GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) -- Just waiting for another meaningless game. The University of Kentucky will visit the University of Florida in a college basketball game between ranked teams for first-place in the Southeastern Conference Tuesday night.
But to listen to the prevailing narrative being dished out by national analysts, there's little reason for any of us to care. According to them, the game might be fun, but in the end will mean nothing. It's college basketball's "problem."
Let me offer an alternate viewpoint.
Our problem, dear reader, is not in our college basketball. It is in ourselves.
I heard a national host I respect today reference all the great games over the past week in college basketball, but in the end conclude that they left him empty because they didn't "mean anything."
My question is this: What are they supposed to "mean?"
This ridiculous line of thinking is never leveled at the darling of the national sports media -- the National Football League. The Baltimore Ravens tied for the seventh-best record in the regular season, then won the Super Bowl. A year earlier, the New York Giants had the 10th best NFL regular-season record and won it all. Do these point to a "problem?" Was the regular-season meaningless?
Who wants a sport where a single regular-season loss eliminates you from championship contention? In what sport in the world, besides American college football, is that perverse presumption a reality.
In what walk of life is it a reality? Meaningless? The only way games like Michigan-Indiana and Louisville-Notre Dame and the like are meaningless are if you just don't care about them. And that's fine. Just admit that you don't care. Don't feed people this line about them not meaning anything. They mean about the same as every other regular-season game in every other sport.
All sports are weighted toward the final exam, the playoffs, the tournaments.
A season used to be about building your team, winning as much as you can, but working through and around obstacles to play your best when the games mean the most.
This is sports. This is life. You don't make a sale one day, you come back the next day and try to make two. Failure isn't final. You bomb an exam, you come back and do better on the next one, and are grateful that the final exam counts the largest portion of your grade.
What we have today is a narrative of negativity, because that's the catalyst for filling the all-day sports news cycle. And if one person says, "college basketball is in trouble," it becomes a talking point, and the brain-dead megaphone (Syracuse professor George Saunders wrote the essay, look it up) repeats it often and loud enough, the discussion in the room will eventually turn to its attention to what is blaring.
Sure, college basketball has problems. Scoring is down. The game has become too physical. It can be painful to watch. It's also still more exciting and more dramatic (though not necessarily more entertaining) than its NBA counterpart. Michigan-Indiana drew 4 million viewers for ESPN. That stacks up quite well against NBA telecasts on cable.
Yes, college hoops attendance is down. But college football attendance last season was at a 9-year low, and I didn't hear about how the game is fading. NCAA Tournament attendance is down? That's true. But take a look at bowl game attendance before throwing that stone. TV ratings? College football TV ratings were down for every network except NBC's Notre Dame broadcasts this past regular season. The BCS national championship game drew 26.4 million viewers for ESPN. Last year's Kentucky-Kansas NCAA men's basketball final drew 21 million on CBS. Make of the numbers what you will, but it's not a clear-cut contrast on which of the two has a "problem."
In March of last year, one analyst said that college basketball's "talent level has become frighteningly shallow." Forget the fact that last year's national championship team had more first-round draft picks than some NBA starting lineups. These pundits will knock the talent pool all day when talking about college basketball, then praise the same guys when they're selected on draft night.
It doesn't mean college hoops doesn't have problems. It does mean that you could make the same argument for just about any sport at just about any time.
That you can lose a game on a last-second layup off a blown defensive assignment, then three nights later beat a ranked team by double-digits on the road does not cheapen a sport or detract from its "meaning."
That's what sports are supposed to be. You win. You lose. You play the next one. I suspect that the only people who have a real "problem" with it are some in the media who are looking for their next convenient storyline, rather than appreciating a thriller in Madison or a marathon in South Bend for what they are -- really interesting games with dramatic finishes.
We're building toward a tournament so wide open that seeding could matter less than at any time in the past decade. And if college basketball, like life, and like most other sports, affords teams the chances to lose, regroup, and still get it right, what in the world is wrong with that?
The regular-season is only meaningless for people who don't see any meaning in winning, losing, persevering, adapting, learning, building, improving, overcoming and competing.
I'm not one of those. The way I see it, college basketball keeps taking body blows -- the one-and-done rule, realignment ridiculousness, control-freak coaches and even its own misguided leadership -- and still cranks out some of the most compelling games in its sport, regular season and postseason.