Why college basketball is struggling

semerson@macon.comFebruary 11, 2013 

Saturday night saw the Georgia men's basketball team play yet another low-scoring and foul-marred game - which left the crowd booing the officials after the home team actually won. But the scoring, physical play and other issues aren't limited to Georgia: Scoring and attendance are down nationally, and fouls and physical play are up.

Why is the sport suddenly struggling so much? Well, it's not so sudden. The top 10 reasons:

1. Players leaving school early
At first it seemed the NBA would be hurt by this more than college, because as Jerry Seinfeld would say, people root for laundry. But over time the fact that any player worth his salt leaves early has hurt continuity, the quality of play and the overall product.

2. Too physical play
Georgia head coach Mark Fox correctly called this a “national problem,” and admitted that he continues to coach that way because the other team is too. The over-emphasis on defense by grabbing and poking is bringing down scoring and making the game less fun to watch.

3. AAU
It’s a cliché’ to blame amateur basketball, but it’s still true: While there are many good AAU programs and coaches, there are also too many that employ a star system, don’t coach good team basketball and represent the seedy underbelly of sports.

4. The 3-pointer
Overall the 3-pointer is still good, and an exciting part of the game. But too many players (and coaches) are emphasizing the 3 over the mid-range jumper, which is higher-percentage. And that over-emphasis brings scoring down and limits the overall quality of play.

5. College football
As football has grown in interest, it has increasingly overtaken basketball for fan interest. This one is kind of the fan’s and media’s fault: In reaction to the outsized interest to football, interest is turning to recruiting in January and February rather than actual basketball games.

6. The charge call
There is simply too much emphasis – from officials and players – on defenders trying to take a charge and thus taking away from good ol’ drives to the basket and continuity of play. Yes, Duke is the best at this, but it’s been copied by smaller defenders all over the country, and officials go right along with it.

7. Inconsistent officiating
This goes along with the physical-play problem: Some officials call it tight, others don’t, but too often the calls change over the course of a game. So the default choice by players is to guard tight.

8. Realignment
Remember the cozy days of the ACC, when Georgia Tech knew it would play every team twice, and got to play at North Carolina and Duke at least once, and each team came to Georgia Tech at least once? Gone.

9. Attendance dropping because of television
Because more games are on television, less people are attending in person. That hurts atmosphere, which in the long run is more important than a few more eyeballs at home watching a game.

10. Super Bowl coming later and later
The big game is later and later every year – it used to be the last Sunday in January – drawing casual fan and media attention away from college basketball one week later than usual. Not a big deal, but every week counts.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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