Philadelphia, PA – The NCAA is big business because it has recalibrated and recultivated its image to stay one dribble ahead of our wants and needs.
We, as college basketball fans, clamor for change -- even if a superficial tweak is pre-packaged as a monumental shift. We voiced displeasure with "our" teams being left out of March's madness, and the NCAA created the very successful First Four. Our warning cry at greater tournament expansion (98 teams or more) was heard as the governing body pumped the brakes in the face of public discord despite walking away from the millions more invitees would have brought.
Either the NCAA employs a full department of Twitter listening agents, or it's adept at correlating fans' passions into mutual beneficial actions. That's why March Madness is so popular and successful, and it was the main idea behind last year's Carrier Classic, the North Carolina-Michigan State season tip-off aboard the USS Carl Vinson in the San Diego bay.
The NCAA used a visually stunning atmosphere, tied it into a patriotic event with President Barack Obama in attendance, plastered it in national television's high-definition sets and marketed it as the unofficial start of the college basketball season.
It didn't hurt that two of the game's most popular programs were part of the Veteran's Day spectacle, a mixture of national pride and pageantry that went off without a hitch from the untrained eye (despite all of the logistical headaches involved with holding a live sporting event aboard a government- owned ship).
No one seemed to notice the sloppy early season basketball, because on-court precision wasn't the game's purpose. For years, fans yearned for a season start date, like baseball's Opening Day or even college football's Kickoff Classic.
The NCAA balked at labeling one game the season's tip-off, using Thanksgiving holiday tournaments from Alaska to Hawaii as the unofficial beginning, but when this idea presented itself, the marketing minds in Indianapolis did what they always do.
They jumped at the chance to celebrate our nation's servicemen and women, while using the forum to announce with grandeur, "college basketball is back!" And when the NCAA sees success, it doesn't sit on its hands but rather aims higher, and in this case farther out to sea.
Florida will face Georgetown on a ship off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida on November 9, the closest non-college football or NFL date to Veterans Day. The Gators-Hoyas tilt is the third college hoops contest scheduled to be played on a naval ship on that date. Marquette and Ohio State will play on a ship off the Charleston, South Carolina coast, while Syracuse will take on San Diego State off the San Diego coast on the flight deck of the retired USS Midway. It is not clear whether the other two games will be played on active ships.
The success of one game has spawned into three, but that shouldn't be a surprise for anyone who knows the venture capitalists at the NCAA, which was lauded for the precision with which it organized last year's Carrier Classic and praised for the overwhelming television viewership and genuine interest in the unofficial start to the season.
The NCAA is still big business, actually even bigger than it used to be, because it listens, it discusses, it acts, it assesses then it comes back bigger and grander than ever. The First Four and Carrier Classic are just two examples of college basketball attempting to increase fan interest and line its pockets in the process.
Judging by last March's television ratings and the praise at this year's Carrier Classic announcements, the NCAA has not only maintained its one dribble edge on its customers, but it is sprinting forth faster and stronger than ever before.
NOTRE DAME LOCKS UP BREY
In a profession with little job security, Mike Brey certainly feels appreciated and secure after the Fighting Irish announced a 10-year contract extension that will run through the 2022 season. Brey hit the nail on the head during a press conference announcing the extension, explaining that he felt this job was his last one if he handled it the right away and detailing how expectations under his leadership have evolved from "surviving" in the Big East to "thriving" in the conference. That's what eight NCAA Tournament appearances will do, including one of his best coaching jobs last season, leading the Irish to 22 victories before a loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament's second round.
What comes with increased expectations is an increased desire for improvement, and for Brey's program, that includes a trip to the Final Four. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick understands those sentiments.
"We're in business to win NCAA championships," he said. "If I didn't think Mike Brey could win an NCAA championship in basketball, we wouldn't be sitting here today."
UCONN SUFFERS MOST FROM NCAA'S NEW ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
We first discussed the Huskies' self-inflicted plight last spring, but it has been revealed that Connecticut is just one of 10 men's basketball teams that will be banned from next season's NCAA Tournament because of a failure to reach new academic standards.
UConn is the first school from a major conference to face a postseason ban in one of the two most prominent college sports based completely on its APR (Academic Progress Rate) score. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Cal State Bakersfield, California-Riverside, Jacksonville State, Mississippi Valley State, North Carolina-Wilmington, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Toledo and Towson will join Jim Calhoun's program on the sidelines.
Cal State Bakersfield could be eventually removed from the list because its scores are still being reviewed.
The three-time national champion Huskies are the sore thumb that sticks out of the group. Their four-year APR score of 889 is eleven points below the prerequisite benchmark, and an appeal to the NCAA for a waiver that would have allowed it to play in next year's tournament was denied. UConn could also be ruled ineligible for the Big East Tournament, forcing the conference to re- seed prior to the championship in New York City.