Published January 13, 2015
With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, and the accompanying majesty of that event, eventually, you'll hear how much better the college game is than the pros.
"The college game is so much better."
"College kids play harder."
"The college game is so much purer than the pros."
You've all heard a variation of these sometime. You probably agree with one of these premises, based on my interactions.
You're all nuts.
In no way, should anyone interpret this stance as a knock on the NCAA Tournament. It is, by miles, the best sporting event in the United States, maybe the world, and certainly the best basketball event.
The magic of the tournament lies in the potential for upset. Harvard had never won a game in the Big Dance, then knocked off a trendy pick in New Mexico, which, honestly, no one east of the mountain time zone saw unless he or she worked graveyard shift somewhere.
Gonzaga nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 when Southern gave the Zags all they could handle. No. 15 seeds have fallen to No. 2 seeds. Villanova stunned the world back in 1985, winning the whole thing as a No. 8 seed.
The glee of watching David sling Goliath means more than anything. Your office pools also help the magic of the tournament.
If you had a single-game elimination tournament to determine the NBA champion, you'd love that, too. If you had a single-game elimination tournament to determine the best car salesman, it would be more intriguing than not.
Anyone ever heard of people complaining about the lack of a tournament in college football? Must have been just me.
But day-to-day, season-to-season, what exactly makes college basketball better?
One argument is how hard the kids play. They certainly do, but this notion that NBA players don't play hard alludes me.
Watch Kenneth Faried play for the Denver Nuggets and tell me NBA players don't give their all. Watch Thaddeus Young for the Philadelphia 76ers. We could rattle off a list of NBA players who give their all, including, by the way, superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
Do you think the Miami Heat don't care about their 24-game winning streak right now? Do you know how it easy it would be for the Heat to take games off because they've essentially wrapped up the best record in the Eastern Conference? They overcame a 27-point, third-quarter deficit on Wednesday night. You think they did that without a little effort?
You can take a sample size of college basketball players who give their all. That same sample size in the NBA would fit the description as well.
"The fundamentals are better."
Why? How? Teams like the old Princeton squads would run crisp back cuts to free players up. That was beautiful to watch, and, yes, the NBA is primarily isolation basketball, of which, I'm no fan.
But several players make crucial, fundamental mistakes in college basketball. That happens at every level.
Know what I saw a lot of on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament? I saw a almost every team jack up numerous 3-pointers. Every guy on every college team can shoot the long ball.
Michigan and South Dakota State jacked up a combined 39 3-point attempts on Thursday. They made 13 of them. Is that pure? Is that fundamental? What makes it so great to watch everyone shoot 3-pointers? Isn't athleticism and execution better than watching long-range, poor jump shooting?
Could one argue then that the college athlete is not as mature, or physically able as their professional counterparts? That makes perfect sense to me and shouldn't be used in an argument against the pros.
How many times do you hear an NFL coach say the speed of the game or the speed of the players in the league is so much different than in college? It's true, yet no one makes a big stink about how much harder college football kids play, or how much better that product is than the NFL.
What it boils down to, in this humble servant's opinion, is that people are still, and always will be, uncomfortable with the amount of money the professional basketball player makes.
Of course, you should be. It's appalling that these guys make obscene amounts of money when teachers, military and police officers make grotesquely less. No one likes mentioning that we, the commoner and consumer, pay these athletes' salaries by attending games and buying merchandise, but the complaining about pay scales is just silly anymore.
Lamenting the salaries of pro athletes is like being against the moon. The moon isn't going anywhere, and neither are those huge paychecks. Move past it. It's reality now. Economic principals evolve through time.
And, if you want to be a stickler about things, the NCAA isn't poor. The NCAA is in the middle of an $11 billion agreement just with CBS and Turner Sports for the TV rights of the tournament.
Think Capital One and Alec Baldwin or Charles Barkley are doing ads out of kindness? They are paying for that and huge sums.
The players, of course, they don't see a dime. Yes, they get an education and that's nothing to sneeze at, but honestly, they don't utilize that incredible gift to its maximum.
And that leads to another problem "purists" might have - they hate that kids leave early. They'll blame the NBA for instituting its age limit and that decision ruined college basketball.
Heaven forbid we put some level of blame on players who decide to leave early, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. Or could we blame coaches, like Kentucky's John Calipari who openly welcome kids who will spend one year with the program.
No, it's the NBA's fault, even though, the NBA is not responsible for the well-being of college basketball.
A college student's responsibility to do what's best for him and his life. If the God-given talent and work ethic make it so that the NBA is a realistic goal, why bash a kid for reaching that goal as early as possible? It's as if there's a stigma attached to leaving school early. You don't need a degree to play professional basketball.
You also don't need a degree to play principal cello in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or to play the smart-aleck neighbor named Trip on some Disney Junior sitcom.
Those decisions aren't met with the same venom as a kid leaving school early to play professional basketball.
Next time you watch both a college game and an NBA game, do so with a slightly more open mind. You won't be disappointed in the effort of the pros, and you might wonder about the state of the fundamentals in the college game.
There's nothing wrong with loving collegiate athletics. I love college basketball, but I don't do at the expense of faster, stronger, better athletes.