Can You Name a UConn Starter? A Look Into College Football’s Future

The brackets for the NCAA tournament were released on Sunday. About them, how many college basketball games did you watch this season?

UConn is billed as the prohibitive favorite to win it all. How many UConn games did you watch, or for that matter, how many UConn starters can you name? Tick tock, tick tock…

That most reading this likely can’t name a starter isn’t a comment or insult on the readers as much as it’s a look into the future not just of college basketball, but also college football. Think about it.

Long ago, 1985 to be exact, the NCAA expanded the college basketball tournament to 64 teams. No doubt three weekends worth of tournament games added substantial excitement to the sport, but plainly at the expense of the regular season.

To see why, consider Dean Smith, the late and legendary University of North Carolina (UNC) coach. His first championship at UNC came in 1982. To this day it’s easy to remember all five starters on that team, and not because Michael Jordan was one of them. While he hit the winning shot in 1982, James Worthy and Sam Perkins were the stars. The other starters were Jimmy Black and Matt Dougherty. Jordan didn’t even rate the Sports Illustrated cover (as the others did) ahead of the 1981-82 season that UNC began as the #1 team.

The main thing is that back then college basketball fans knew the players. Very well. They did at least somewhat because before 1985, making the tournament wasn’t anywhere close to a sure thing. The regular season mattered carried with it greater importance. 

Nowadays, what’s the point of watching the regular season? Some conferences send as many as ten teams to the tournament. Since the season essentially begins in mid-March, wins and losses before then don’t matter as much.

It’s something to remember as college football expands to a twelve-team playoff next season. Three weekends worth of games await in order to win the national title. To some it may sound exciting, but everything is once again a tradeoff. The playoffs will occur at the expense of trampling on the glorious tradition of January 1 bowl games, followed by endless debates for days, years, decades and centuries about who was #1. Only for it to get worse.

In the days of rankings and end-of-season bowl games, every game mattered. Precisely because one bad game or loss could diminish one’s ranking going into January 1st, fans watched their teams closely every weekend. With good reason. Everything mattered.

This will no longer be true as college football takes on NFL qualities. A twelve-team playoff will naturally diminish the regular season as two, and realistically three-loss teams make the playoff. To deny this reality amounts to willful blindness.

Which brings us back to whether or not readers can name UConn’s starters. Maybe they will be able to after this weekend, and certainly many more will if UConn wins it all again. At the same time, how deflating. Fans have greatly reduced incentives to watch during the regular season. And then what of the brackets some will fill out before midday today? Have they seen play any of the teams they’ll be picking to win or lose? Why would they?

To which some will say that college basketball’s popularity outlasted the 64-team playoff. No doubt that’s true, but the powers-that-be in the sport still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In instituting a one-and-done system for the game’s stars, they ensured fan apathy, a lack of knowledge of starters, or both. Really, why spend time growing attached to players who, if they’re good, will be gone at season’s end? Looking back to the ’81-’82 UNC team, Sam Perkins was a three-time All American before turning pro after his senior year, and James Worthy went #1 in the 1982 draft after three years at UNC. Jordan was picked right before Perkins in the 1984 draft, after three years at UNC.

Continuity on teams drove fan interest. Now they just come and go. It’s not just a diminished regular season that has caused fans to tune out teams, so has one and done.

Keep the above in mind as the “transfer portal” becomes the norm in college football. It’s one-and-done, college football edition. Combine a playoff-diminished regular season with rosters full of hired guns that change profoundly each season, and soon enough fans won’t be able to name most starters on the best college football teams. Bank on it.

The unoriginal will say college football has made a business decision. As always, all decisions are business decisions. College football has made a bad one, and soon enough we’ll be wondering who plays for teams we don’t watch, if at all, until late December or early January.

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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