Should The College Basketball Season Start Later?

Before the tournament gets fully underway, I wanted to talk about college basketball more generally.  There has been talk over the years that perhaps the sport would be best served by moving it’s season back in the calendar. I heard it again last week in an al.com article by Jon Solomon, which was followed up by John Infante at Athleticscholarships.net.  The rise in college football popularity during the late fall has meant many fans don’t think about hoops until after the bowl games. This has led to small crowds and TV audiences for November and December games, even for fantastic non-conference match-ups. I think it’s an idea worthy of consideration.

I’m a huge college basketball fan, so I come at this both from an analytical perspective as well as just wanting what’s best for the sport. The fact is, college football dominates all but a few campuses through early January. Moving the start of the basketball season to December or early January would allow those early season games to get the attention they deserve.

For most sports fans, college basketball is something they don’t really pay attention to until as late as February. I don’t think this has much to do with basketball as much as it has to do with the other sports (college football and NFL) they are investing their free time and resources in. Moving the start of college basketball season would give those fans a larger chunk of the season for them to enjoy without competing interests.

One big trade-off would be with the end of college basketball season and March Madness. Currently it pretty much has the stage to itself. Football is over. Baseball hasn’t started. If it were to move back, the most important part of the college basketball season would compete for now share the stage with baseball and the start of the NBA Playoffs.

Would this matter? It might. A recent Harris Interactive Poll showed that baseball was the most popular sport for 14% of Americans. In addition the NBA was the favorite sport of 6%. Just 3% said their favorite sport was college basketball. That’s a significant difference and should be considered. Would it be worth it to gain viewership and interest in January and February, only to lose it in April and May when the sport is unquestionably at its best?

There are practical implications for the schools as well. One of the biggest might be the impact of mid-year transfer players and players who become eligible mid-year. You see this all the time. A player transferred mid-year, and isn’t eligible until mid-December once the fall semester concludes. If the season were moved back, how should those mid-year transfers be treated?

Similarly, a student-athlete with academic issues who is ineligible during the fall semester may have the chance to become eligible for the entire season, rather than having to miss games in November and December.  (Although other one semester sports such as baseball require student-athletes to be eligible in the fall to participate in the spring).

Moving the college basketball season back into the calendar has some advantages and may well be worth doing. It also poses a number of risks that are hard to quantify. Yes, it would be weird to think about May Madness instead of March Madness, but I’m sure we’d adjust.  A more likely result is a condensed schedule which starts the season between early/mid December and still ends in March as we do now.

What do you think? Leave a comment and say whether you’d like to leave college basketball where it is or move it back in the calendar.

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