Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bowl season > March Madness

March is the month of the year when seemingly everyone takes a sudden interest in college basketball.  The most casual of fans, and even non-fans, fill out a bracket--all 11.6 million of us on alone, not counting bracket contests on, Yahoo and other outlets.  Yet, for all of the interest and chatter about March Madness, it still pales to the power of college football.

A recent article in the New York Times by Richard Sandomir reinforced the fan following of college football, even during a viewing period that seems pale in comparison to the drama we've witnessed over the past two weekends on CBS and the family of Turner stations.

No college football bowl game among the 38 broadcast by ESPN this past December-January achieved less than 1.1 million viewers.  In comparison, nine early-round tournament games had less than that figure with Arizona-Texas Southern drawing slightly north of 500,000 viewers.

I've had many a discussion with friends and those in the business about the glut of college football bowl games but, guess what--people are watching.  Iowa versus Tennessee drew 4.1 million viewers for the TaxSlayer Bowl; Iowa's two primetime NCAA tournament games averaged a little more than 2 million viewers.  Wisconsin played in the Outback Bowl and netted 6.4 million viewers for that telecast; the Badgers' two victories last weekend in the tournament had 2.7 million and 3.5 million viewers.

Let's be clear--this is not an apples-to-apples comparison as all bowl games, save the Sun Bowl, are broadcast on the Worldwide Leader family of networks.  In contrast, the tournament lineup isn't destination viewing given the use of a network like truTV coupled with the lack of prior certainty about broadcast start times.  Yet, what's striking about these numbers is the affirmation of the power of college football--a sport that clearly knows the importance of the regular season and will keep broadcasting bowl games that seem to mean little, yet draw millions of eyeballs.

Take solace, though, hoops fans--last Sunday's battle for bragging rights between Kansas and Wichita State drew 9.9 million viewers.  That viewer number is the most for any tournament game heading into this Sweet 16/Elite Eight weekend.  And, Kansas, my home state with a 2.9 million population, didn't account for all of those televisions tuned to the game.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A birthday wish to Allen Fieldhouse

That place affectionally known as "the Phog" celebrated a birthday yesterday--60 seasons of winning basketball at the University of Kansas.  I place "winning" in that sentence because more than anything, the building is known as a place where Kansas wins...and other teams lose.  And, in recent decades, those other teams have lost a lot.

Consider this--in Bill Self's 12 seasons as head coach at KU, he's won 10 conference championships and has lost nine home games.  That, my friends, is sick--more conference championships than home losses.  If Kansas wins on Tuesday night against West Virginia in the Fieldhouse, it'll mark yet another undefeated home season...and another conference championship.  Only UCLA, in a major conference, has won more (13) consecutive conference championships.

The notable moments are many in Allen Fieldhouse.  In true Section 10 style, I have my favorites from my more than 50 years stepping foot inside that hallowed building.

In no particular order, my 10 favorites are:

1. Bud Stallworth's 50 point game.  This Kansas team (gasp) actually had a losing record but they had Stallworth, an amazing shooter and All-American, who hoisted up 50 on Missouri on February 26, 1972.

2.  Kansas comes back against UCLA.  The defending NCAA champions came to Allen Fieldhouse in an early season game in 1995 and took a huge lead.  In the second half, the Jayhawks rallied back behind Jacque Vaughn and a freshman named Paul Pierce.

3.  Roy hangs 150 on Pitino and Kentucky.  Yeah, Kentucky was depleted that year but, c'mon, it's Kentucky!  Pitino kept pressing and Ol' Roy kept attacking--150 points worth of attacking.

4.  The "Nick Collison" game.  Whenever Kansas and Texas play, it seems to be a classic.  This was no exception as Collison went off for 24 points and 23 rebounds, prompting Dick Vitale to give him a courtside standing ovation.  "It was one of the most special performances I've seen," said Dickie V.

5.  Another comeback for the ages--this one against Missouri.  The final game of the Border War, given Missouri's decision to defect to the SEC, was played in 2012 and the Tigers were good.  MU was up 19 but Kansas whittled back and scored the tying bucket late to force overtime.  Kansas hung on for an 87-86 win.

6.  Vaughn's three beats Indiana.  It was an early season game in Vaughn's freshman year and his late-game heroics were a harbinger of the special moments he would provide at Kansas over a four-year career.

7.  Kansas whips K-State on a warm spring night.  On this night in early March, KU beat their in-state rival, clinching the Big Eight title and setting off a wild night on campus where the phenomenon of "streaking" was demonstrated by many.

8.  Simien leads the way in defeat of Oklahoma State.  It was the final season for Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee and "Big Dub" was fantastic, leading KU to a two-point win over a very good O-State team.

9.  Manning's last game.  Danny Manning stayed for his senior year but the story this night was fellow senior Archie Marshall.  Victim of another season-ending knee injury earlier in the season, Marshall suited up and was inserted in the game late by head coach Larry Brown.  His teammates got him the ball for an unguarded long three that didn't go in but one of the best moments ever in Allen Fieldhouse was created that night.

10.  Wilt returns.  It was the 100th anniversary of Kansas basketball and the greatest player ever to wear a Kansas uniform came back to campus.  Wilt Chamberlain's number was retired that day and the "Big Dipper" made peace with a fan base that he thought was disappointed in him for the last game he played in a Jayhawk uniform--the three-overtime national championship game loss to North Carolina.

So, Happy Birthday, Allen Fieldhouse!  ESPN broadcaster Jay Bilas calls you "the St. Andrews of college basketball" and we would agree--there is no venue, in all of sports, that provides the home court advantage that you give the Kansas Jayhawks.  Beware of the Phog.