Despite the rather lackluster 2009 NCAA tournament, March Madness is – historically speaking – the most exciting sporting event in the country. Still, as I watched the games this year, I noticed that a few things need changing. Here are my top five gripes about college basketball:
1. No more one-and-dones.
I understand why the NBA wants an age limit, but the one-year-out-of-high-school rule is hurting the college game. Amongst the major programs, there is little continuity season to season and it has thrown blue-chip recruiting on its head. Some of the best coaches in the college ranks are reluctant to recruit the top players because they know they’re just going to have a hole to fill the following summer.
Players should be able to declare for the draft directly out of high school. But if they decide to enroll in college, they must stay a minimum of two seasons. Typically, high schoolers that are good enough to be drafted are good enough to stick in the league. If a high schooler enters the draft (but doesn’t hire an agent), he can always pull out and enroll in school if it doesn’t look like he’s going to be drafted in the first round. This is the same rule that college players have to follow. (And yes, I realize that this is the NBA’s fault, but it’s still a problem for college basketball.)
Roy, back up three feet. Your guys will be able to hear you just fine.
2. Get the coaches off the court.
One thing that drives me nuts about college basketball is the leeway that the officials give head coaches. They’re allowed to stomp around the sidelines like petulant children, throwing hissy fits anytime a call doesn’t go their way. Okay, so maybe the refs are instructed to give the coaches some slack on the proverbial leash, but that doesn’t mean that head coaches should be running onto the court to shout instructions to their teams. It seems like every game there is a near-collision between an official running downcourt and a head coach that is stepping on the sideline (or is on the court all together). I’d like to see the official call an automatic technical if he sees the coach step on the sideline – that would clean this up really quickly.
3. Give us more mid-majors in March Madness.
As TSR contributor Thomas Conroy put it, there just aren’t enough mid-major teams in the tournament. This year’s field only saw four mid-major teams get at-large bids, and this year’s tournament was one of the least exciting in recent memory. This is not a coincidence. Mid-majors tend to play with a chip on their shoulders and when they make a run, it turns into a Cinderella story. The highest seed to make the Sweet Sixteen this year was a #12-seeded Arizona team that had two future lottery picks on the roster. The Wildcats underachieved the entire season, so no one was fitting them for a glass slipper. Everyone loves a David and Goliath story, and small schools usually provide the early round drama. Enough of the mediocre big school teams that don’t have a winning record in conference – let’s give more bids to the Davids.
4. Big schools, give the mid-majors a break. SCHEDULE THEM!
Part of the problem with the lack of bids for the mid-major schools is their inability to schedule teams from the BCS conferences. Sure, the bigger schools will play them, but only at home, where they have a big advantage. I propose a 2-for-1 trade where the two teams agree to a three-year deal. The mid-major would play at the BCS school in the first year, the BCS school would play at the mid-major in the second year and the mid-major would travel for the third game. The better mid-majors could even negotiate a 3-for-2 trade where the two teams agree to a five-year deal. We need to see more of these mid-major/BCS matchups early in the season.
I know there’s a basketball court here somewhere.
5. Enough with the domes already.
I get why the NCAA holds the Final Four (and some Regionals) in domes. Sure, they want to be inclusive and allow as many people to see the games as possible, but it’s more about how many tickets they can sell. Domes were not built for basketball. Even in its biggest form (i.e. the NBA Finals, the Final Four), basketball is a pretty intimate sport. The size of a standard NCAA court is 94’ by 50’ (4,700 square feet). The dimensions of a football field are 360’ by 160’ (57,600 square feet). A football field is more than twelve times the size of a basketball court. Forget about following the game from the upper level. It’s like watching a couple of ants go at it in a sandbox.
Domes might have been a necessary evil 20 years ago, when the picture on the average TV set was pretty crappy, but with the advent of high definition television, why would fans go and spend $300 to watch the game from nosebleed seats when they can watch the game on their 50” plasma in HD for free? Sure, the North Carolina/Michigan State final had good attendance, but East Lansing is only about 90 miles from Ford Field. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of crowd the next few title games are able to draw. The NCAA should move the event back to basketball arenas. How about the Final Four at Madison Square Garden? Or Staples Center? Let’s create a sense of demand and exclusivity; let’s get some real atmosphere going.