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March Madness Flourishes With A Sport In A State Of Demise....

Rock Mamola

Producer/Host on WSCR 670AM The Score.

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February is an interesting month when it comes to covering sports in the Chicago market.  Termed "the dead period" or "sports abyss" by some sports radio personalities in town, you can term this duration of the sports calendar as simply the "tweener" of the end of the NFL season and the NCAA tournament.  There has never been the buzz of a NFL/MLB season in the time between those two events as they are the two major sports of this city. 


Local television and radio outlets in town during this time period begin to dabble into areas of sports which does not necessarily relate to the general daily viewing/listening audience.  One of those discussions/topics anchors/hosts attempt to get into is college basketball and why the Big Ten regular season (which by the way is ending soon) matters.  Now while Chicago may not have a high profile university attached to the city limits, one of the biggest events of the sports year is the NCAA Tournament.  More people than ever are watching/listening/gambling on the tournament yet fail to recognize that the madness begins early November. 


What I find interesting is successful as March Madness has been, the sport of college basketball is suffering more than ever and it is time to fix it.


While I have no affiliation to a university (because I could not afford to go to one) or have any allegiances put forth on me from my parents (both did not go to college), it is hard for me to get into college sports.  Maybe I am in the minority when it comes to this but the only time I ever get up for college basketball is when the field of 64 (oh wait.....68) teams are announced.  The opening invitational tournaments late into the morning hours are not a must watch, and neither are the early afternoon Big Ten games at the United Center.  It is very hard for me as a casual fan to latch onto a sport where there are no must see athletes in the sport itself. 


That is a major problem. 


No one at the professional level of sport who is either a manager or a coach is the one that gets people to buy the tickets and watch the games.  Yes....that includes the manager of the Chicago White Sox as well.  No one sits at attention to see what the next move or play call is from Tom Thibodeau.  Fans of professional sports come out to see the stars of the game.  While thousands wait in line to see the Miami Three of James, Wade and Bosh....most of them could not name who is the head coach of the Miami Heat is.  A sport thrives on the success and familiarity of the actual athletes participating in the game itself, and not the coach. 


College basketball is the exception, and that is a big problem. 



NCAA basketball has a major issue because the stars of their game are no longer the players on the court, the stars are the ones in suits.  Everyone knows who Roy Williams is, but could you name a current player for the Tar Heels?  The Duke Blue Devils were just named the #1 team in the nation today in the most recent AP Coaches' Poll.....could you name their leading scorer?  It is so hard to get any sort of familiarity or attachment to a sport where true superstars of the sport do not stay longer than one season.  This is by far the most important issue in college basketball that must be fixed and soon. 


With dwindling regular season television ratings and attendance beginning to take a downward turn as well, it is easy to understand why the NCAA wanted four more teams added to March Madness.  With regular season television ratings the lowest in seven years, it only makes sense to include more teams to the actual event that people pay the most attention to of your sport.  The NCAA is so concentrated on having the most successful tournament possible yet they really should concentrate on making the overall product better.  The NCAA is ignoring the quality of the game to make as much money possible off three weeks of fanfare and big business.   


I support the idea of the NCAA appointing a commissioner to oversee the sport and whose sole purpose would be to make the quality of the game better than it has been.  The quality has lacked for several years now and while it may not show in the three weeks of TV ratings or advertising dollars yet, it has shown in the five months of regular season and conference tournament play.   



Someone needs to step in and declare that college basketball players must stay at least till their junior year in school.  That way the superstars (aka one-and-done players) of college basketball can stay in school and develop as not only a basketball player but also develop as a human being as well.  There is nothing wrong with a little added education on life and on the game itself before hitting the NBA Draft and seeing the millions of dollars.  Also by keeping the better players of college basketball around you also build more familiarity with college teams and the common fan and the overall sport of college basketball improves both in quality and interest.  The regular season is as insignificant as ever because the superstars of last year are currently playing the NBA.  People simply are not willing to take the time to learn a new roster of the top players to watch every single year.  You would think this would be common sense.....if the NCAA truly cared about their sport. 


They do not. 


While the NCAA will continue to add teams to their "golden goose" of a tournament come every March, they continue to ignore the most important part of promotion for their tournament outside the calendar.  What better promotional tool could you have for a tournament than a little history amongst the top players in the sport when it comes to tournament time?  Forcing players to stick around in school for a few more years could do so much not only for the tournament itself and the players involved, but it could also begin to draw eyes to the regular season. 


How many more titles could Carmelo Anthony have won at Syracuse if he stayed more than a year?  How about if LeBron James went to college at all, and stayed?  You think Grant Hill and Michael Jordan complain they had to stay in school rather than sign on the dotted line for the big bucks?   


March Madness is as exciting as ever, just wish I knew who was playing in it beforehand. 




John "Rock" Mamola is the Associate Producer of The Mully And Hanley Morning Show and Host of The Rock Report on WSCR 670AM The Score 


You can follow The Mully And Hanley Morning Show at 


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