College Basketball on the Verge Of Making Another Smart Addition to Its Season-Opening SlatePosted by Chris Johnson on May 2nd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
With each passing season, college basketball moves closer and closer to staging a truly definitive opening day. The goal, for obvious reasons, is to eliminate the brushed-aside nonchalance with which the general sports populace typically treats college basketball’s opening tip. The time slot is hazardous (The NFL is the law of the land, basically, and college football after that) and aside from a few marquee events in recent years – the Champions Classic, the Ramstein Air Base adventure, the epic aircraft carrier overindulgence of last season – the non-conference season commences in a way that captures the common fan almost exclusively in non-NFL, college football-time slots. College hoops is a fallback at that time of year, an OK-because-nothing-else-is-on ordeal. All of these ambitious season-opening endeavors comprise an attempt to make it the main attraction.
Another such opportunity was brought to our attention late Tuesday night by ESPN’s Jason King, who reported that event management firm bd Global is working with the American Airlines Center in Dallas to stage a headlining “multi-game event featuring some of the nation’s top teams.” The AA Center stuck its toes in the college hoops realm last season when it hosted Texas and UCLA’s ugly December 8 clunker in front of meager crowd support and only a passing glance of national media attention.
This year’s proposed event would be better theoretically, and astutely planned practically. Why? The arena just so happens to be situated a mere afternoon drive’s distance (18 miles, to be exact) away from the modern sports fiefdom known as Jerry World, the site of the 2014 Final Four. Placing this event – which could include up to four games and, in lieu of more enlightening details, should feature a large contingent of Big 12 teams – near the Final Four host site will stoke local excitement in the sport and its nearby teams well in advance of the time of year casual fans typically turn their eyeballs and acknowledge college basketball’s actual existence: March.
In Texas, where football is football is football, and every other sport exists in a subcutaneous dimension ruled by pigskin lords and all their indomitable, eternally-sustained fanaticism, basketball (especially of the college type) needs to go above and beyond having a bunch of really good teams play four competitive games in the middle of March. It has to put all of those games in one, not-football-awkward-sized arena, and hope the ointment sticks – that fans present and not don’t merely enjoy their experience, but also maintain their interest throughout the non-conference and conference seasons, right up into the mid-March national reunion party of NCAA Tournament hoop.
Anytime some creatively ambitious athletic director or event firm or TV network comes up with the next best idea for solving college basketball’s hushed non-conference initiation, there is some mixture of practical holes, crazy logistics (mhm), or downright patriotic overkill, to worry about. Some of the ideas are actually pretty easy to get excited for; the Champions Classic is a perfect model: good teams, state-of-the-art stadiums, prime time viewing. It’s simple and pure, but it gets at the heart of college hoops’ competitive roots.
This proposed event, details pending, looks like a really cool thing. Mixing local team pride with an NBA venue and the unenforced mandate of a marathon-like timeline – four games is a long, long day – is an excellent way to inject more excitement into college basketball’s gradually improving non-conference allotment. The physical Final Four connection is an added benefit. Baby steps like these are the types of projects that can elevate college basketball from last-minute “Sportscenter” sideshow to must-see viewing.
Football rules the fall; anything short of total lordship might as well count as a violation of Newton’s Third Law Of Motion. Fine. Cool. Football is awesome. College basketball won’t get there, like ever. Incremental progress is doable, and well-reasoned events like the “Double A Tetrad” (That’s a working title; note to copyright lawyers) are progressively taking college hoops’ non-conference season into a better and more prominent place.