The college basketball season has wrapped up, and the beloved Florida Gators have won another championship. I’m sure all of the University of Miami reveled in seeing a rematch of the BCS Championship Game, and getting to choose between UF and The Ohio State University.
After watching this excruciating tournament, however, one conclusion must be drawn: basketball schools just aren’t what they used to be.
In the old days, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina dominated the hardwood, while OSU, UF and Texas stuck to the gridiron. But the dirty little secret is out; it’s much easier for a football school to buy a basketball program than a basketball school to buy a football program.
Just look at the modern day landscape. Hoop havens Duke and Kentucky barely deserve to be Division-I football schools, but USC and Tennessee, pigskin powerhouses, have built themselves into title contenders in basketball. Why is this so? Why can’t this work both ways? The simple answer: basic economics.
A football program features over 50 players, a cadre of coaches, large expanses of practice fields and a huge on-campus facility. It takes a lot of money. But if you can make it work, it’s a goldmine.
Basketball is different. No more than 15 players on a team, a handful of assistant coaches, and a small venue can make things work. That’s why mid-majors have been able to find success in basketball, and can’t even come close in football.
Now that the secret is out, every Division-I school with a war chest overflowing with football dollars is rushing to build basketball facilities and hire top-tier coaches. After all, money is no object when you’re raking in BCS bowl dollars.
While this is great for schools like UF and Ohio State, it’s not so great for smaller schools. Slowly, major basketball programs like Kentucky and Indiana are being marginalized, lacking the funding needed to keep up. It creates a two-tier system amongst even the largest of universities. If the bigger schools can’t keep up, where does that leave basketball’s mid-majors, just beginning to thrive in the modern era?
The ultimate test of the old guard’s power will come this off-season when Kentucky will attempt to lure UF’s Billy Donovan to Rupp Arena. Will the prestige still have the power? Or will Donovan be kept around to continue developing his program in Gainesville, Fla.?
Of course, these recent developments lead many ‘Canes fan to ask a simple question: Why can’t basketball success be found here? That’s pretty simple too. College basketball does not flourish in South Florida. People don’t go to games (UM has-by far-the worst home attendance in the ACC), and people don’t watch on TV (Miami routinely has the lowest Nielsen ratings of any major market when it comes to college hoops). Not to mention a lack of focus by the athletic administration on the game in past years.
The athletic department does deserve some credit, as there are now plans to build a 10,000-square-foot basketball practice facility on campus. But this is only a first step. Other schools have proved that football and basketball success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s time for the ‘Canes to step up, and find a way to properly fund a basketball program.
Matthew Bunch may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.