Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
Aaand we’re back. Sort of. Today marks the official return of practice for college basketball players across the country, but unlike in years past, there will be no festive Midnight Madness celebration to announce that we are underway – at least not yet. A new NCAA initiative to allow programs more practice time before their opening games was passed this offseason, and teams are now able to use their 30 days of preseason practice over the span of six weeks, instead of the four weeks it had been in preseasons past. Great, you say — perhaps we will have a cleaner, more efficient brand of basketball ready for opening tip? That has to be the hope, as the extra time should allow for a smoother transition into the year, at least on paper. But in a sport where tradition and ceremony often delivers much of the impact, will the extra weeks of practice improve the play on the floor enough to offset a potential depreciation to the meaning of Midnight Madness?
It’s hard to know how direct a response this rule change is to the game scores that are getting lower and lower and the accompanying grumblings that are getting louder and louder, but it feels like an effort by the NCAA to raise early-season quality of play. While the actual practice time (30 days) remains the same, stretching it out over the course of six weeks should help keep players from feeling overwhelmed, and also offer them the chance to recover and work on individual skills on off days. Nobody is claiming these two weeks will advance basketball 10 years worth of quality, but there’s no way the extra time can’t help improve the product of November and December basketball.