SBD/December 13, 2013/Events and Attractions

Intercollegiate Athletic Forum: How Does College Basketball Regain Its Former Status?

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Thursday's panel discussed the challenges facing college hoops' ratings
College basketball has seen its preeminent status wane in recent years for reasons ranging from a perception that the regular season is unimportant to the dominance of college football, according to a panel discussing “Headlines of the Day” at the '13 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in N.Y. IMG College President Ben Sutton pointed to how even unglamorous college football matchups often out-rate college basketball. He said, "College football and college basketball are at odds in that crossroads in November and December. I think the first bowl game last year was the New Mexico Bowl, and the ratings on ESPN for that bowl just dwarfed anything in college basketball. You could argue whether if they didn't go head to head, (that would make a difference, but) I like the single-semester-sport idea: Let basketball start when the fall semester ends, have your preseason tournaments after exams and before the first of the year and then jump into the conference schedule, and make it a second-semester sport.” But considering that such a move would push basketball’s championship tournaments deep into April, NCAA Exec VP/Championships & Alliances Mark Lewis said, "I don't see any pressure to do that. March Madness is ingrained in our sports landscape and I don't know what you would pair it with in April that'd be comparable just from a naming standpoint, but also from a calendar standpoint. ... The context of making the regular season more relevant is where you focus, and that doesn't seem to be as time specific." Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman added, "I wouldn't mess with March because there's so much equity in the ending of the season. But I think if you go into it, you have to think about what you're trying to accomplish before you can decide what the outcome should be." From a programmer's perspective, ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus said, "It could potentially be organized in a different way, or, frankly, structured in a way that could be a little bit more compelling. We have a great challenge every year launching college basketball -- and it's not because of college basketball or because people aren't interested in the sport. It's because they’re still (focusing on) football."

QUICK HITS:
* Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski, on driving student attendance at events: "How do we get the athletes more involved in the general student population? It's an issue everywhere. We don't help ourselves, from an athletic perspective, as we demand more of their time and focus and give them less opportunity to be integrated with the student population. This is one of the answers: Students are much more likely to come out and support somebody that lives down the hall from them; that they have a relationship with; that's having a shared experience with them. I don't know how we fix that, but we've gone the other way from that."

* Magnus, on the growing tendency to blame attendance issues on TV: "The time to do that is during negotiations for rights. These start-time issues didn't just pop out of thin air. Those are very heavily negotiated during the rights-agreement process, and, frankly, the current generation of rights agreements anticipate and delineate start-time issues very specifically, so conferences go into these negotiations eyes wide open to that. They sign up for it. There's a value tradeoff, obviously. But nobody's just winging it on start times, I can assure you of that."

* Lewis, on possibly moving Final Fours out of stadiums and back into arenas: "I don't think you're going to see the Final Four leave the dome venues for one reason: Nobody is willing to turn back in their tickets. The reality of it is that our membership has access to tickets and it's become a convening point for college athletics at that point of the year, so it just means we can't play in a smaller venue from a standpoint of fulfilling the needs we have right now."
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