March Madness is still exciting, but college basketball ain't what it used to be

In 2005, in the last NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league gave a boost to the college ranks by essentially banning players (like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady) from going from preps to the pros, by saying that nobody under the age of 19 would be allowed to be drafted, and must wait at least one year until after their high school class graduates.


If anything, it's been a tease for college basketball fans, who can quickly get a glimpse of future stars like Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, who now put in one years time before heading straight for the big money in the NBA.


This has led to some critics (like Dick Vitale and Bobby Knight) charging that the rule is making a mockery of the college game.


Sure, there are players like the Chicago Bulls Joakim Noah, who was the exception to this trend when he stuck around in Gainsville in 2007 and led the University of Florida to back to back NCAA Championships, but he seems to be the exception that proves the rule.


The narrative on how the college game became popular frequently references the 1979 Michigan State-Indiana State game that featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.  I contend however that it really took off in 1982, when CBS took over the tournament.


That was the year that the North Carolina team with Michael Jordan as a freshman beat Freddie Brown and Georgetown.  It was followed up by the miraculous North Carolina State led by Jim Valvano shocking Houston, and really took off in 1985, when the Big East dominated with the classic Chris Mullin/Patrick Ewing duels between their St. John's and Georgetown teams was a driving story, though of course Georgetown was later stunned by Villanova in one of the great games of all time.  The hits kept on coming after that, such as Rumeal Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines won in overtime in 1989.


In 1991 was another epic game in the Final Four, when Duke beat what was considered one of the great college teams of all time in beating the seemingly unstoppable Running Rebels of UNLV, led by Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacy Augmon.


Then you had Duke/Kentucky and the Christian Laettner last second basket, and Chris Webber's errant time-out in 1993, all veritable classics.


But can you honestly say any games of the past decade equal that excitement or intensity? I say not.


And don't get me started on how long it takes to watch the last few minutes of one of these games.  Seriously, the television time outs at the end of these games try their best to suck the drama out of the closest of battles.


As a basketball fan, I'm much more into the NBA, and especially when their playoffs begin next month.  So yeah, I'll be watching the games like many of you will be over the next three weekends, and am sure will see some good games.  But let's stop buying into how it's the greatest sporting event of the year.  It used to be.  It isn't any longer.

Today begins the second day of the NCAA's Basketball Tournament, with games beginning at noon and going past midnight.  It's the most intense weekend of activity in the three week tourney, which will climax on Monday, April 4 from Indianapolis.  Yesterday's opening day of 16 games was filled with thrills and suprises, and was a notable upgrade from last season's opening day.

Although the ratings and the hype (helped by our commander in chief being a big hoops fan who filled out his 64 team bracket on ESPN earlier this week) are greater than ever, college basketball is not nearly as good as it was in its heyday, which I consider to be all of the 1980's going up until the late 90's, when St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field was host to an electrifying upset by UConn over a much heralded Duke team filled with future NBA stars.

Why do I contend this is the case?  Forget about the fact that many experts will tell you that this is a particularly weak field over all; it's that because of the fact that the best basketball players rarely stay in school longer than two years now before going pro.

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