Probably my least favorite aspect of College Basketball is its tendency to take itself too seriously. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons why pundits, coaches, fans, often treat the sport so sanctimoniously, but I would guess it has to do with some combination of the NCAA, however misguidedly, positioning itself as the anti-NBA; the breezy feel goodiness of Cinderella Sweet Sixteens; and the fact that college basketballs’ past and present are still so intimately intertwined. That last point is a particularly pertinent one because, though it’s largely notional, it cuts to the crux of the reason. There is little that separates what has happened and what is happening in college hoops. The teams that were relevant a century ago are still relevant now. The games’ best coaches can trace their lineage to not just Smith but Naismith. The sport’s most celebrated stadiums are often its oldest venues. Consequently while the culture at large has shifted, the culture of college basketball often has not. Old sages are still listened to a tad too intently, to the fan base’s benefit and detriment. I love John Wooden, any fan would, this blog is in many ways an homage to him, but even Bobby Knight has said he’s somberly self important. As a result college basketball tends to comport itself with the self righteous earnestness of an urban farmer’s market or suburban Trader Joe’s.
Kudos, then, to ESPN and their current “College Game Day” commercial for providing a bit of levity. The spot, featuring Bobby Knight staring down a military figurine and a dancing Digger Phelps isn’t this,
hell it isn’t even the current Comcast commercials, but it’s charming and offbeat and unassuming, much like the sport its advertising.
To be honest ESPN (and CBS), perhaps as an act of penance for unleashing Those Whose Names we Dare Not Speak unto the world, have been particularly good at covering college basketball over the years. ESPN has avoided, by and large, the sort of celebrity hires that lead me to listening to Emmitt Smith recite the USA Today box scores as a form of “analysis” on Sunday mornings. And the few risks they have taken, Robert Montgomery Knight for one, have provided unexpected, understated improvements. There are still, without question, complaints. I’m not sure if Knight’s that funny or if Bilas is simply petrified he’s going to become the on air equivalent of Neil Reed. And there is apparently some kind of contractual obligation that states whatever one analyst you have from another conference you must have 3 from the ACC. But it’s hard to think of two more diametrically opposed coaches, in terms of program and personality, than Steve Lavin and Tom Brennan, and both have provided unique insight from a venue equally accommodating. I realize the reality that I just referred to Steve Lavin as insightful has all 2 readers of this blog clamoring to join my March Madness pool. Fuck it. Point is, for college hoops fans that watch the season sometime before March a bit of buoyancy, in tandem with why a mid-January Missouri win means they could upset in the first round, is all I ask. Is it terrifying that I’m essentially asking for Digger Phelps? Yes. But dude can dance.