Why not a College Basketball Champions League?
Excitement continues to build well in advance of the 2013-14 season, in part because a number of high-profile programs are releasing what look to be very ambitious nonleague schedules. Kansas, Florida and Michigan State, among others, have loaded up their slates, and teams like Kentucky have enough strong matchups to keep us very intrigued. The more great games between good teams between November and January, the better things are for the sport. This is a good development.
But why shouldn't we take things one step further? Wouldn't these great nonleague matchups be way more interesting if they came in a tournament setting? And wouldn't the growing number of broadcast networks looking for college basketball content jump at the opportunity to grab a series of elite clashes with meaning?
I think the answer is yes to all of those questions. As we look to continue to improve college basketball and draw eyeballs in an increasingly crowded sports landscape, it's time for everyone to come together for a College Basketball Champions League.
The concept, first suggested by NCAA bylaws baron @John_Infante, and heartily endorsed by me, would riff off of the European soccer setup, which enables teams from different countries (and leagues) to play each other on the biggest stage. College basketball is perfect for that kind of setup. We already spend two months enabling these kinds of cross-conference matchups. Why not package them better and profit?
There are a lot of things to be considered in how this kind of an event would fit into the current regular-season mold, and Mr. Infante has plenty of thoughts on this himself, but I think we could pretty readily craft a 48-team concept that would work.
The initial allocations for multiple-bid leagues would be based on previous seasons' performance and, at least for this season, is impacted by a number of conference realignment jumps. That means teams like Creighton and Memphis get squeezed for this season. Here's a hypothetical breakdown of the "multi-bid" conferences for a 2013-14 event:
Multi-bid Leagues (25 total spots)
Big Ten (4): Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan
ACC (3): Miami, Duke, North Carolina
Big 12 (3): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Mountain West (3): New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV
Pac-12 (3): UCLA, Arizona, Oregon
SEC (3): Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss
Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU
American Athletic (2): Louisville, Connecticut
Big East (2): Georgetown, Marquette
The other 23 conferences get one bid each, given to their regular-season champion from last season. So you'd also have Gonzaga, Wichita State (because of Creighton's move), Davidson, Harvard and other known smaller-conference entities in the mix.
My best guess at a format, in terms of trying to address macro and team-specific needs, is as follows:
- The 24 top-rated teams receive direct inclusion into a group stage, where there are eight four-team groups. Each team would play the others in the group home-and-home, for a total of six guaranteed games. These teams will know whether they are a 1-, 2- or 3- seed in the group ahead of time, which provides schedule certainty. They can set the rest of their nonleague games accordingly, based on the general expectation of opponent strength in this event.
- The lowest 16 teams in the overall ranking play a home-and-home playoff series, with the winners advancing to play the next eight teams. Those winners get the final spots in the groups, as a 4-seed. That will mean those 24 teams know they have two nonconference games set, with eight of them playing an extra two on top of that.
- The 16 teams that end up getting knocked out before the group stage should then schedule nonconference games among themselves to help fill the schedule void caused by leaving a six-game block unscheduled (in case they make the group stage).
- There would need to be some revenue sharing arrangement to help the biggest programs stay whole. Asking a school like Syracuse to play a couple extra road games means they lose around $1 million in home-game revenue. One option is to have the 4-seed play both games against the 1-seed on the road, to give the best teams an advantage and limit them to two road games in the event to keep the money issues more manageable.
- The winner of each of the eight groups advances to a one-weekend tournament to determine the champ. These teams would get a multi-team event exemption to add one to three more games to their schedule.
Even accounting for exam/Christmas break, this whole event could be over by the end of January. You need a couple weeks in November for the playoff rounds, six weeks for the group stage to unfold, and then one extra weekend to decide the championship. It wouldn't diminish the NCAA tournament, in my opinion, as teams change a lot in those 6-8 weeks. That would still be recognized as the national championship. This would just be spun as an elite in-season tournament for conference champs and other strong programs.
Plus, this would give the opportunity to smaller schools to get a couple of really good homes games out of conference. It would also give second-level major-programs home shots at the best in the business. Imagine the crowd atmospheres as Duke goes to VCU or Kansas has to play at Wichita State? And for a team like Harvard, which is having trouble scheduling because of how good the Crimson are expected to be, home dates with teams like Marquette and UConn would be huge upgrades.
As more and more networks drive into college basketball and are looking for inventory, wouldn't an event like this be appealing? And as we're looking for more ways to make the regular-season interesting and meaningful, wouldn't this appeal to you? Instead of glorified exhibitions between top programs, like we get now, you'd have meaningful matchups. Regular-season league finishes would take on much more importance, as that is what would gain you entry into next year's event. So you would have great games to watch almost every week from November through January, and conference play would have double meaning, as teams joust for NCAA tournament seeding and entrance into the next year's CBBCL.
I'm sure college hoops fans at large can find tweaks to make this better, and I'm sure there are financial and logistical issues beyond those mentioned that would need to be addressed, but can they possibly be insurmountable in today's media rights environment? With the right leadership, I can't see how that would be the case.