Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts On Tip-Offs at 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

College basketball, TigerBlog fears, is doing everything it can to destroy itself.

The sport has become more about the coaches, refs and TV broadcasters than it is about the players. Think about it for a second. How many coaches can you name? How many refs? Especially how many TV on-air personalities? Now ask yourself how many players on Top 25 teams you can name? More than 10? More than 25? Unlikely.

It's also not because the best players all leave early and go to the NBA after one season. It's because the players are not what's marketed in college basketball; it's the coaches.

Still, that's not the biggest problem as TigerBlog sees it. In fact, there are two of them. Second is that the regular season (which begins three weeks too early) that spreads out now from mid-November through early March is essentially meaningless. Look at Rider. The Broncs opened with a win at Mississippi State, which is great, but for the team to get into the NCAA tournament, it almost surely needs to win the MAAC tournament over a three-game stretch in March, as only once has the MAAC sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament.

For the power teams, the regular season is about getting into and then getting a good seed in the tournament. And, because matchup means everything once the tournament is announced, it can sometimes be better to be the three-seed in one region rather than the two-seed in another.

But the No. 1 problem is television. There is such an oversaturation of games available that it has vaulted past "wow, this is great exposure" into "wow, every game looks the same" mode. It's only Nov. 19, but how many games have already been on? How many times can you watch North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State - and especially Duke - before it's numbing. The only exception for TigerBlog is Georgetown, because it's coached by John Thompson with Mike Brennan on his staff.

The ESPN-driven 24-hour basketball event that happened the other day isn't even the problem. At first thought, TigerBlog reasoned that it was idiotic for teams to agree to play at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m., all in the name of getting on TV. After he thought about it more, TB changed his mind.

The 6 a.m. game was between Monmouth and St. Peter's. Had that been a normal, run-of-the-mill 7 p.m. start, who would ever remember it?

Take last night's Princeton-Manhattan men's game. It was a nice win for the Tigers, who twice looked to be in trouble (early on and then midway through the second half) before turning it around. Still, it's unlikely that this game will be etched in anyone's memory for very long.

But the Monmouth and St. Peter's players will never forget the day where they got up at 2:30 ("I can say without a doubt that I've come in at that time a lot more than I've gotten up at that time," said Monmouth coach Dave Calloway, one of TB's favorite coaches.) and played at 6 a.m. Yes, it was driven by the chance to play on ESPN, but ultimately it will be remembered more as an experience by itself rather than for a TV show. And good for the people at Monmouth and St. Peter's for having that experience.

Getting back to Princeton, it's been a pretty encouraging start to the basketball season, as both the men's and women's teams are both 2-0. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it's only happened four times since the women's program started in 1971-72 and not since 1995-96 (the other three were 1989-90, 1974-75 and 1973-74).

The women have gotten 18 points in each of their two games from freshman Niveen Rasheed and had four players in double figures while taking apart American Monday night. Princeton will be heading off to California to take on UCLA and UC-Irvine next week before returning to take on, among others, Rutgers before the Ivy League starts.

Dartmouth was the preseason pick to win the women's title, but Princeton has to be happy with the progress it has made. The same is true of the men's team, who like the women feature a good balance of young players and veterans and who are flying a bit under the radar in a league where all preseason attention has been focused on Cornell.

The men have defeated Central Michigan and Manhattan to start their season, reversing two losses of a year ago. More importantly, Princeton won games that could have gone either way, a pair of games in which the Tigers trailed either in the final minute (CMU) or late in the second half (Manhattan).

Ian Hummer already looks like quite a player (his ability to pass and see the court particularly impressed TigerBlog), and Princeton has all kinds of options, including the ability to put big men Pawel Buczak and Zach Finley on the court together.

In short, it's a good time to be a fan of Princeton basketball. On top of that, as TigerBlog sat in Jadwin last night, he couldn't help but think of what a great place it is to see a game these days. Tickets are affordable, fans can sit right on top of the court and there's plenty for kids to do there. Last night's game started at 7 and ended at 8:40, so it wasn't too late on a school night.

Also, it's two teams that play hard and are getting better. What more can you want?

The next chance is Saturday, when you can see both on the same day. The men host Army at 2, followed by the women against Delaware.

Best of all, it's not on TV.


Anonymous said...

I find it somewhat ironic that in this article you criticize television and how they market coaches over players. As an avid reader of TigerBlog I cannot help but think back to a previous entry titled, "The Gritty, Gutty Yankees." Similar to today's entry television was discussed. In particular TigerBlog stated...if ESPN called and said we want Princeton at North Carolina basketball on December 25 it was pretty obvious what the response would be: Merry Christmas, from Chapel Hill." Based on this comment and today's entry couldn't one assume that even athletic departments do not look at players first?

The main benefactor of scheduling a basketball game on Christmas is the athletic department and the university. Since the game would be on ESPN, and against a national powerhouse there would probably be a significant amount of guaranteed money for the athletic department from ESPN. In these difficult economic times and athletic departments across the country having budget issues this is an opportunity that would not likely be passed up. On the other side are the student athletes. Now they would have to travel to North Carolina and miss the Christmas holiday with their family. On top of that the game would probably be lopsided, and the student athletes would potentially be embarrassed on national television.

Essentially athletic departments are as bad as television at times. Season schedules are made conflicting with holidays, midterms and school events without considering the impact on the student athlete. In some cases decisions are made based on guaranteed money or exposure for the university on television.

So what's more important? The money and television exposure or the student athlete?

Princeton OAC said...

TigerBlog appreciates the well-presented response. When TB mentioned that college basketball isn't about the players, he meant from a strictly marketing perspective. The NBA markets around its stars; college basketball rarely does.

As for TV revenue, there are so many different models in college athletics that it's hard to summarize them all. It is rare that schools get significant money for appearing on TV, and in fact many schools actually purchase the air time.

Princeton athletics tries to make its decisions based on a number of factors, and student-athlete experience and welfare is always high among them.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer is that both things are important. I also think that Princeton is in a unique position to do both well.

The athletic department can use its reputation and history of success to maximize television exposure. When Princeton plays North Carolina or Duke, it is never embarrassing. I would argue that there couldn't be anything better for the student-athlete experience than to have a national audience watch you play. If you asked the players whether, on Christmas, they'd rather play North Carolina or be at home opening gifts, what do you think the answer would be?

At the same time, this is also a school that takes a 2 1/2-week break! for exams during the height of basketball season. Not only are there no games, there are barely any practices. You could almost argue that priorities there are even more out of whack than playing on Tuesday at 6 a.m. for ESPN.

At the end of the day, the student-athletes at Princeton are Division I athletes. They, their families and their friends are well aware that they may play, practice or travel at all sorts of times. I would argue that their experiences doing so far outweigh what they may miss on the other side.