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May Madness? Examining A Shift In The College Basketball Season

The college basketball season lasts about four and a half months, but people don't begin to pay attention until the last six weeks or so. Would it benefit the sport to move the entire schedule back a couple of months?

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The calendar is perched precariously close to March. While there is plenty of talk to go around regarding the NFL Combine, the NBA All-Star Game and the Daytona 500, March truly means just one thing: March Madness. This is both a blessing and a curse for the sport of college basketball. No other sport gets essentially a month named after it, and that's a good thing; the bad: the casual sports fan only actually started paying attention to college basketball a week or two ago.

Now, in some way, this is fair. A good month to six weeks of college basketball might be all this country really cares to ingest.

But would it behoove us to find out if that's true?

After all, the season itself has been going on for three and a half months now. If given the opportunity, with less competition for eyeballs, would the country happily take in a little more college hoops?

At the beginning of February, The Daily's Dan Wolken wrote the following:

College basketball has essentially become a six-week sport. In the big picture, it might as well not even exist before the Super Bowl. So why not change? Football owns the winter, but college basketball can own the spring.

March Madness is great, but you know what would be even better? May Madness — a 4½-month season, starting around New Year’s and ending just before the NBA playoffs take center stage.

My initial response to this was simple: no way in hell. Why would CBS, the NCAA, or anybody else associated with the perfect spectacle that is March Madness, voluntarily move it to a different time? Even if they could potentially earn more television revenue before the post season with a friendlier schedule, you just don't take a risk that large.

Still, it's an interesting idea, one worth simulating to some degree. So that's what we're going to do. Let's push the entire college basketball season back eight weeks and see what happens. Why eight? Because that would mean the NCAA Tournament play-in games take place on May 9, and the NCAA Finals would occur on May 28, the weekend of Memorial Day. You might impinge on quite a few Finals Weeks and graduations with this schedule, but this is already an issue at play with NCAA baseball and softball. It is not incredibly practical, but if it's workable for the diamond sports, it is more than doable here.

Jan. 2: The season officially opens up with the Coaches vs Cancer Classic (Arizona-Valparaiso, St. John's-William & Mary).

Jan. 6-7: The season begins in earnest, with 186 games taking place over two days. No. 1 North Carolina defeats Michigan State on an aircraft carrier, and we're off and running. This does interfere with a small handful of bowl games, but most of them are complete already. And, obviously, the schedule would be structured so as not to interfere with the Jan. 9 BCS Championship Game.

Jan. 10: No. 2 Kentucky beats No. 11 Kansas in New York, and No. 3 Ohio State knocks off No. 8 Florida on the day after football's national title game. Not bad.

Jan. 17: No. 21 Missouri obliterates No. 18 California in a 92-53 statement win in the Progressive CBE Classic in Kansas City, while No. 6 Duke (over No. 15 Michigan) and No. 14 Kansas (over UCLA) advance to the Maui Invitational finals, which Duke wins the next night.

Jan. 19: UNLV takes out No. 1 North Carolina in Las Vegas.

Jan. 24: No. 2 Ohio State beats No. 4 Duke by 22 points in Columbus.

Jan. 25: No. 5 North Carolina beats No. 7 Wisconsin.

Jan. 27-28: No. 3 Syracuse beats No. 9 Florida by four, and No. 6 Louisville takes out No. 19 Vanderbilt in an overtime thriller on Friday night; then No. 1 Kentucky takes out No. 5 North Carolina by one, and No. 16 Marquette beats No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Feb. 4: The Saturday before the Super Bowl is incredible. Indiana wins an early game-of-the-year candidate, beating No. 1 Kentucky via last-second 3-pointer, while No. 13 Kansas tops No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 8 Xavier gets into a nasty brawl with Cincinnati.

(Here's where the schedule gets a little odd; with most schools scheduling around Finals Week in mid-December, there were no interesting Monday night games of which to speak. With this new arrangement, however, the schedule would likely be loaded. The same goes for the next few weeks, actually, with Christmas coming into play. For most of the last half of December, big-time college basketball disappears. With no holiday/finals around which to schedule, there would probably be more of a slow drip of interesting matchups. This could be a problem; right now, there is a large drain of sports in February, and college basketball at least begins to fill the void. Depending on how schedules are filled out, there might actually be less interesting basketball in February in this May Madness world than in reality.)

Feb. 25: Barring any major scheduling shifts, conference play begins for some. No. 15 Indiana knocks off No. 2 Ohio State to kick off Big Ten play, while No. 3 Kentucky holds off No. 4 Louisville in a marquee non-conference matchup that, in this new world, would have probably taken place a week or two earlier.

April 28: The final week of conference play for major conferences comes to an end. Instead of the NFL playoffs, the college football postseason and smaller things like the beginning of NASCAR season (the NFL playoffs are an obstacle in both reality and alternate reality), the meat of the college basketball regular season has had to go up against the following:

  • NFL Playoffs (This will be an obstacle no matter what, though. Since it mostly takes place on Sunday, it isn't a terrible issue.)
  • The start of baseball season
  • The Masters
  • The home stretch of the NBA and NHL regular seasons

The NBA Playoffs begin on April 28, and the NHL playoffs begin the week after. Obviously, these playoffs do not feature the same all-day action as the NCAA Tournament, but it would certainly impact viewership of some of the major conference tournaments, which would be taking place between May 1-5.

May 6: Selection Sunday.

May 10: The Round of 64 begins. Here is where we run into the single biggest obstacle for the whole May Madness concept: for basically 10 days in May (two days each for the first four rounds, plus a day each for the Final Four and finals), the NBA playoffs have extreme competition in the form of all-day (or most-day) NCAA Tournament action. Even though we are still talking about just the early rounds of the NBA playoffs (and let's face it, the NBA playoffs last about six months), one would have to figure the NBA would not take kindly to this. Not that this ever was really a realistic plan, but the NCAA does not particularly a habit out of going against the NBA's wishes.

Putting aside the issue of the NBA putting its foot down, however, the May Madness idea doesn't necessarily result in a more favorable situation for college hoops. First, the sport does not do as well in filling the February Void that follows the Super Bowl.

Plus, the most high-impact games later in the regular season would see at least some of their viewers siphoned off by baseball and high-impact NBA or NHL games. Having the NCAA Tournament in May, along with most Championship Week conference tournaments near the end of April, would probably work just fine in terms of interest and viewership, but there probably wouldn't be enough regular-season payoff to make a move worth the risk of both changing a known winner (March Madness) and ticking off the NBA.