I’ve been pimping Mark Titus’ work for several years, first when he was with Grantland and now that he and many Grantlanders have resurfaced at The Ringer. Even on the rare day when I’m not super interested in the subject of his articles, I’ll at least skim them.
That was the case with his piece last week about the woeful state of Big 10 basketball. And I’m glad I skimmed it, because there were two fantastic nuggets in it.
If either Indiana or Purdue was playing when I was growing up, my ass was in front of a TV watching. And if those teams weren’t playing, my ass was still in front of a TV, probably watching some other Big Ten game.
Man do I love the ubiquity of college basketball on cable TV these days. There’s the ESPN tier of channels. There are the two national Fox sports networks. The regional FSNs. The Big 10 Network. And the NBC and CBS sports networks. Some nights I can choose from an many as ten games at a time to find a good one to watch. On weekends CBS, Fox, and a couple local channels add even more options. And if, on rare occasions, a game isn’t on a national feed, I can usually find it on the Watch ESPN app. Football might be king, but you can’t complain about how much airtime is devoted to college basketball games.
But as I read that passage in Titus’ piece, it made me think back to my childhood, when my ass was in front of the TV watching Big 8 basketball. When I was really young, I remember the Big 8 network sometimes showing just one game every Saturday. Other times they would have a double-header, but even then half the teams in the conference did not have their games televised. If KU wasn’t picked that weekend, I turned the TV volume down, pulled my radio next to me, and listened to the KU game while I watched Colorado and Oklahoma play. The national networks would often carry a game each afternoon, but that was it. You had to wait for the 10 o’clock news or the Sunday sports page to find out how teams around the country did.
I’m not arguing things were better then. They are way better today. But I wonder if we didn’t have a little more love for our home teams back then. You see more IU, Purdue, and Butler gear on kids than any other school around here. But there are still a lot of kids who are rocking Kentucky, Duke, and Carolina gear. And I bet that number is way higher that it was 30 years ago. If a kid in Indianapolis or Kansas City was a Duke fan 30 years ago, it was likely because someone in his family went there. Now it’s because he’s seen Duke twice a week his entire life. The broader reach of college basketball has weakened the lure that the home team has on kids.
Then there was this line:
I can’t think of anything that’s dumber in college sports than conference pride…Just cheer for your own team, and when it gets eliminated from national title contention, try behaving like a normal human being would: Hope that every gym in the country is burned to the ground before a champion can be crowned.
Even if the conference doing well independently of KU makes the Jayhawks’ dominance of the conference look better, I still want every Big 12 team losing one round before KU does. I didn’t get all warm and fuzzy when Oklahoma made it to the Final Four last year. I was depressed that KU came up one game short. If KU goes out of the tournament and I decide to keep watching games, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of the Big 12 teams that are still alive. I’ll wish them luck, but I’m not getting all worked up about them winning and yelling “BIG TWELVE FOOLSSSSSS!” at Big 10 fans around the neighborhood.
Besides, Titus is right. I’m more focused on making sure basketball as we know it ends a fiery death than spending time hoping that Iowa State carries the Big 12 banner well.
- “Hello everybody, along with former Big 8 All-American Gary Thompson, I’m Jay Randolph.” ↩