College Basketball season tipped off on Friday night and it will be mostly non-stop between now and the first Monday night in April when the NCAA Championship game is played in Houston, Texas, which is exactly what hoops junkies wait all year to see
College basketball is a great game that suffers from some internal problems, all of which can be and should be corrected. First of all, the game has become entirely too physical in the paint. Post-players in today’s modern game almost have to be tougher than football players with all the bumping that goes on. If the front line is doing its job in a football game, the free safety can pretty much go 75% of the game without having to actually hit someone. A big man in college basketball is subject to almost constant contact. I’m not suggesting that you cut out all of the physicality, but it seems that the players are just too big for that small lane so expanding the lane would free up the game and provide for more scoring.
However, there are a couple of bigger off-the-court things that college basketball really needs to address. The parade of officials going to the monitor late in the game is just ridiculous. It seems it happens more and more each year. I understand they want to get it right and I applaud that, but put in a rule that gives the officials exactly 30 seconds to look at the monitor and uphold or overturn the call. Sometimes, I think these guys want to be the game rather than call the game and in all fairness, most of the Division I officials in the major conferences anyway do an excellent job and get it right. Double check yourselves and move on guys. Humans are perfectly imperfect and so things are going to get missed. It’s life, we all learn to live with it.
The single biggest issue is that there are just too many damn timeouts. It used to be that in televised games, there were four television timeouts per half in addition to the timeouts that the teams had available. Now, each game whether it’s televised or not has “media” timeouts which occur under 16 minutes, 12 minutes, 8 minutes and 4 minutes of each half in addition to the 1 full timeout (defined as 1:30) and 4 – 30 second timeouts available to each team. Then there’s the caveat that the first called timeout of the second half automatically goes to a full timeout. There’s no compelling reason why a non-televised game should be stopped for timeouts. College basketball is being played in basically 10 4 minute quarters. I doubt seriously that when James Naismith invented the game at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts that he saw this coming.
It’s not hard to figure out why there are so many timeouts, and of course the answer is television. Hard to believe that college basketball never really rated as a televised sport until 1968 when Eddie Einhorn’s TVS Broadcasting Company syndicated the broadcast of the Houston-UCLA game from the Houston Astrodome on a Saturday night to 120 stations across the country. Houston upset UCLA and college basketball was a television hit. Broadcasters were attracted to it because it typically fits nicely into a two hour time block, which is an eternity in television.
Einhorn was one of sports media’s visionaries and if you enjoy watching your favorite team on television now, you can thank him. In the 1960s his TVS company began broadcasting college basketball regionally on Saturday afternoons. His vision helped spawn the broadcasting careers of hall-of-fame broadcasters like Dick Enberg, Al Michaels and Billy Packer. Einhorn eventually forged a partnership with NBC Sports to broadcast regional college basketball games on the network, a partnership which lasted until 1983. It was because of TVS that as a kid in Roanoke, Virginia I first saw college basketball in the form of a Saturday afternoon game in 1976 featuring Virginia Military and its high flying Ron Carter playing in its gym in Lexington, Virginia nicknamed “The Pit.”
Another visionary came along in the late 1970s. Rick Ray was a programming manager at a television station in Charlotte, North Carolina when he approached his bosses with an idea to televise college basketball. They weren’t interested so Ray quit and with his wife Dee founded Raycom Sports, which grew to the largest syndicator of televised college sports in the United States. He’s long since sold his company, but today Raycom Sports still exists, as does Raycom Media, the owner of numerous television stations across the country.
Since almost it’s inception, ESPN has been the major broadcaster of college basketball. The Network began broadcasting games in 1980 and hasn’t stopped since. To give you an idea of how far college basketball on television has come. Tonight ESPN begins another year of a 24-hour college basketball marathon which concludes with a pair of fantastic early season games tomorrow night between Duke and Kentucky and Michigan State and Kansas. And yes, we will have to endure all of those timeouts, and the officials parading to the monitor, but remember come March when its tournament time and there are those priceless moments like Ga. State coach Ron Hunter falling off his stool as his son hits the game winning shot in a first round NCAA Tournament upset, college basketball’s problems will be just like everything else in life, and we’ll just learn to enjoy Perfectly Imperfect.