College Hoops Expanding Global Reach With Armed Forces Game in South KoreaPosted by Chris Johnson on August 1st, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
For many years, the college basketball season would tip off with a relative murmur, drowned out by the football-crazed environment that consumes November. Changing this dynamic has been one of college hoops’ biggest priorities in recent years. Not only has the sport devised new, innovative, quasi-gimmicky events, the NCAA Tournament selection committee did away with its traditional emphasis on the “final 12 games of the season” in order to give equal weight to the entirety of a team’s campaign. The non-conference season has never meant more in the eyes of the selection committee, and if you don’t perform in November in December (or fill your schedule with small league opponents and other RPI anathema), turning in a merely “decent” league season won’t make amends for your cautious and/or unsuccessful pre-New Year efforts. Non-league games are important, and college hoops has sought to highlight their importance by spicing up its typically mundane season opening with eye-opening events like ESPN’s 24-hour marathon, the compacted Champions Classic and other innovative ventures.
One of the sport’s more successful recent season tip-off undertakings was the Carrier Classic, which conflated patriotism and Veterans Day college hoops in unique and aesthetically enthralling way. The 2011 game was a huge success: President Obama sat courtside with hundreds of troops in uniform aboard the USS Carl Vinson while Michigan State and North Carolina played a “just OK” game in front of some of the more gorgeous vistas of any sporting event I can remember. It felt magical, or something close to it. One year later, the water cycle did its thing, players and coaches alike decried hazardous court conditions, and despite the event’s commendable patriotic intent, most everyone had agreed that whole boat idea wasn’t going to work out any more. The 2012 Armed Forces Classic was a safer alternative, imbued with the same troops-honoring purpose, and staged on far-flung defense bases in a five-year rotating cycle including all five military branches*. Last season, UConn and Michigan State faced off at Ramstein Air Base in Germany; In 2013, the AFC is setting up shop even further away from the Continental United States. ESPN’s Andy Katz dropped the news Tuesday afternoon: Georgetown and Oregon will kick off 2013-14 at Camp Humphreys Army Base, located 45 miles south of Seoul, South Korea.
Like last season’s rendition, there will be plenty of American troops in attendance, so the AFC’s foundational patriotic aim, so central to the widespread appeal the event is trying to drum up, will be symbolically preserved. Playing in Germany is one thing; booking a 14-hour trip to Seoul puts the term “patriotic basketball mission” into a whole different light. College basketball is extending its reach into a region it has rarely, if ever, penetrated – but one that, as detailed by the Pac-12 network’s Brian Fischer, at least one league is attempting to make inroads in. Basketball in already wildly popular in parts of Asia, and many Chinese hoops fans are enamored with the NBA’s international superstars (this statue of Kobe Bryant outside the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts should get the message across). The college game, meanwhile, has not made as strong of an effort to expand its reach into foreign markets.
Playing one game on an Air Base in South Korea won’t change that, but what it will do, for college hoops viewership’s sake, is draw eyeballs – lots and lots of eyeballs – away from the NFL Network and ESPN’s 24-hour coverage and Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel and whatever else happens to creep out of the football-deluged sports universe this fall. College basketball’s season tip-off has gotten better in recent years, and events like the Armed Forces Classic are helping to change the wide-held perception of a niche sport the vast majority of the sports viewing public largely overlooks until March. College hoops needs a jolt in November. Using a little geographic intrigue, leavened with the timeless attraction of American patriotism, is an interesting and unique way to provide it. The college basketball non-conference event lords nod in approval.
*The 2012 game was held at an Air Force Base, 2013 an Army Base; the Coast Guard, Marines and Navy have hosting rights in years three through five, according to Katz.