm not going anywhere. The NCAA and whoever else is involved can continue trying to screw up a great thing as much as they want. And I'll complain. But I don't have the gumption to desert the sport. I turned down spring semesters in Italy because I couldn't imagine being that far removed from Kansas basketball. And even though I can't logically support my decisions, there are plenty others like me out there. There's a huge contingent of fans that won't go anywhere.
But the casual fan will flee at any time. That's why they're the casual fan. And if you lose them, you lose money in a big hurry. The NBA can tell you all about that. College sports have a built in advantage with alumni. Most people have a much stronger connection to their degree than their current municipality. But the alumni can only support a program, they can't support a whole sport. Despite outcries about the ridiculous BCS, college football is going in the exact opposite direction. It's value improves annually, because it's level of play improves annually. Basketball should be reaping those same benefits and following their lead. Instead, they're starting down a slippery slope in the wrong direction.