I would like you to answer the following questions as fast as you can. Who was the #1 ranked team in college basketball heading into this week? Who was the #1 team in college basketball last week? How about the week before? What about the week before that? And, before that?
Feb 07, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini fans celebrate after Illini defeated top ranked Indiana Hoosiers 74-72 at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY SportsUnless you are a die hard college basketball fan, you might have been able to answer one or two of those, but if you aren’t, I will bet you a buffalo nickle that you didn’t just name more than three (unless you cheated and looked it up). Now, name the top ranked teams during the college football season. A little bit easier right? (Hint, there were four). Everyone knows Alabama and Notre Dame split time, but for one week Oregan graced the top spot and Sothern Cal was the preseason number one pick.
One last question, what sport is more compelling to you, as a fan? If you ask the average American, college football wins out. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but just a few short years ago, the gap between the two sports was much closer. So what changed?
Well, what are the two things that college basketball has that college football does not? Ever since the NBA rule making a person be one year removed from high school before entering the draft has led to an increase in “one and dones” and that turns people off. This is an easy idea to grasp. People become fans of players and if they aren’t around but for one year, there is less of a connection, and conversely, less of a reason for a fan to follow a team. Ok, but what about for the people who used to love college basketball? The ones who would watch, as many of us do with college football, any game that was on tv? As football’s numbers have increased, these numbers have gone down, and this has nothing to do with whether you are a fan of a team or not. The real reason is parity.
The purists will lead you to believe, and this includes pro sports as well, that parity is a good thing. They believe that people will watch any game under this scenario because either team has a chance to win. What they are forgetting is, as Americans, and sports fans in general, we want an underdog. We want a David versus Goliath. We want to see Rocky stand in the ring and go blow for blow with Apollo Creed (twice) and then turn around and single handedly stop the Cold War by beating the unbeatable Ivan Drago. We want to pull for the underdog. We need to pull for the underdog. With parity, you have no Goliath, so you have no David.
Do you know why everyone tunes into college football (besides the fact that its awesome)? It’s because people want to see if someone can take down the mighty teams that are at the top year after year. They want to see if the unbeatable can finally be beaten. They want to see if the 300 really can stand against the Eastern invaders. When they do, the first thing you do as a fan is call your friends and say,”Hey. Did you hear? Appalachain State knocked off Michigan?” or “Did you see little ‘ole Johnny Football take his A&M team into Alabama and knock off the champs?” We love it! We eat it up like a fat guy on Thanksgiving at Paula Deans’. We charish it, share it, and remember it because we know it doesn’t happen every week.
When the number one team in the nation gets beaten five straight weeks (which is what just happened in college basketball), the story gets played out. There is no longer that feeling of watching David sling a rock at a giant. It all turns into welter weight boxing. Yeah, those guys are good, and better than most of us, but there are no Mike Tysons stepping into the ring knocking weaker boxers out in the first round. Parity is ruining college basketball for the casual sports fan.
So, the next time you hear someone point towards the parity in a league being a good thing, point out that it just means their league is starting to become uninteresting then tune them out. Isn’t that what we are doing with college basketball?