College basketball season tips off today (honestly, can you believe it’s really here??) but when it does, it comes with a bit of a black cloud. It was a rough off-season for college hoops, and because of it, countless media outlets have used it as an excuse to tear down the sport as a whole. From CBS Sports, to ESPN, everyone is focused on the negative, with Yahoo’s Pat Forde adding that the sport is “in a state of emergency” entering the 2017-2018 season.
But while that’s the narrative the media wants you to believe, don’t buy it.
Sure, it was a tough off-season for college basketball, with an FBI probe into several prominent programs, a sham NCAA investigation into sham classes at UNC and the latest Big Baller controversy in China. But now that the games are about to tip-off, let’s be honest: None of it matters. Or at least it doesn’t matter as much. College basketball is back, and that is a great thing. Regardless of what the headlines say.
For starters, it’s easy for the media to pick on college basketball. It isn’t “mainstream” like the NFL or NBA and if you listen closely enough, there are always little jabs about the coaches, players, rule-breaking whatever.
At the same time, every sport has problems, and seeing the media pick on college hoops reminds me of the oldest kid on the playground bullying the little kids to hide their own insecurities. Yes, college basketball has its problems. But so too does every sport. The NFL has a two-year kneeling controversy that has led to a ratings drop of 15 percent. The NBA has a broken system where we’re playing a whole season with only team capable of winning the title (spoiler alert: It’s the Golden State Warriors), and baseball? Where do I even begin? Again, college basketball has its problems, but so does everyone.
At the same time, for the “bad” in college basketball (and again, every sport has it) there is a lot of good too. And that’s an important thing to remember here.
Remember, for every awful allegation of bribery and fraud in the FBI case, there is good, like Miles Bridges turning down millions to return to Michigan State for another year of college. For every UNC that’s handing out sham grades, there is the simple fact that college basketball provides free education — no, an actual education — for thousands of student-athletes across the country, most of which will need it in their professional lives. For every slimy figure like Rick Pitino, there is a guy like David Padgett, who is just trying to do things the right way and may actually bring an ounce of respectability back to the Louisville basketball program.
As a matter of fact, while all the off-season headlines felt like a drag on college basketball I actually believe it’s been a good thing. When the news first broke that the FBI was investigating all these college hoops programs for paying players, my instant reaction was “Oh boy, here we go. The lid is about to come off. EVERYBODY in college basketball cheats.” Except here’s the thing, that simply isn’t true. Through the last few months, as this story has unfolded, I’ve been blown away by how many coaches I’ve talked to who’ve said “This FBI deal is a good thing for our sport. We’ve been doing it the right way for years. Let’s get the cheaters out of this game.” Therefore while some are saying that the sport is in a “state of emergency” maybe this is instead, a natural cleansing process, no different than getting steroids out of baseball.
And even with all the bad that came this season, it won’t stop us from enjoying the good of college basketball. I’ve already written at length about the season ahead here at KSR, whether it’s story lines to watch in the first week or the story lines to watch for the entire season. But man, is there plenty to look forward to.
There are the big games and tournaments, like the Champions Classic next week (winners: Michigan State and Kentucky) and CBS Sports Classic, plus others during the Thanksgiving break in Maui, the Bahamas. There are the players that some fans know (like Bridges, Xavier’s Trevon Blueitt and Arizona’s Allonzo Trier) and the freshmen like Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Collin Sexton, Michael Porter that fans are going to get to know. There are the coaching icons like Calipari and Coach K, and the next wave like Xavier’s Chris Mack (Also, let me give you one more name to watch: New Mexico’s Paul Weir. Give it about five years. That guy will be a superstar). Heck, there’s a damn SEC basketball revolution going on, people. I’m calling it now: Seven teams in the Big Dance for the SEC!
Some other college hoops stuff:
Final Four: Arizona, Michigan State, Xavier, Kentucky
National Player of the Year: Trevon Blueitt, Xavier
National Champ: Arizona
Field of 68 https://t.co/J7n65aZrBw
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) November 10, 2017
And there are the stories that stay the same every year. Is Duke back (short answer, “no”)? Is this the year Bill Self’s hairpiece blows off in a strong wind (maybe)? And is this the year Arizona finally breaks through under Sean Miller (probably, if the FBI doesn’t catch him first). Not to mention that college basketball still has the single greatest week on the sports calendar (championship week), the single greatest day in the sports calendar (the opening day of the tournament) and the single greatest postseason in American sports.
So yeah, maybe college basketball had a bad off-season.
But that’s not going to stop us from enjoying the games now that they’ve tipped off.
Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at [email protected]. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”