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Why does College Basketball Get a Bad Reputation?

In recent years college basketball has garnered many criticisms for its apparent monotony. When criticizing the game, sports critics and fans alike point to a nostalgic time period of college basketball glory days when games were high scoring and fast-paced. 

The sports illustrated article written by Seth Davis outlined that the games today are bad because of “incessant timeouts, fouls that dragged out the ends of games, control-freak coaches, and physical defense.” Davis based his work on the findings of quant Ken Pomeroy who found that the last time college basketball’s overall scoring reached this low was in 1952. According to Pomeroy, “Until the pace of change speeds up dramatically, this once-beautiful game will grind to a halt.”

In order to address the decline of the sport in viewership, the N.C.A.A “reduced the shot clock to 30 seconds” and told referees to make calls that would “reduce physicality and ease freedom of movement.” Despite the institution’s successful initiative to increase scoring,  college basketball viewership remained the same. Clearly, the sport’s current low scoring average is not responsible for its low ratings, nor is it indicative of poor gameplay. 

Tony Bennett, head coach for the University of Virginia basketball team, explained, “There’s some truth to the whole fun, fast-play thing but what I say is that it’s more about quality, whether it’s higher scoring or lower scoring, and if there’s a success with what you’re doing, you’ll draw attention to why it works.”

Instead, the better explanation for why college basketball’s gameplay is recently so poor is simple: in reality, it isn’t. Since the 90s, ESPN consistently increased the amount of college basketball that they broadcast. There have always been poorly played college basketball games; we just didn’t see them. In reality, the increased college basketball broadcasting made room for poorly played games to be watched.  Quant Ken Pomeroy explained in a New York Times interview that “college basketball is suffering from the same issue that every other sport is suffering from. The viewing options are so diverse, and the audiences are fragmented, and so popular is being pulled away and into other places.”

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