This isn't exactly breaking news, but college basketball has been steadily declining in popularity over the last 20 years. While there is no perfect way to gauge interest levels, the two main indicators, TV ratings and attendance, have been on a negative trend for a while now. I wanted to explore this a little and discuss solutions that could bolster interest in the sport.
Before getting into what could increase college basketball's popularity, the first thing we need to know is why it's popularity is declining in the first place. I believe there are 2 main factors at play in the declining interest:
Factor #1: Societal and technological changes that are affecting every sport. The saturation (some would say "over-saturation) of television coverage and overall improvements in television technology are the main two culprits here. If someone is sitting at home, and has access to see a game from a perfect angle, with decent analysis, and a crystal clear picture, it is really difficult for that person to find a reason to drop $100 and take up 4 hours of their day to go to a game. And to take that a level further, with all the highlight shows, sports blogs, and streaming options available to everyone, maybe that person decides not to even watch the game at all, save 2.5 hours and catch the recaps later.
Factor #2: NCAA Tournament decreases interest in regular season games. Outside of fans of bubble teams, hardcore fans that are hoping for better seeds for their team, and just plain college basketball junkies, most fans don't care to watch until the tournament. And even then, the first four days is all most care about as after all the upsets and 4 simultaneous games and everything, you are just left with good basketball played by teams most casual fans aren't interested in.
So basically, the market is over-saturated with a product that is declining in popularity. If we were just talking about a soft drink or something here, we would think their management was insane for continuing to put more of the same product out there, when the public has made it known that it actually wants less. This is where my idea comes in....
When looking to increase the interest in your sport, why not look at the king and try to emulate as much as you can from it? College Football has been the reigning king of collegiate athletics for 100 years... but do we ever stop to think about why that is? As much as the SEC fan argument of "Footbaw is the best sport, period!" is charming and all, this isn't the real reason. While there isn't a set of guidelines anywhere as to why football (or anything) became so popular, I believe there to be 2 main reasons.. scheduling and importance of regular season.
The importance of the regular season thing is obvious, right? When every game means so much, it will naturally affect the interest level, strengthen rivalries, and as a result boost ratings and attendance. As for scheduling, this is what I believe is football's real power, and almost no one ever talks about it. The main aspect football has, that no other sport in America has, is a designated day for that sport's games to be played. While on the surface this doesn't seem like a big deal, think about how many people know when college football games are played. I bet your great-grandmother knows what will be going on in the fall on Saturdays. Now think about how many people know when Oklahoma State, or Washington, or Vermont play their next basketball game. Now think about the effect this has had on a potential football audience over the span of 100 years. Saturday's in the fall have become an event unto themselves. The carnival comes in town for 13 straight Saturdays every fall, and America looks forward to it all week, no one wants to miss out on the festivities... and this has been cumulative over 5 generations. Odds are your grandparents sat with your parents just as your parents sat with you and watched college football at the same time, on the same day of the week, at the same time of year as you watch it now.
Where am I going with all of this? Here is my proposal: College Basketball could follow this lead and make 2 days a week "college basketball days".
Currently most games are played on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, so the scheduling is close already, but what isn't there is a hook. What if every Saturday (or Wednesday or whatever), from January through March (conference play), were set up like Day 1 and 2 of the NCAA tournament? There could be specific blocks where the games would be scheduled, each conference is assigned certain blocks, and it is just a non-stop barrage of college basketball that day. Maybe the Big East has the 8:00 and 12:00 blocks, Big 12 has 10:00 and 2:00, and on and on. You can still have Big Monday just as football has the Thursday night game, but all other games are played on Wednesday night, and all day Saturday which is set up in the block format. The main drawback I can see is that you wouldn't get to see nearly as many games as now, but that is the case with football as well and I don't see football hurting in popularity. After a few years of this, with TONS of promotion, the Saturday Basketball Blocks would become common knowledge to even the most casual of fans, and would start to become events unto themselves...just like football games.
You're telling me you wouldn't start meeting at BWW's for the 12:00 block of Big East and Big 12 games? You would be all over that (yes, I am telling you what you like), and more importantly, casual fans would be all over it as well. Now we just need to figure out how to solve Factor #2...