Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NCAA Basketball: “A multi-billion-dollar industry”

Driving home from the SLC airport this afternoon, I tuned into The Brian Kenny Show on ESPNradio having just heard that 5(!) underclassmen from John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats declared their draft eligibility this morning. As he discussed Mike Krzyzewski credentials and place on the all time NCAA coaches list (where he is certainly in the top 5 but well behind John Wooden), I remarked Kenny twice refer to modern NCAA basketball as a “multi-billion-dollar industry.” Wow! Realizing I’d bought into the myth of school spirit and the Alma Mater, I had to step back and reflect on this point.

A few reconfirmed reflections from the NCAA Tournament especially stood out:

1) “Cal’s Cats” really have ushered in a new era of “one-and-done” basketball. Education is merely an afterthought—if a thought at all. NCAA basketball really has manifested itself as a vocational school for NBA athletes as of recent. How many stars can you name who have stayed four full years and graduated with a degree in the past 5 years? So-called “scholarships” are but a marketing ploy to draw in potential students and alumni dollars in recruiting the best NBA-bound talent.

2) Branding really is the name of the game in college hoops. Each team’s mascot and insignia are designed to be reproduced and worn with pride at the game (and airport). No longer is it a school, it is a brand. The crowds at Energy Solutions Arena for the SLC stages of the tourney were a visual testament to the post-modern Baudrillardian idea of the saturation of symbols.

3) Not only have schools been reduced to marketing, advertising is rampant and corporate commercialism unabashed in all that surrounds the NCAA tournament. Corry has frequently pointed out that NCAA football is unwatchable because every first down, turnover, score, substitution, etc. is sponsored by a restaurant, tire company, dry cleaner, etc. In watching the Kentucky/West Virginia Elite Eight® match, I was stunned by just how many commercials there were. For every two minutes of basketball, there were 2 minutes, 2 seconds of commercials. In all seriousness, two possessions with no scoring, and the sponsors were at it again. Friends who traveled to Syracuse for the game noted that stoppages were so frequent that coaches were saying nothing and players simply pacing on the court… waiting (like the rest of us) for the smug marker board artist from the UPS commercials to let us get back to the main event.

So, in response to Corry’s recent “What I Watch” post, I have to admit that my love for soccer (MLS, European national clubs, Mexican Primera División, etc.) is largely due to the lack of stoppage in the matches and my attraction to baseball (which certainly has gone the way of the market) is attributable (at least in part) to the fact that the very abundance of stoppage allows me to zone out between innings and simply enjoy the bucolic, still unadulterated (despite steroids and, perhaps, only in my heart) pastime within the framed structure of the 9-inning game. Have I viewed my last NCAA tournament? Perhaps so—-the commercialism served with the false pretense of scholastic purity was far too distracting this time around. I realize I am a romantic; but, is it too much to ask that collegiate athletics be a bit more collegial and less commercial?

1 comment:

Corry Cropper said...

Amen, brutha...

The only way this will change is if enough people stop watching to make the revenue flow slow. Don't see that happening: the NCAA tourney has become a cultural ritual. Tedious, to be sure, but it will continue to bring in cash because of its established status.