Never Colorful, Always Awful: Why Standardized NCAA Courts Are a Necessary Evil

The Buffalo News has a story today about the NCAA's procedure in preparing subregional courts for NCAA Tournament action. It's a whole lot of stuff you may already know about why the NCAA covers everything up in a black-and-blue color scheme, but it comes with a killer quote.
⇥"We get a 300-page manual from the NCAA that tells us how they want everything, where they want everything, what size they want everything, what color they want everything," said Ken Taylor, tournament manager and associate commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "It's really a reflection of their brand and how they want the tournament to look.⇥

⇥"They want to send a consistent message and they want to try and make it something that everybody can identify. It's not so much that they don't want different identities for different regions or arenas, but when you see the game on television, the look and the floor tells you that it must be an NCAA Tournament game."⇥

The NCAA is going on about wanting its own brand? Isn't "college basketball" enough?

Watch this clip from the NCAA Vault; it's Scottie Reynolds' buzzer-beater from last year that lifted Villanova in its Sweet Sixteen game with Pittsburgh. Do you care at all about the court? Probably not: it's the action of the game that matters.

The NCAA knows this, but its goal is translating that action into value. With the rights to televise March Madness possibly up for open bidding after this year, putting on a less diverse product makes selling to narrow-minded advertisers easier and less dangerous. Who wants individualized personalities from different regions of the country to seep into a highly corporate product? Isn't assuming the world is populated with nothing but stereotypes pretty much accurate?

It's not hard to find dissent for the move towards boring online. But reading about Dayton officials' willingness to accede to the NCAA's requests and keep the spigot open and the money flowing shows that those who have an in aren't going to whine too loudly.

Add the boring court elements to the NCAA's ongoing push to use football stadiums for the Final Four, and it's clear that exchanging the personality and atmosphere of smaller or more traditional college sports venues for bigger and bigger bushels of cash isn't going to end soon. Following the money almost always leads to bigger, shinier and more corporate versions of everything; one needs only to look at the NFL for proof that it's a profitable move in sports.

The corporate branding isn't as necessary for the NCAA Tournament, though. While the NFL has risen by making football as colorless as possible, the NCAA relies on the upsets and drama of March to draw viewers, and those can happen on any court. Plastering courts with NCAA logos has everything to do with making ever more money from advertisers and broadcasters and nothing to do with the contests themselves. (And I would bet on standard NCAA floors leading to NCAA-sold ad spaces in the future.) This is all about money.

In a way, that's good: the games remain the same. But when even the song is changing, we need to accept that nothing else is sacred.

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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