Mon Nov 08 07:03pm EST
The curtains parted on the 2010-11 college basketball season at 4:03 p.m. PST on Monday afternoon when Rhode Island and Pittsburgh tipped off in the opening round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
If you're a hardcore college hoops junkie, there's a good chance you knew that. If you're just a casual fan, it's very likely you didn't.
Whereas other sports begin with uniform start dates, endless hype and hand-picked nationally televised doubleheaders, college basketball begins with a nearly inaudible whimper. The Rhode Island-Pittsburgh game is easily the best of Monday's games, yet even it is only appealing enough for ESPNU.
Hardcore fans will tune in because it's their first taste of live college basketball since Gordon Hayward's half-court shot went awry, but nobody can blame the rest of the nation if their response is a collective yawn. In a sport overshadowed by football until after the Super Bowl in much of the country, this is a huge wasted opportunity to generate some buzz on an otherwise innocuous weekday night.
As ESPN.com's Eammon Brennan points out on his blog, this is hardly a new problem nor is it likely to change anytime soon. Still, here are three noble but likely futile ideas to fix the problem next season:
• Make ESPN's annual 24-hour marathon college basketball's official opening day. In some ways, it's the sports' defacto opening day already. Sure, half the matchups aren't appealing enough to draw in the casual fan, but if the marathon starts and ends with two games pitting marquee teams, that would help. At the very least, it would provide an event to make opening day special and unique.
• Anoint one of the pre-existing preseason tournaments the official opening event of the season. Can you imagine a tradition-rich tournament like the Maui Invitational moving to the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the second week of October and airing live on ESPN, unopposed by any other college basketball? As strong as the fields that event draws now are, it might get even better.
• Create a marquee made-for-TV double header, call it the First Four, and play it at the site of that year's Final Four. This is probably the biggest long shot of the three ideas, yet it seems as though getting four of the nation's 30 best programs each season should be doable, right? It would be a neutral-court game, there would be no reason to have to schedule a return game and in theory the exposure should be beneficial.
Ultimately, it's unlikely anything will happen between now and this time next year, so we'll probably be watching Wake Forest-Hofstra on ESPNU. Still if anyone has a valid reason why none of these solutions are feasible, we'd surely all like to hear it.