Conference Realignment Won’t Kill Competition
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 14:02
March may still be a couple weeks away, but the madness has arrived.
This past weekend’s lineup of college basketball matchups showcased the level of intensity that we have come to expect from NCAA hoops. The saying “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” took on new meaning when junior guard Ben Brust of Wisconsin heaved a desperate shot from just over half-court in the final second of regulation to force overtime against then-No. 3 Michigan.
Exciting as that game was, though, it paled in comparison to the tension and energy of the night game between Louisville and Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., which extended to five overtime periods — the longest regular-season game in Big East history — before Notre Dame ultimately prevailed.
In a sport where teams define themselves and their style of play by their conferences, it makes sense that intraconference records, such as longest games, are valuable. But what happens when these conferences cease to exist as we know them? With teams dropping and entering conferences faster than Kim Kardashian can get married and divorced, the Big East may soon enough literally be history.
While the Louisville-Notre Dame game will undoubtedly be one for the record books, part of what made it so epic was the fact that it was a fight between two conference rivals. After all, it’s not as if it was the longest game ever — that distinction belongs to a legendary battle between Cincinnati and Bradley in 1981, which went to seven overtime periods before the Bearcats finally pulled out the victory. The Big East has a storied past and plenty of tradition to go along with it, but realignment is about more than just records and is not limited to the Big East, either.
The question is what that means for the rivalries. Will Georgetown still play the hated Syracuse Orange? Will Syracuse even continue to be hated as a non-conference foe? Will Maryland students still proudly wear their “Duck Fuke” t-shirts now that UMD has abandoned the ACC? (Having a fair number of friends at Maryland, I’m going to go ahead and say yes to that last one, but the point stands.) Realignment has raised numerous questions for universities and fans alike, most of which only time will be able to answer.
Tradition and sports go hand in hand, and no one likes to see a good thing come to an end. It is especially easy to be bitter about the realignment process as a college basketball fan because it’s obvious that university boards are reaching their decisions on which conference to leave or join based on concerns about football and the associated TV deals. Everyone knows that college football is the real cash cow of collegiate athletics, but it never feels good to be reminded of it. Colleges — like all other institutions — have to mind their budgets, but the jockeying for the fattest contracts and most attractive season schedules has left me wondering what college sports are even about.
Thankfully, games like the ones I had the privilege to watch this weekend are my reminder.
As troubling as the issue of realignment can be, it’s important to remember that the game will remain the same. Yes, some treasured rivalries may fade, but others will surely develop to replace them. Conference records may lose some gravitas, but teams’ playing styles won’t be altered: Basketball is basketball.
For the past year, online forums and social media have been rife with complaints about realignment and predictions of inevitable doom for the NCAA. Born from fear about what is in store for the future of many fans’ favorite sport, these feelings make it difficult to remember that the changes in conference alignment are institutional changes made by boards of trustees and university presidents. The changes won’t affect the way John Thompson III draws up his defensive strategy; they won’t change Otto Porter’s uncanny ability to grab offense boards when it really counts; and it certainly will have no bearing on the Hoyas’ drive and determination.
When college basketball players take the court, they are not concerned with whether the guys on the other side are heavy favorites, total unknowns or conference rivals. Winning is the only thought and the only goal. This mindset is what fans love about college basketball — every game has the potential to be an upset and every team plays like it has a shot at winning.
The realignment of NCAA conferences has added uncertainty to an already unpredictable sport, but no matter which teams are playing which and in what conference, the desire to win will remain constant.
Changes are inevitable in any game, but, in the end, you can’t realign competitive spirit.
Laura Wagner is a sophomore in the College. GAME OF CHANGE appears every Tuesday.