For most of this season, those of us who are passionate about college basketball have had to - passively or actively - fend off the narrative that our game is putting a worse product on the floor than in years gone by. Scoring was down, there wasn't enough talent, the pace of play was too slow, UCLA was torture to watch; these were just some of the accusations levied against NCAA hoops over the course of the year.
None of those complaints apply to the national title game, which blew them all out of the water. Louisville and Michigan were all pace and power, with the first half dominated by dueling three-point shooters before the teams' respective stars stepped up and made hay in the final 20 minutes. As a game it wasn't perfect, but as a spectacle it could barely be matched for its sheer entertainment value. There was just one problem: it tipped at almost 9:30pm Eastern time.
This single flaw undermined a lot of the good work that the title game did for the name of college basketball this season. I had an ongoing discussion about college hoops with a friend who follows the line of thought that it is down. I thought I had scored massive points with the quality of Monday's contest, but instead he rebutted my argument by citing the time his alarm goes off in the morning (in his defense, it's disgustingly early) and saying that he "caught the highlights." I understand where he's coming from, too. No sooner had "One Shining Moment" faded from my screen than did my 5 o'clock alarm ring me back to reality. Only a heart-healthy diet of Monster and black coffee got me through the work day before I collapsed on the couch back home.
I don't think my friend and I were the only two faced with this problem. Imagine if you were a Louisville fan with a kid in grade school. He's going to want to stay up and watch his beloved Cardinals battle for the national title. You're already on thin ice with CPS because you let him see Kevin Ware's injury; sending him to the bus on 5 hours of sleep might earn you a call from your local social worker. A Michigan fan faced with the same dilemma also was staring down the barrel of not only the game's conclusion at nearly midnight, but also trying to calm down a child who doesn't yet understand that his favorite exist mostly for the purpose of letting him down.
Of course there are also people like my friend who simply have to get up too early in the morning to watch a game that is going to run until early the next day. So why does the NCAA insist on tipping off so late? Shouldn't the next generation of fans be going nuts watching it, not being dragged to bed before half time?
Well, it's the NCAA, so the obvious answer is that they do it just because they can. The second, equally obvious answer is money, which was my knee-jerk reaction. I figured it was to draw in the viewing dollars of the west coast, so I looked up some population numbers. As it turns out, (according to the US Census Bureau) over 75% of the US population lives in the Eastern or Central time zones, with nearly half of all the people in the nation living in the Eastern time zone.
I then thought that maybe they were trying to be considerate of fans of teams on the Pacific coast who wanted to be able to cheer on their squads the entire game. If that's the case, it's a fool's errand. Of the 20 teams that have contested the last 10 title games, only one (Ben Howland's UCLA squad in 2006) has been located in a time zone west of the Mississippi. Every other team has come from the Eastern and Central Time Zones, with the vast bulk of them coming from the Eastern.
I understand the desire to allow everyone to see the whole game, but the most important bits usually come nearer the end. Pushing the start time up to, say, 8:15 Eastern would give those of us with real lives (on a side note, Jim Nantz looks like the head deacon at your local church but must have the sleep schedule of a smoked-out third-year sophomore in college) a fighting chance at staying awake for the end of the game while still letting people on the west coast time to get home from work while only missing the opening minutes of the game (assuming they didn't just TiVo and fast forward the commercials until they caught up).
Why doesn't the NCAA do this? I have no idea, but I'm guessing it has something to with how much they can sell commercials for during each time slot. Whatever the reason, their track record all but assures us that it has nothing to do with the good of the sport or the "student-athletes" involved.