A minor change to college basketball's schedule could make a big difference
- By moving the start of the season up three days, college basketball could open with a bang despite heavy competition from football.
Last week, the Division I Council introduced a seemingly minor rule change: College basketball games could start three days earlier than they currently do in coming seasons.
At face value, it looks like a minor tweak—and it might be, should the Council approve the rule change. But those 72 extra hours of season could be a major improvement for a sport that for its first three months each year has to compete with the behemoth that is football.
Consider this: As it stands, the college basketball season begins on the second Friday in November each fall. That corresponds to Week 11 of the college football season and Week 10 of the NFL, right as conference and division races are starting to really heat up. College basketball needs to throw any resource it can toward competing in that environment, and by moving up its start from Friday to Tuesday, it could seize upon the dead sports evenings that are Tuesday and Wednesday to capitalize on its tipoff.
In this scenario, college basketball would have a full 24 hours before Thursday Night Football in the NFL, four days before the onslaught of a college football Saturday—and it wouldn’t be opening on Friday, a night that’s always hard to lure viewers. The scheduling move certainly wouldn’t fix the sport’s problem of being essentially reduced to a two-month season of February and March, but it’d be a step toward combatting it, or at least opening with more of a bang.
Since 2014, there have been 11 instances when a Power 5 school’s first basketball game was played on the same day as a football game. That can’t be good for drumming up interest in such games as Oregon State-Northwest Christian and Nebraska-Mississippi Valley State. In some cases, these competing basketball games have even been played between two reasonably successful programs. Colorado faced USC in football on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, and at the same time, both schools’ basketball teams were tipping off with Colorado opening against Iowa State. Texas played Washington in basketball on a football Saturday in 2015, and Stanford faced Harvard the same day its football team played Oregon last fall. That type of competition for attention is, well, less than ideal.
The tweaked schedule would also include a provision that basketball players get a three-day break from sports over the school’s winter break; it’s hardly shocking that, according to an NCAA survey, the majority of players are in favor of it. That mini-vacation is a nice perk, and using athlete well-being as a justification for the schedule change is perfectly acceptable.
But where this tweak would really matter is in college basketball’s ability to better promote itself. It’s an easy fix—why no one had suggested earlier is almost baffling—if not a revolutionary one. Filling seats for nonconference games will always be hard, but why make it harder? Drumming up attention for early-season play will always take effort, but why increase it by forcing fans to channel-flip or sit in front of their televisions for two games in one day?
College basketball still faces a tall task in November and December—or, really, from its opening day through the Super Bowl. But giving the sport two days to itself to open the season each fall is a no-brainer.