College basketball is a polarizing sport.
Its fans love it in a blindly faithful way. Those who prefer to watch the NBA but enjoy peeking in during March have no qualms about calling the sport an abomination.
Few other sports have such divided fans. While each sport has its own set of issues, most people do not go out of their way to rip one sport as much as those who do not consistently follow scholastic hoops.
I believe — and this goes for all sports — in a very simple principle: Whatever you enjoy, so be it. Who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to tell you what to like? A fan shouldn’t let someone else’s opinion of his favorite sport change how much he likes it. It would be like enjoying a double bacon cheeseburger less because someone else thinks it is gross.
Enjoy that greasy delight from heaven, sir or madam.
Anyway, because college basketball is usually — save for some exceptions — only followed by true fanatics, some myths have grown from the reality that when the sport is at its most popular (the NCAA Tournament), many non-fans come in — often with bigger platforms — to put the sport in a rear-naked choke hold of narratives. Those narratives can turn away potential future fans.
This problem is compounded by the damage the sport’s ambassadors have done — over the course of decades, not merely years — by over-romanticizing certain aspects of college basketball.
So here we are, in peak college basketball offseason. Here are five myths surrounding our beloved game that aren’t all that accurate.
The Transfer Epidemic (Is Not Real)
Without being a scientist, it is still easy to figure out the entire “transfer epidemic” ordeal. People like college basketball as it has almost always been, and any change to the way it operates is an assault to the sport they love.
However, an epidemic can only exist if there’s actual evidence to back it up. As far as players transferring are concerned, the widely accepted rise of players leaving one university for another might be true on the surface, but in comparison to regular non-athletes, it is being done at a far less drastic rate than many would like you to believe.
I’ve discussed this at length before (found here), but to paraphrase my own previous thought:
Last season — over 351 Division I programs — more than 700 players decided to leave one university for another. Many media members and fans point to that “volume” as proof of this supposed epidemic. I get it: 700 humans seems like a large enough sample to declare the transferring rate an epidemic.
According to a study, more than 33 percent of undergraduate students transfer during their academic careers (at least once and often numerous times). To put that in some perspective, there are 4,563 scholarship players — a rough and fluid number — in each college basketball season because of those 351 programs. If we apply a little math to the equation, the percentage of Division I basketball players who transferred last season is actually less than the undergrad rate.
In fact, it isn’t even close.
While totally understanding we “care” more about basketball than we do about the normal student, it is really absurd that the epidemic has even become a narrative, given that the comparison to regular students highlights how student-athletes transfer at a decreased rate.
To put it more bluntly: We wouldn’t call a decreased outbreak of a disease an epidemic.
College Basketball Is (Not) Boring
Listen, college basketball is NOT the NBA.
I can continue to try to hammer this home to the point of building a house, but it is impossible for a league comprised of amateurs, that features only a few dozen future professionals, to be better than a league that is solely comprised of the top one percent of the top one percent of people who attempt to play basketball.
That does not make college basketball boring, however. Rather, it is alluring for many things the NBA can’t be — which it is often and misguidedly compared to.
The roster turnover rate in college hoops creates a never-ending river of new human interest stories. It seems each season that a few new players rise to the top; interesting human interest stories are told about them; and then we either fall in love with or hate the player. After the season is over, we can recycle that aspect of college basketball all over again.
There are also fewer games, a reality which heightens drama; the wonders of the NCAA Tournament, which is likely the most beloved “playoff” of any of the sports’ postseasons; the absurdities of seeing a team full of two-to-three-star recruits beat an opponent chock-full of McDonald’s All-Americans; and the variables that come with having 351 Division I basketball programs.
Obviously, most of that has very little to do with on-court action, but if one can simply get beyond comparing college ball to the NBA, and appreciate a lower yet still quality-filled level of basketball, we can all enjoy college basketball as not an alternative or rival to the NBA, but just another fun basketball viewing option.
The One-And-Done Rule Has (Not) Ruined The Sport
This one is incredibly simple: If our options are getting the very best players on the planet, even if only for a single year, or not getting the very best players on the planet, which would you prefer?
Selfishly, die-hards would like kids to stay in school for three or four years, but that’s not a realistic option. It can be considered a violation of a person’s right to work. The other alternative of allowing kids to go straight from high school to the pros would fail to provide us the chance to watch a dozen or so future NBA players.
That last part is the biggest point in all of this. There are roughly only a dozen or so guys each season who are actually one-and-done talents. They aren’t moving the needle as drastically as some like to pretend.
Sure, if you’re a non-Kentucky fan, you are likely sick of John Calipari consistently being ready to roll each season with a new core group, but even that is often overstated: He’s had more guys stay for another season or two over the last few years than we acknowledge.
This is just an optics issue, if we are to be honest.
We selfishly want “our” guys to continue to play for “our” favorite teams, but we root for the teams more than the players. By the very design of the sport, constant change is to be expected. That’s a mental agreement we should have made with college basketball long ago.
This isn’t like being a fan of an NBA franchise and pinning your hopes and dreams to a superstar player being there for an entire career (sorry, Oklahoma City). You’re really pinning your hopes on a program and its coach to regularly churn out great players.
Regardless, given the rules we currently have in place, I would much rather get those guys for at least a year than not have them at all. It’s like love in that regard: Better to have had it and lost it than to never have had it at all.
We (Don’t) Care About Academics
Do you really care if Johnny McHoopster’s GPA is above a 3.0? I sure as heck know I don’t.
Furthermore, not a single soul that consumes basketball — save for the players’ families — give a rat’s rear what these kids are doing in class. No one is following up on McHoopster’s career in accounting after his playing days are over. We are only invested in him now because he plays basketball.
That’s just a polite way of saying — whenever you read or hear about someone discussing a student-athlete’s grades, morality, or any other non-basketball item — it is being done to push whatever narrative currently needs to be pushed.
However good or bad Future Prospect X is in advanced calculus — outside of keeping him eligible — has zero to do with his jumper’s reliability on a Thursday night game in December.
Fair And Competitive Balance
Even more simple with this one. There is no such thing as sincere fair and competitive balance. How do I know? Well…
The Kentucky Wildcats have far more resources (re: money) available to them than the Albany Great Danes. With those resources, which parlays into even more money as time goes on, those power programs get the best coaches, facilities, and everything else under the sun while the have-nots can’t keep up.
That alone kills the attempt at fair and competitive balance. It is that easy.
Not that I want this to happen, but if the NCAA and member universities truly wanted honest fair and competitive balance, all involved would put a cap on money spent on coaches and facilities. Otherwise, it is yet another NCAA sham.