Shades of Mediocrity

Mar 18, 2013 by

What resonates more to you, a competitive match between two underwhelming teams with similar talent flailing against each other until the final buzzer sounds, or watching a game with the sport’s elite players?

As a sports fan, casual or otherwise, you will eventually find yourself seated at a bar debating friends and complete strangers over the better game to watch – the NBA or NCAA.  After a few beers, the argument will boil down to just a few rehashed points.

First we have the pro NBA person, probably outfitted in their favorite NBA player’s authentic jersey while wearing a disgraceful graphically marked-up team hat.  He will go on and on about skill and athleticism of professional players.  “It’s about the players not the coaches”, he states empathically, “As it should be!”  Then, before ordering another drink, pro NBA guy tends to rest his case on the NBA playoffs, “It’s so exciting!”

On the other barstool sits college hoops guy, wearing a hoodie of a school he never attended.  (This is more a less any diehard UNC fan)  His1 argument is both subjective and passionate.  He is more inclined to begin in attack mode by throwing out phrases showing disdain for the NBA.  Examples are as follows – “No defense” “It’s boring to watch” or “Players go through the motions during the regular season.”  Nine times out of ten, he ends the segment with blanket statements on a financial note, saying something to the extent of “being overpaid.”  Then after those missiles are launched, we get to the atmospheric elements of college hoops.   A sudden switch occurs and we witness the transformation from critic to college admissions sales pitch.  He speaks about the overt enthusiasm on campus leading up to a big game.  He paints a picture of under grads spending days in tents outside the gymnasium with the hopes of scoring tickets.  He expounds on the student section cheering the team while in full school colors.  He then segues to the NCAA Tournament by stating it’s simply the best sporting event out there.  Finally, college guy finishes up with some bullshit about the student-athlete playing for the love of the game and nothing more.

After college hoops guy concludes his superfluous and hyperbolic rant, NBA guys returns with some final rhetoric of his own.  He throws out his tried and true desperate sounding talking points: Dean Smith stifled the NBA’s greatest scorer with conservative play calling and it’s unfathomable to think at any point in existence there has been a number one ranked college team capable of beating an NBA bottom dwellers.

The debate ends with the ever popular passive aggressive, “I guess we will have to agree to disagree.”  Together they stare off up towards the television mounted above the bar and continue to drink their beers.

These debates (arguments) are enjoyable for most, including myself.  However, I do not intend to make this piece about the NBA versus the NCAA, we all have our own unique preferences (agree to disagree).  I’m more interested in answering a question I have about the current state of both the NBA and college game.

In the case of the game itself, are we as sports fans more likely to continue watching even if the quality is significantly less than prior years?  If you answered no, what if the trend continues each year, will you still tune in as much?

Let’s face it, both the NBA and NCAA Men’s Division I basketball have witnessed a drop in overall quality.  The NBA drop came in the years after Michael Jordan’s second retirement with the Chicago Bulls.  The quality has only finally started trending upwards again in the last five years.  In contrast, the college game is going through a period of middling play and scarce talent.

The NBA’s journey to producing a watered down product was mostly due to over expansion.  The ABA-NBA merger2 in the mid 70’s sending a handful of franchises over to the NBA coupled with seven additional teams added through league expansion since 1980 has greatly reduced the premise that only the elite make a living playing basketball.  Expansion dispersed the talent throughout the league leaving more sub-standard teams than one would wish.  The days of three, possibly four, potential hall of famers on one team are long gone.  The top teams of today are considered lucky to even have one, maybe two, all-star caliber players.

I never thought parity would be prevalent within the landscape of college basketball.  Now I am beginning to wonder if it will become the norm.  If storied basketball powerhouse programs such as Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina continue to land top recruits only to lose those players after a year or two, I believe we will see most seasons resemble what’s occurring this year.  No more two or three programs vying for an NCAA Championship; instead twenty teams all possess a legitimate chance to hang a banner.  When the Kentuckys and Carolinas of the world need to regroup after the majority of their players bolt to the NBA, you will see such programs go through the inconsistencies of success through rebuilding from year to year thus opening up the flood gates for programs traditionally not amongst those we expect to see playing in late March.  Those programs will contend nationally while made up of solid but not highly regarded players out of high school willing to stay for four years.   It’s becoming the norm with the likes of Butler landing in back to back finals; it’s only a matter of time before one of these programs wins the whole thing.

Gonzaga ends the 2013 regular season ranked number one in the country.  Welcome to a new era of college basketball.

When the smoke clears we are left with parity.  Parity from the outside looking in seems like a novel situation.  I should just welcome parity with open arms.  Seems to work out just fine in the NFL, but I just can’t accept it.  It sends out a false representation of why we tune in to both professional and the upper echelon of college athletics in the first place.   Too many teams on equal ground becomes messy and too much to keep up with.  There are no longer any defined villains.  I like the consistency of knowing throughout each season I have just the same handful teams hanging around at the end of post season to root against.   Isn’t that the sole reason for Duke’s existence?

Parity will be the death of sports story telling and worthwhile debates.  In the film, Coming to America, we all remember the debate in the barber shop over the greatest boxer of all time.  That scene will eventually become dated.  Not because of the actual conversation but because of the small amount of boxers who could be in such a conversation.  (That and they were taking about boxing in the first place will seem unusual to future generations.)

Anyone up for watching a documentary about the 2011 Dallas Mavericks?

What sports memories are ingrained in your conscience?  Could it be Michael Jordan’s journey to six NBA titles or Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban sharing a cigar after putting the newly assembled Miami Heat to bed for a championship of their own?  Will you tell the tales to a younger generation years from now about the Dallas team from the summer of 2011 or of MJ’s long reign of supremacy?

Today it became official the word dynasty has been officially removed from the sports dictionary.

Do we buy into parity?

I’m sure some sports fans have no issue with parity.  All I know is we like what we like and nothing will deter us from consuming our coveted sports entertainment.  No matter if it means compromising a drop in quality.  What’s the alternative anyway?  Changing our allegiances to the sports we have always consumed?

Maybe Paul Simon knew something……

“I’m older than I once was
And younger than I’ll be
That’s not unusual
Nor is it strange
After changes after changes
We are more or less the same”

Enjoy the 2013 NCAA Tournament, whose new tagline should read “Where all 64 teams have a chance!”,  it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.  Actually, it probably won’t be all that interesting at all.  Welcome to parity.




  1. The word his was used by design.  Women do not bother with trivial sports debates often are left with no true outcome.  Most of my sports related heated exchanges with friends typically end this way followed by a round of shots.
  2. They ABA played its final season in 1976.  After the merger was complete, four ABA franchises were added to the NBA.  They are as follows: Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and the New York Nets.The ABA was labeled the “outlaw” league.  I believe most of their players were referred by their nicknames rather than birth names. The league was the first to implement the 3-point line, hold dunk contests during their all star game festivities, and of course used the red, white, and blue Spaulding basketball.  The official game ball died with the league and was never to see the light of day in the NBA.
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  1. The college hoops schedule is light this week because of final exams. (For once, we in the over-40 crowd can crow to the under-20 gang that we have it better.) So I figured this was a good time to administer my own little exam, Hoop Thoughts-style.

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