This past weekend, I ended up hearing sports-radio pinheads holding forth proudly about their ignorance of college basketball. The justification for this is that “the regular season doesn’t matter,” since the NCAA tournament is single-elimination, and lesser-known teams keep ending up making big runs in the tournament. Since there’s apparently no way in their world to keep tabs on anything outside the AP Top 25, they couldn’t possibly know anything about the teams that end up being important, so there’s no reason to pay any attention until the conference tournaments start.
Of course, by that logic, these same radio hosts should studiously ignore the NFL regular season. All of the same arguments that apply to NCAA basketball work for NFL football.
You think the NCAA lets too many teams into its championship playoff? The percentage of teams making the NFL playoffs is higher: 68/346 is just under 20% of the NCAA Division I basketball schools, while 12/32 is 37.5% of the NFL football teams.
You object to automatic bids? Just last year, we had a team with a losing record get into the NFL playoffs (and host a game, even) by virtue of winning an absolutely terrible division.
Unexpected runs by lesser teams getting hot at the right time? The Super Bowl this year was won by the last team in in the NFC. Two years ago, the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. Three years ago my New York Giants knocked off a Patriots team that was in position to be the Greatest Ever.
The only difference between them is that the absolute number of teams in the NFL is an order of magnitude smaller than the absolute number of teams in Division I basketball. Which means that a casual fan, or a lazy ESPN employee, can easily stay on top of all the NFL action– there are at most 16 games a week to watch/ read about. College basketball, on the other hand, will involve upwards of 300 games a week (since most teams play twice a week in the regular season). Even if you restrict yourself to the 50-ish teams who can get into and win the NCAA tournament, you’ve got 100-ish games a week. Which is a lot, I’ll grant– we can’t all be Kyle Whelliston— but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask somebody who is paid to talk about sports for a living to know something about the subject.
The same radio pinheads will, of course, natter on endlessly about college football, which also has a large number of teams, though only a third as many as college basketball. The difference there is that the bullshit “championship” system college football uses means that you don’t really need to pay attention to any teams outside the preseason Top 25 (more or less). The BCS is explicitly stacked in a way that excludes smaller schools, and makes life easy for lazy talk radio hosts.
Now, if you’re not interested in college basketball, that’s another thing– you’re free to devote your pundit hours to whatever topics you like. But trying to pretend that “the regular season doesn’t matter” in college basketball, but the NFL regular season is of monumental importance is just dumb.