NBA Lockout: Could It Benefit College Basketball?

Imaan Jalali@imaanjalaliFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2011

NBA Lockout: Could It Benefit College Basketball?

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    Normally around this time, NBA players are on their way back from vacation ready to start training camp.

    Unfortunately, there is a gridlocked impasse between the players' union, led by Billy Hunter and L.A. Laker Derek Fisher, and the owners represented by Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Adam Silver and San Antonio Owner Peter Holt.

    With no solution as of the last few days, there was no choice other than to cancel the first two weeks of the NBA regular season.

    The players and owners tried unremittingly to put off their differences for so long, but time eventually caught up to both sides, leaving the parties in a state of panicked disarray.

    NBA analysts augured the inevitable as far back as two years ago and now here we are without a resolution for not just the players and owners but the fans.

    NBA fanatics are biting their fingernails worse than Lebron James in a hotly-contested game. Across the nation, there have been withdrawals and anxiety-ridden hair-pulling in response to the impending void.

    Not just any void, however, but a crater that reaches down into the abyss of their wistful hearts.

    Yet there is a solution to their malaise. No, I'm not referring to psychiatric medication, meditation or even Pilates.

    The cure lies right around the corner, set to begin around the same time the NBA season was set to blast off.

    Of course, the answer is NCAA College Basketball, which is primed to reap a multitude of benefits in the NBA's seeming absence...

College Basketball Will Have a Great Chance to Lure NBA-Exclusive Fans

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    Basketball is basketball, right?

    Notwithstanding the handful of rules that separate the NBA and NCAA, most notably the shot clock, fans of basketball in general are exposed to jump shots, three-pointers, dunks, rebounds, assists, blocks, buzzer-beating moments and gorgeous cheerleaders while watching pro and college games.

    In fact, one can make a cogent argument that college basketball offers a more exciting ambiance with impassioned fans strewn about in a sea of humanity compared to the NBA, which is more relaxed in comparison.

    Starting Nov. 7, the first batch of college basketball games will begin, a week after the NBA season was scheduled to open, if not for the lockout.

    Is it out of the realm of possibility that NBA fans might turn to college basketball to get their fix?

    This could be a case of right place and right time, given the fact the NCAA is right there, literally, to legitimately steal what would've been the NBA's market share.

Extra Exposure and Means to Market NCAA Stars

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    If Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Paul are absent from public consciousness then it affords the opportunity for rising, young, sophomores; like Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones, Patric Young and freshmen Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Michael Gilchrist to become the heroes NBA fans will be yearning for.

    While the NBA will find many of its cash cows outsourced to overseas markets—like Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker—the domestic market will be left for the taking.

    Serendipity has paved a gilded road for college basketball to ride on, and as long it doesn't make any harebrained mistakes, it won't veer off the path.

    Can posters of Harrison Barnes and Michael Gilchrist replace ones of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in children's rooms?

    Might college basketball stars appropriate the public interest like never before, starring in NCAA-approved commercials?

    Is the likelihood strong that sponsors previously associated with the NBA will gravitate toward college basketball?

    As an added benefit, many college players may decide to stay in the NCAA for a longer duration before making the precarious jump to the NBA, which has been tainted by a cloud of uncertainty for the foreseeable future.

    All in all, a little business sense will allow the NCAA to not only heartily capitalize on the NBA's dilemma, but put forward a product that will attract new fans while not alienating traditional ones.

Team Rivalries Will Have a Stage Like No Other in Recent Memory

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    NBA fans might be incognizant of college basketball rivalries like UCLA vs. USC, Duke vs. North Carolina, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Kansas vs. Missouri, Syracuse vs. Georgetown and Indiana vs. Purdue, but with the NBA likely to go dark, they will have no choice but to see the light.

    Moreover, team rivalries can play a large part in highlighting the players who play in them.

    Unlike the corporate NBA template for marketing stars, a NCAA star's legacy is mostly defined by the battles he's fought in and the rivalries he's been privileged to take part in. There is a mutually symbiotic relationship between team rivalries and the players who comprise them and, by extension of that, team and player value.

    This already self-sufficient, binary relationship will have more than twice the promotional juice behind it than it's normally accustomed since it will be the only game in town.

    That's a scary proposition for the NBA.

Ratings and Advertising Revenue Will Skyrocket

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    With more outlets than ever before to market the game, not to mention the NBA playing hide and seek, college basketball's stake in the marketplace will become fierce and formidable. With its presence tempered more than ever, it is bound to attract new viewers, many of them NBA die-hards.

    From the opening tip, to the Final Four, to the NCAA Championship game, viewers will have a chance to follow unique narratives, threads and live vicariously through a grand and panoramic scope that far surpasses the NBA.

    More so than the NBA, there is a human element, an inherent need to root for those who play for the essence of the sport, as opposed to the add-on frills.

    This is where it becomes imperative for the NCAA to differentiate itself from its NBA counterpart which has been sullied by a preponderance of corporate and financial interests that have corrupted the sport's innocence.

    Certainly, there is a fine line between finding a happy medium and being enslaved by the credo of capitalism, tipping the balance of integrity.

    By underscoring the unbridled passion of the NCAA game where players are driven only by the prospect of triumph over tragedy, viewers might find the product more "real" and compelling than the NBA's.

    Undoubtedly, this could translate to higher ratings and, by virtue of that, droves of sponsors that would be willing to pay higher price tags for advertising spots.

    Ideally, the money would be used to spruce up NCAA programs and institutions.

Attendance Will Rise

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    Take all 30 NBA cities.

    Now, take the residents in each one who had NBA season tickets, intended to buy tickets for an individual game or just couldn't afford the live-experience altogether.

    Since we're not done stirring the proverbial pot, also take into account the ones who attended NBA regular season games, but were left feeling underwhelmed by the plodding players, dull atmosphere—like in the Staples Center—and carefree, nonchalant attitude of the whole production.

    By contrast, NCAA games are reasonably affordable, offer a raucously-fun atmosphere and always feature players who live and die by each game.

    Newer fans who attend these games will contract the fever very quickly. There is a buzz of euphoria that galvanizes 10,000 plus fans at a college game, which becomes not just intoxicating, but flat-out addictive.

    When every game is a playoff game, the ones who attend one game will find themselves attending many more.

Merchandise Sales Will Increase

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    With NCAA players and their respective teams at the forefront, standing tall as beneficiaries of protracted prominence, it would only seem likely that Finish Line, Foot Locker, Champs and a myriad of other sporting goods stores will stock more NCAA merchandise in lieu of NBA gear.

    When a young, impressionable adolescent ambles into one of these stores in the mall, with mom or dad perhaps at his or her side, he or she will want to purchase a jersey, pendant and a pair of team shorts to complement the glossy posters that have been plastered over Lebron James, Tim Duncan and Derrick Rose.

    And that's before the trip to Gamestop to pick up NCAA Basketball '12.

    It's simple supply and demand economics. Once the irresistible nature of the college game ropes in the cavalcades of wanderers, it proceeds to offer an extra means to satisfy and validate their new-found discoveries.

    Older and newer fans alike won't be able to overlook the urge to put a quantitative stamp on the team or players they've decided to endorse.

News Coverage Will See an Exponential Upsurge

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    Besides the Bleacher Report, expect many other sports-news outlets to look toward college basketball in order to churn out basketball-related stories in the absence of the NBA.

    The number of mediums today, compared to just 14 years ago during the last NBA lockout, is staggering.

    Television now has company in the form of Internet websites, social media, like Facebook, Twitter and texting, which takes word-of-mouth to a whole new level.

    This site, ESPN, Fox Sports, MSN and Yahoo will focus more of their resources on college basketball. The coverage is apt to be placed in a more visually appealing manner, with greater frequency on the front pages.

    Not to mention CBS, ABC and ESPN going into overdrive to promote the only basketball games available to the masses. In conjunction with highlight packages galore, college basketball's visibility factor is going to expand ten-fold.

Beyond Just Image Propagation, the Challenge Is Fan/Viewer Retention

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    Propagating player and team images into the collective mind of the basketball hungry population should be more than feasible given the NBA's disappearance from the room.

    The real challenge, beyond experiencing a potential renaissance with players and teams being marketed and fixated upon, not since Larry Bird at Indiana State and Magic Johnson at Michigan State three decades ago, is retaining newer fans who wouldn't otherwise give college basketball a chance, once the NBA is ineluctably back in business.

    By the same token, preexisting followers should not be alienated by the sport's novel attempts to expand its claws into uncharted territories.

    The opportunities are spilled out in front of college basketball, which must take judicious advantage of them if it hopes to usurp a substantial chunk of the market share.