Rivalry Week just wrapped up in NCAA basketball and after watching some of the headline games, I realized that I just didn't care about them. The fact is, the regular college basketball season has become so diluted that it just doesn't matter anymore, and here are a few different reasons why.
There are too many games. The season starts in late October with the Maui Invitational and doesn't end until March. With such an excess of games, each match on its own tends to lose significance for both fans and players.
There aren't many exciting non-conference games. In college football, non-conference rivalry games occur throughout the season. In basketball, there are only a few weeks at the beginning of the season where teams have the opportunity to play out of conference. Even during that time, top teams rarely schedule each other early in the season. Syracuse's non-conference schedule, for example, pits them against the likes of Colgate University, Iona College, Morgan State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
The players aren't recognizable. The NBA draft rules dictate players attend college for one year before they can leave. This means that the great players who come in as freshmen aren't coming back as sophomores, and players who break out in their sophomore or junior year will be gone before the next season begins.
Kyrie Irving, for example, was set to have a fantastic freshman season for Duke University at point guard. Unfortunately, he got hurt early in the season and fans barely got to watch him play. The injury won't hurt his draft stock, however, and he is projected to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft.
No one outside of Utah (or Glens Falls, N.Y.) had ever heard of Jimmer Fredette before he came into national prominence this year. Though Fredette is a senior, it's unlikely he would have returned had he been a junior. There are differing opinions on Fredette's NBA Draft stock, but a kid who shoots like he does will always be able to find a spot on an NBA roster.
Fans can no longer connect to a specific player and root for his team. For example, I have been a fan of Kevin Durant ever since he was in high school. Maybe I would have become a University of Texas fan if I felt that Durant would be there for two or more years, but everyone knew he would join the NBA after his freshman season. Situations like these result in fans losing interest in the regular season.
This is more the fault of the NBA than the NCAA, as it's their rule that keeps players in college for one year. The topic comes up year after year, and this rule needs to change. A much better and more plausible solution to this problem would be to let the blue chip prospects go straight to the NBA if they want – and if they do decide to attend college, they must stay for at least two years. As it is, most top recruits don't even go to class because they don't need to pass if they know they're going to leave.
Conference tournaments perpetuate the problem even further. They serve almost as a backup plan for mediocre teams. If the University of Cincinnati, which is currently just 6-6 in conference play, can make even a small run in the conference tournament, the team are almost guaranteed a spot in March Madness.
The situation might become even more prevalent if the NCAA tournament expands. The tournament already holds 68 teams, and there are talks of expanding the number to 128. That means more than a third of the teams in Division I would make the tournament. Why would a coach, knowing his team is good enough to make a run, risk injuries or fatigue if he is going to get a top-half seed in the tournament regardless?
With that said, NCAA basketball still has by far the most entertaining postseason in sports. If the NCAA could merge the football regular season with the basketball postseason, it would give fans the best of both worlds.