I like to believe I am one of millions of people who believe that football is best sport in the world. And as a huge football fan, even though other sports are on during the season, I just can’t truly turn my attention to another sport until after the Super Bowl (I mean seriously, time is needed to figure out what to do with my Sunday’s. It’s so hard to let go). But I’m starting to 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 professional season that follows the NFL: the NBA. After watching this past All Star weekend, the NBA is becoming more and more commercialized and with too many players seemingly having their own agendas (i.e Carmelo Anthony potentially sitting out the season due to injury but plays 30 minutes in the All-Star game), I have come to the realization that I’d much rather watch college hoops than the pros.
Please don’t misunderstand my stance. I am not an NBA hater. I love basketball. I am a fan of the league. I mean seriously, who turns their channel from the NBA Playoffs come May and June? But true competition in the pros is coming so far and in between in recent years, that college basketball has become more entertaining. The pros can be so predictable towards the end of the season. Same teams. Same names. 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:
- Playing for the Love of the Game
There are 351 Division I schools in 32 conferences during the 2014-15 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 (look at Duke’s Marshall Plumlee. He’s going into the Army instead of the NBA like his brothers Mason and Miles), 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and maybe the Golden State Warriors are the closest franchises to bringing this atmosphere to the NBA arena and even then it can’t compare.
- 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. I’m willing to bet Miami and San Antonio will not be highlights of the season this year. And only now that LeBron is back in Cleveland are the Cavaliers-Bulls matchups all of a sudden relevant. When the big name teams aren’t doing well, their rivalry no longer exist in the NBA. 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.
- 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. Although there is a proposal to change the NBA playoff format, I don’t believe it will generate enough support. College hoops are the total opposite. No, a 16 seed may not have yet defeated a 1 seed, but a 15 seed can sure knock off a 2 seed. Just 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. And who really thought that UConn of all teams would defeat Kentucky in 2014 for the national title? #UpsetCity
- 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 is what we call 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 be playing who, and who is most likely to go all the way.
- 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, there is only one shot to get it done because tomorrow is not promised and any team can have an off night. So teams have to bring the best they have all tournament long and that means even the most dominant 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!