The comment that I can’t compare the two sports coming in three… two… one…

Michael Elkon has a post up this morning (more on that in a sec) which links to a Wall Street Journal story about the significant decline in attendance at ACC men’s basketball games.  The WSJ piece contains the most pathetic excuse I’ve ever seen given as an explanation for people not going to a sporting event:

Another broad problem: the younger the sports fan, the less they enjoy being in an arena where their smartphones can’t get a signal. “People don’t like to be out of touch,” said Doug Perlman, founder and CEO of consulting firm Sports Media Advisors and a Duke graduate. “They want to be sharing the experience with their friends.”

I didn’t go to Duke and it may be a case of my generational underwear showing, but I’m having a hard time buying that.  (If that is true, then organized sports might as well prepare themselves for the sweet embrace of death, because that’s your next generation of ticket buyers, folks.)  Anyway, as skeptical as I am about the article’s logic, I’m even more puzzled by an omission that Elkon jumps on.

… this is a pet theory of mine, but I am of the opinion that the NCAA Tournament has damaged college basketball because it has become all-consuming. It is so big and so hyped that there is little reason to pay attention to the regular season unless you have a particular rooting interest. What do I care about who wins a regular season conference title when all the teams are playing for are marginal seed differences in a neutral-site tournament? [Emphasis added.]  If college basketball went back to its roots with a smaller tournament that only had 1-2 teams from the major conferences,** then maybe the NCAA Tournament would be less of a cultural phenomenon (we wouldn’t have to deal with office twits who tout their successful picks that are little more than the result of successful tosses of a coin), but people would care more from the start. The Big Dance is affecting interest in college basketball generally, but the effect would be most pronounced for the ACC as it had the farthest to fall in terms of fan interest. Give people a narrative and ACC basketball will be more interesting.

Let me say as somebody who based his decision on which college to attend in part on ACC basketball that I think Michael’s dead on here.  One of the great sporting experiences of my life was watching Virginia win its only conference title in 1976; I don’t want to say it wasn’t exciting to see the ‘Hoos make the NCAA tournament as a result, but it sure didn’t seem more exciting at the time.  When’s the last time an ACC basketball fan felt like that?

This isn’t some fly-by-night conference we’re talking about here.  This is college basketball’s most storied, most passionate league, historically speaking.  It’s the roundball equivalent of SEC football.  If this bunch is taking a steady hit in fan enthusiasm, that’s something seriously noteworthy.  And, yeah, there’s a lesson to be learned there.  (The WSJ‘s point about the impact conference expansion has had is valid, too, but that’s a subject for another post.)

March Madness is fun as hell, but it’s like inflation in a sense.  As it’s grown, it’s debased the value of the basketball regular season.  So I’ll say it again:  if you’re a D-1 college football fan fully aware that the same greedheads are in charge of deciding its postseason fate, that’s a sobering thought.

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UPDATE:  Chris Brown thinks the WSJ’s point about the at-home TV experience has some validity.  (One more reason to worry about the BCS suits doing what they can to please the networks.)

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40 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

40 responses to “The comment that I can’t compare the two sports coming in three… two… one…

  1. 3rd Degree

    Are we to presume that you are a UVA graduate; hence all the love for the negative grohmentum after what he did to that program?

    • I have my undergrad degree from there, yes.

      • 3rd Degree

        Pretty jealous about that. Well I’m definitely glad you write a UGA football blog as I wouldn’t follow your writing otherwise.

      • The other Doug

        Are you SOD’s illegitimate twin?

      • Joe

        Then you’d enjoy this clip:

        • I’ve seen it many times. And, yes, you’re right. ;)

          Wally Walker played three incredible games in that tournament. He really did have a chip on his shoulder about being left off the 1st team All-ACC list (especially because the voters went with three guards and one forward).

      • Maybe there is a connection between being a playoff skeptic (although I am less of a skeptic than you are) and having a degree from Mr. Jefferson’s University? If you are brought up on ideas like “we call professors ‘Mister'” and “we use ‘first-year, second-year…’ instead of ‘freshman, sophomore’…,” both because TJ wanted it that way, then you view tradition as a bigger deal. Jefferson wanted the US to remain a nation of small farmers, so resisting change becomes the mantra.

        (This is mostly tongue-in-cheek.)

      • MinnesotaDawg

        No kidding. It seems we’ve got complementary degrees (I was a UGA undergrad and UVa JD).

  2. Connor

    College baskeball and it’s bankrupt regular season should be the canary in the coal mine for the powers that be in college football. Instead that post season tournament gold is going to be the lure that has them dragging the entire thing down into the muck.
    Apologies for that tortured metaphor. I just find this all very frustrating.

  3. Someone needs to send that article to one Greg McGarity before he agree to let the regular season become an afterthought.

  4. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Senator, you are right on the money with everything you wrote on this post. Also, as a sidenote I used to follow ACC BB, and while I did not attend UVa at all for any degree I do remember well when UVa won the ACC and was very happy about it. The support for the underdog in me was coming out I guess.

  5. Bob

    My Dad taught ROTC at the Trade School and then at Wake in the 60s. I became a huge ACC basketball fan of the Deacs and UNC. I attended Dean Smith’s 1965 Basketball camp. Basketball was awesome.

    Then came the gradual expansion of the tourney and the total devaluation of the regular season and winning a conference championship. It is nothing close to the same again. And to think that there are folks out there who want to expand the tournament to 128 teams.

    Could not agree more with those who urge great caution on College Football and the playoff deal. I am for a Plus One type formula…but playoff folks are addicts and I am convinced that they live by the mantra that more is better. They will never rest easy until some ridiculous 16 or 32 team playoff comes about and that would be the death knell of CFB.

  6. SCDawg

    A plus one does not, in my opinion, degrade the value of the regular season-and I think that point has been cogently made on this site many times. Probably an eight team playoff has some effect-maybe marginal, maybe more. However, the mission creep that starts with a plus one model is what I fear will do harm to the regular season. 8 to 16, 16 to 32, etc. Combine that with the conference expansion that is taking the sport from a regional sport to a national sport, and we will have declining interest and attendance for regular season matchups.
    (And there is mission creep in the bowl season too. That’s why we have ridiculous games between two 6-6 opponents played in Birmingham in December that are named after bad pizza delivery chains).

  7. Scott

    Senator, what degree did you earn at UGA? Gut says law… just curious.

  8. BulldogBen

    The ACC used to be the most cutthroat competitive conference in hoops but they’ve been living off Duke/Carolina for far too long. In the last 15 years the only 2 teams to win the conference outright have been Maryland and Wake Forest (back in ’97). In the 80’s you had teams like Ga Tech, Virigina, and NC State to contend with. Now it’s just Duke/Carolina and everyone else.

  9. charlottedawg

    @ bulldog ben: nail. head. As a Duke basketball fan I would argue this decline in interest in ACC basketball can be attributed to 1) the expansion of the NCAA tourney and 2) no consistent challengers to UNC/ Duke. When Wake, NCSt, and GT all made coaching changes in the last 2 years and none were able to interview much less hire any big names it says something about the quality or lack therof of your league. Another example was in 2010 when Duke won the ACC Tourney . They would’ve have faced a tougher conf tourney slate as measured by RPI in the colonial athletic conf tourney than the acc tourney. As far as the dilution of the regular season by the expanded tourney the example I always give is UNC Duke. If this were a cfb rivalry it would have national championship implications most years, however since cbb has a 64 plus team postseason the 2 annual hate filled meetings btwn the schools counts for zilch at the end of the basketball season.

  10. The other Doug

    I’m with Ben. The ACC’s product has slipped and the fans are no longer interested in going to the games.

    Can you imagine if our football team sucked like Tech’s basketball team has lately?

  11. Creed

    I’m all for a playoff with up to 8 teams (8 would actually be ideal to me) but anything bigger than that is too big. It would start to devalue the regular season at that point.

  12. College basketball as a whole has taken a massive hit not just from the expanded tournament, but also from the “one and done” rule the NBA threw on them several years back. The talent pool and level of play across the board has declined significantly from where it was 10+ years ago. The elite teams can still be fun to watch, but trying to watch a mediocre to bad team (like our own) on a consistent basis can be excruciating.

    I personally think college basketball needs to go the baseball route where if you sign with a school you have to stay at least 3 years, but you also have the option of playing professionally right out of high school. I don’t think the “one and done” thing is helping anyone.

    • Creed

      How would college basketball enforce making a student/player stay for any period of time? I don’t think they have any way of doing that. I think the baseball rule is actually an MLB rule…anybody know?

      If it is an MLB rule, then the NBA would have to agree with college basketball’s wishes and implement something similar to MLB’s rule but, quite frankly, I don’t see any reason why the NBA would want to do that.

  13. shane#1

    I agree that the level of play has gone down in ACC basketball, though FSU and Miami are making some noise. They are not teams that the country as a whole tunes in to watch, so it is mostly Duke-UNC now. Seeing Coach K’s boys take on the Tarheels at home is in my top five of the ten sporting events that I want to attend after I retire. Maybe I will be able to get tickets if attendance stays down. Who says extended playoffs are bad?

  14. Monday Night Frotteur

    Something that happened in 1985 (or arguably 82) probably isn’t the cause of something that just started happening in 2012. Not a lot of temporal proximity there.

    • Your Submissive Hat Rack

      I couldn’t concur more forcefully … now come over this way and rub me like a fine woollen fedora.

  15. paul

    Okay. Just glancing through it does not appear that anyone said it. So, in the interest of keeping your title topical, here we go. You cannot compare one sport to another. I don’t believe that, but it seemed like it did need to be said. Or written. Whatever. Carry on.

  16. Always Someone Else's Fault

    For awhile there, the ACC had multiple programs besides Duke and UNC threatening to make runs to the Final Four more years than not – Virginia, Maryland, Wake, Georgia Tech, and even Clemson once or twice. Now all those programs just hope to make the tournament. Sad.

    When I lived in NC, the locals had the ACC 18 game regular season round-robin memorized – you didn’t even really need to consult a piece of paper. Same teams in the same order every year.

    Then came expansion and an unbalanced schedule, based primarily on the assumptions that ACC basketball was indestructible. Wrong.

    The only thing that doesn’t quite hold the comparison together would be the amount of local players who stay home. SEC football just keeps kids at home. The ACC’s best programs always recruited nationally, and that’s only the case with Duke and UNC now.

  17. Mike

    One and done has killed College Basketball (and the NBA IMO) not the tournament. The tournament was going strong in the 80’s and 90’s but you knew the teams and the players that were playing because they had been around for 3 or 4 years. G-Town, Houston, Kansas (with Danny Manning), the Duke teams, The Running Rebs, the Fab 5 that lost to UNC in ’93 and then a couple of Arky teams that won one and lost one with Corliss Williamson (sr. year, mind you), All of those teams were dominate teams that I watched play and had interest in following in the regular season (Hugh Durham where are thee?), hell, even Shaq made it to his Jr. year. But, as soon as the trend started to go straight of high school, in 1995 when Garnett came out, (ultimately changing to after their freshman year), College Basketball as a regular season sport died. I don’t believe it had anything to do with the Tournament.

  18. The Lone Stranger

    All of which, it these predictions of doom are to be heeded, prompted the ACC to go courting (NPI) Pitt and Syracuse. It is more a hoops scheme than a football-based decision though at the end of the day, like the SEC’s gambit, presumably the TV prospects were the prime driver.

  19. wnc dawg

    Sorry for being late to the party, but I think you missed the biggest reason for the horrific quote: business consultant. How’s a man gonna eat if the ACC thinks he doesn’t have the answers to their massive problems?

    And as a Dookie, I grieve for the state of ACC hoops. There is just no soul left in it. Which is why I think I am more opposed to playoffs than most.