College Basketball's Opening Week Stinks! (But It Doesn't Have To)

It's finally college basketball season, but why does it feel like no one cares or is paying attention?

Probably because it's hard to tell that it actually is college basketball season. You can thank a slow early slate that's featured two great games and six blowouts for that.

Back at the beginning of the calendar year, I listed some changes for the overall season schedule over as part of SB Nation's "Decade of Change" series. During the offseason of 2009, I shared some other ideas. Yet, I didn't talk much about how college basketball begins its season in either of these posts.

However, this week has made me--and other more esteemed writers around the Internet--say "Enough!"

After the jump, I'll share a variety of ideas that could finally give college basketball an actual Opening Day or Week again.

Rob Dauster over at Ballin' is a Habit proposes that early season tournaments, like the Coaches vs. Cancer event that provided all eight of the D-I vs. D-I games on the schedule so far, should be played as an actual tournament.

However, as I pointed out in a comment, the Gazelle Group, who runs that event, along with the Legends Classic and CBE Classic, ended the traditional tournament format after St. Mary's knocked off Cal in 2004 and Gardner-Webb defeated Kentucky in 2007, depriving the event's semifinals of a marquee team.

Now, instead of having to invite 16 teams for a quartet of four-team regionals, the Gazelle Group only needs to invite eight--with the four hosts each playing two mid-majors. The mids advance to a pair of four-team "subregional" round-robins, ensuring everyone gets four games.

In short, you need a flowchart to understand the opening event of the college basketball season.

Jeff Goodman points out that the old format for the Coaches vs. Cancer event--two doubleheaders featuring a total of eight heavy hitters--doesn't work anymore because teams want four games in an event instead of one, thanks to the abolition of the two-in-four rule back in 2006. Plus, the only reason we actually had eight games on Monday and Wednesday was because of the Coaches vs. Cancer event's TV deal.

Now teams can play in an exempt tournament every season, instead of participating in a pair of events in a four-year period. This has led to an explosion of events with formats ranging from the traditional (Maui, the six ESPN events) to the convoluted (the three Gazelle events) to downright messy (the Hall of Fame Tip-Off).

My former SB Nation cohort Eamonn Brennan briefly hits on a couple of ideas that deserve greater discussion at ESPN.com--the Tip-Off Marathon and a (half-joking) round-robin of the previous season's Elite Eight teams. While over at Yahoo, Jeff Eisenberg has some similar thoughts, namely making the Marathon the official Opening Day of the season, moving a marquee tournament to be the lead-off event, or creating something new, like a "First Four."

That's a lot of food for thought, but what can actually be done considering the constraints college basketball has to work within (the two-in-four rule, start date issues, football's dominance on November Saturdays)?

I have three simple ideas that just might help.

Did you notice that bit in Goodman's post about the Coaches vs. Cancer event's start date being grandfathered in? Did you also see the long, but "meh" slate of games on Friday? This leads me to idea 1, let's put emphasize the 2nd Friday in November as college basketball's official Opening Day, since it already is. This works better than the following Saturday, since hoops doesn't have to fight with football for airtime.

Now that we've established an actual start date, let's get some attractive matchups on the slate. My solution is to move the Tip-Off Marathon to this opening Friday from the following Tuesday. Start it at midnight and end it 24-hours (or more) later, just in time for football to take over.

My first reason for proposing this move is a selfish one, it's a lot better to take a Friday off than a day in the middle of the week. Let's make Opening Day the start of an unofficial three-day weekend (four if you get Veterans'/Remembrance Day off). The second, well it helps the event actually tip-off the season.

If you want, keep the Coaches vs. Cancer in place to provide a soft open for us real junkies. Trust me, we won't complain.

Finally, do you remember the Elite Great Eight festival? (Thanks, Cornell Basketball Blog for reminding me of the actual name.) It was two nights of doubleheaders, typically played in Chicago, featuring the previous season's Regional Finalists (or suitable substitutes). That event met the same end as Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheaders, since teams simply didn't want to play a single neutral site game. So, let's combine the Great Eight and exempt event concepts. Simply divide the teams into two four-team round-robin groups. That takes care of three games. For the fourth, have the top teams in each pool play for the title, 2nd place teams meet for third, and so on.

This season, you'd have one pool with Duke, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Kansas State, and another featuring Butler, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Baylor.

Now, this solution isn't quite so simple, as it would require a change in NCAA rules to allow a team who makes the Elite Eight in consecutive years to play in the same tournament more than once in a four-year period. The NCAA would also need to allow more than one team from each conference to participate in the same exempt event. But a pair of minor adjustments would make this idea simple to introduce.

You can solve the first issue by rotating the "Great Eight" concept around the country. Have the Maui Invitational host it one year, then have it in Orlando the next. In year three, move it up to the Great Alaska Shootout. This would be a great way to get teams to visit a wide variety of locations, while giving each event a guaranteed marquee field every few seasons.

To solve the second issue, keep the conference cap, but have the organizers move through the tournament field to get the top finisher from eight different conferences. Here's how this approach to the Great Eight field would look for 2010:

  • Duke (ACC: National Champion)
  • Butler (Horizon: National Runner-Up)
  • Michigan State (Big Ten: National Semifinals)
  • West Virginia (Big East: National Semifinals)
  • Kentucky (SEC: Regional Final, higher seed than Tennessee)
  • Kansas State (Big 12: Regional Final, higher seed than Baylor)
  • Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley: Regional Semifinal)
  • Washington (Pac-10: Regional Semifinal)--Cornell, St. Mary's, and Xavier would also be options for the final spot.

That doesn't even look too different than the typical exempt-event field, six major conference teams and two mid-majors. It's even possible to have three or four non-Big Six teams in the field with withdrawals.

So, there you have it, three plans to get college basketball into the national consciousness before football season ends. I'm interested to read your own thoughts and ideas in the comments.

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