Media Timeout: Could College Basketball Survive a Longer NFL Season?

Posted by Will Tucker on March 2nd, 2016

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. The Media Timeout considers how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.

Rejoice, for it is March. If you’re a college hoops-first sports fan like me, then welcome to our favorite part of the calendar. With football in the rear-view there are no distractions as the nation turns its collective attention toward March Madness. But after the confetti is all swept away and the last bars of “One Shining Moment” fade out, we’re left to confront an uncomfortable question: Is college basketball still relevant?

Questions about college basketball’s viability in an increasingly football-dominated American sports landscape seem to induce more hand-wringing each season. The growing popularity of the NCAA Tournament should reassure college hoops fans that the sport won’t lose its signature month of attention anytime soon, but the prominence of March also has the unintended consequence of making the regular season increasingly trivial. With the threat of an 18-week or 18-game NFL season still looming, is it unreasonable to consider a future in which college basketball becomes an afterthought until the final weeks before Selection Sunday?

Suffering the “Super Bowl Creep”

In February 2011, the day after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, The Olympian columnist John McGrath issued a challenge to his readers: “Pop quiz: Identify a significant college basketball game played before the Super Bowl. I don’t mean just this year. I mean, over the past 45 years.” The question isn’t entirely rhetorical – he goes on to recount the Virginia-Georgetown matchup that pitted Ralph Sampson against Patrick Ewing in 1982 – but his point is that college basketball games of great consequence are few and far between before mid-February. Outside of Kentucky, I suspect basketball fans would agree that the most memorable – and meaningful – games tend to come later, only after college football and the NFL loosens its stranglehold on the American sports scene. But college hoops used to benefit from many more opportunities to leave an impression. McGrath cites huge games that came within a week of mid-January Super Bowls in 1968 and 1974, back in the days before a February Super Bowl became the norm.

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WCC Embraces New Media As Its Basketball Profile Rises

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2011

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

When you’re smaller and lesser-known than the competition you’ve got to do things differently from them – and preferably smarter.

That’s been the operating philosophy of Jamie Zaninovich in his four years as commissioner of the West Coast Conference, a basketball-first league of faith-based institutions with no pretense of BCS connections. It showed in the contract Zaninovich negotiated with ESPN in one of his first acts as commissioner to bring WCC games to a wider audience than the mighty Pac-12.  It worked last August when Zaninovich snuck in under the radar and convinced Brigham Young University to leave the Mountain West Conference and play all sports outside of football in the WCC. (Granted, BYU’s inclusion in the WCC might be short-lived as the Cougars’ infatuation with membership in the Big 12 continues even though the Big 12 apparently doesn’t return the affection. For now, though, Zaninovich has seen his conference rise to seventh place among Division I basketball leagues according to analyst Jeff Goodman.)

Jamie Zaninovich's Progressive Ideas Are Pushing the WCC to New Heights

Zaninovich’s flair for innovation manifested itself again last week when the WCC held a groundbreaking Media Day. Rather than the dreary non-event most conferences schedule once a year to allow coaches to make their pre-season predictions, the WCC’s event was all about new media and new ways to reach the public. For starters, the conference took advantage of its high-tech neighborhood and staged the event at the headquarters of growing media giant YouTube, which counts some 450 million monthly viewers. Chew over that figure a second and then compare it with the few millions that the biggest traditional media outlets brag about.

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Morning Five: 09.02.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

  1. Remember the Anthony Davis for sale flap a month ago?  Predictably, the threats of lawsuits by the Davis family and Kentucky have died down, but the speculation has not.  On a radio program Tuesday, college basketball writer Gregg Doyel said that he believes that the Chicago Sun-Times “deep throat” source for the allegation that Davis was bought for $200k came from Illinois head coach Bruce Weber.  Here’s the key quote, at the 19:42 mark: “If anybody is behind this, Weber is behind this, because he doesn’t lose very well. And, he unfortunately loses recruits left and right.  Nobody loses more recruits than Bruce Weber. That ought to be on his coat of arms — Bruce Weber: Losing recruits like a son of a gun.”  Wow.
  2. It became official yesterday when UConn announced it, but Ater Majok is heading to Australia to begin a professional career, effective immediately.  We discussed the likelihood of this earlier in the week, openly wondering if his departure has anything to do with the expected response on Thursday or Friday from the university over eight NCAA allegations.  For now, we’ll just have to speculate and read between the lines, but hopefully in the next few days we’ll have more with which to address his departure.
  3. Gary Parrish writes about the BYU move to the WCC (in basketball), and how the little league that could on the Pacific coast may have done more to elevate its profile than any other conference in Realignment Summer.  Yahoo’s Jason King and ourselves can’t disagree — as our correspondent Mike Vernetti wrote yesterday, WCC Commish Jamie Zaninovich may have pulled off the biggest coup we’ve seen in this game in quite some time.  Meanwhile, the WAC wonders what to do with itself after BYU effectively threw the venerable conference to the wolves.
  4. Mizzou took a huge hit yesterday when it was reported that top fifteen incoming recruit Tony Mitchell will not be eligible to play for at least the fall semester, although it’s currently unclear what he needs to do to become eligible for the spring.  So far Missouri hasn’t yet confirmed the information, but according to several sources, Mitchell has missed the deadline to enroll at Missouri this semester.  Jeff Goodman reported yesterday that Mizzou is hopeful that Mitchell will attend a juco for the fall semester in an effort to become eligible.
  5. Tennessee’s SwiperBoy (aka junior forward Renaldo Woolridge) is back with another UT-related rap song, just in time for the “FootVols” kickoff this coming weekend against UT-Martin in Neyland Stadium.  Not that they’d be listening anyway, but SEC fans from Columbia to Fayetteville probably envision their own personal hell as an endless loop of this song, which uses “Rocky Top” as its sample in the background.  There’s nothing too abrasive in the lyrics (if you can’t bear the audio version, here’s a transcript), but SwiperBoy manages to take a shot at the departed Lane Kiffin (“we drivin in a new Lane… 4get the last 1”) — with his third football-related song in the last two years, at least we can say he knows where the bread is buttered in Knoxville.  Here’s the video:
If anybody is behind this (Anthony Daivs article), Weber is behind this, because he doesn’t lose very well.  And, he unfortunately loses recruits left and right.” Doyel said “Nobody loses more recruits than Bruce Weber. That ought to be on his coat of arms — Bruce Weber: Losing recruits like a son of a gun
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BYU Leaves For the WCC in Hoops: Two Perspectives

Posted by rtmsf on August 31st, 2010

We asked two of our best contributors to take a look at today’s news that BYU has decided to go independent in football while joining the WCC in all other sports.  As he’s done all summer, our Mountain West correspondent Andrew Murawa breaks down all the moving pieces here in a simple, understandable way.  Additionally, our WCC correspondent, Michael Vernetti, stops by with a profile of the architect of the biggest coup of realignment summer, WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich.

What Does It Mean? by Andrew Murawa

The wait for the next step in conference realignment is over, as BYU announced today its intention to forge ahead as an independent in football while joining up with the West Coast Conference in most other sports, beginning in 2011-12. In the process, the last hopes for the Western Athletic Conference to remain a viable entity have vanished, and the Mountain West Conference has turned its gaze from perhaps earning an automatic bid to the BCS for its conference champion to simple survival.

Jimmer Fredette Won't Get a Chance to Play in the WCC, but We Savor Future BYU-Gonzaga Matchups

A look at the news from the perspective of all the major entities in this move, BYU, the WAC, the MWC and the WCC:

  1. BYU – it appears all along that BYU was set on going independent in football, and just needed to find a soft landing spot for its other sports. In football, they’re working with ESPN on a deal for their television rights and they’ll make a viable schedule out of the remnants of the WAC (Utah State and Hawai’i are already on the schedule for 2011) and whoever else ESPN can convince to play them.  Regardless, they’re certainly not getting a Notre Dame-style sweetheart deal from the BCS and they’ll likely have trouble filling out a schedule decent enough to regularly put them in BCS contention. As for the move to the WCC, this is an excellent destination for a good basketball program, putting the Cougars into a spot where they should be able to compete with Gonzaga for conference supremacy immediately. Given St. Mary’s steady rise, Portland’s continued improvement, Loyola Marymount’s potential and the success of schools like Pepperdine, San Diego and Santa Clara in the past, the Cougars will definitely find some worthwhile competition there. And given that every other school in the league is a religious institution, BYU at least has something in common with its new conference mates (never mind the fact that BYU has a student body of 33,000, while the biggest school in the WCC has an enrollment of less than 9,000). But, the big key for BYU is getting away from what they found to be a limiting television package in the MWC. Now, they’ll be able to make use of their state-of-the-art media center and use it as a nice carrot to make sure that they are able to reach an agreement with ESPN. And, given that the WCC already has a television deal in place with ESPN for basketball and will reportedly retain broadcast rights for games not aired by the WWL, this is likely a big upgrade in terms of the television package for BYU.
  2. WAC – goodbye. If BYU had agreed to join the WAC in its non-football sports, at least there would have been some reason for the continued existence of the conference, but now standing at six teams with schools like Hawai’i and Utah State already considering other options, this venerable conference is on its deathbed as it approaches its 50th birthday. Right now, about the only reason for the remaining schools to stick together is in the hopes of getting the $10 million in buyout money from Fresno State and Nevada, money over which there will clearly be an epic legal battle. WAC commissioner Karl Benson insists that Fresno State and Nevada will have to remain in the conference through 2011-12, but the schools so far beg to differ. With six remaining members, the conference still holds a claim on an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for a couple of years, but the defection of one more school (whether it be Utah State to the MWC or Hawai’i to independence) would be the final nail in the coffin.
  3. MWC – saved from extinction a few weeks back by Fresno State and Nevada’s agreement to join the conference, the MWC is certainly hurt by the loss of BYU but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. The hope of an automatic bid for its conference football champion to the BCS is now a distant memory and the conference is left with its meager television deal with Versus, CBS College Sports and its own network, The Mtn., now minus the Salt Lake City market  (the regional hub of the conference). In order for the conference to remain a viable entity for the future, it will need to fix its issues with its television contracts, but in the short term, it is still a strong league. However, given that the television contract is locked in until 2015-16, the conference may find itself having to fight off other suitors for some of its strongest members. TCU has already been mentioned as a possible target for the Big 12, and there has even been talk of a merger or some kind of alliance between the Mountain West and Conference USA (talk fueled by meetings between the two conferences in the days after the MWC added Fresno State and Nevada). Finally, there is the possibility that the MWC would be interested in adding more teams. They could certainly finish off the WAC by stealing Utah State (a move that would probably thrill Fresno State and Nevada because it would immediately end the $5 million buyout talk) and maybe even New Mexico State. There have been hopeful rumors of adding some of the western CUSA teams (Houston, Tulsa and UTEP, for example), but the MWC’s television deal probably precludes that, so it will be interesting to see what the next move is for a conference that was very recently thought to be a significant up-and-comer.
  4. WCC – first, you have to wonder what Gonzaga thinks of this. They’ve been the alpha dog in the conference for years as the school casting shadows on the rest of the league, and now, they’re potentially just another tiny school bouncing about in behemoth BYU’s wake. Certainly Gonzaga basketball isn’t going anywhere, but they’re no longer the program that can be immediately penciled in as the favorite in the conference every single year. Looking at it from the Zags’ perspective, the addition of BYU adds a couple more high-quality games during the conference season to bolster its strength of schedule and maintain a high RPI -– perhaps they don’t have to go so nuts with their non-conference schedule anymore. As for the conference as a whole, BYU’s presence in basketball is nothing  but good -– more high-profile games, stronger schedules and a big new market.  The league – now at nine teams with the addition of BYU – will go to a 16-game full home-and-home round robin schedule (although they’ll need to figure out the logistics of that, since there is no longer an easy way to schedule travel partners with an odd number of teams) and they’ll need to rearrange their conference tournament (tournament semifinals have been on Sunday and BYU will not play on Sundays). And there is even the potential for further expansion. Pacific had been considered for possible conference membership in 2008, and the Tigers would be a good fit along with the existing Bay Area schools (St. Mary’s, San Francisco, Santa Clara), but Denver and Seattle have also been mentioned as possible new invitees, given that those schools would add new large markets to the conference.  Denver, in particular, would be a natural travel partner for BYU. All things considered, this is an exciting day for fans of schools all around the WCC, even if the size and particular religious affiliation of BYU may give brief pause.

What’s next?

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