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The Great Basketball Debate: Why the NBA Is Way Better than the NCAA

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IMarch 22, 2009

I’d like to premise this article with a few comments that have led to my love for the NBA as the greatest basketball being played in the world, easily better than that of NCAA ball.

I grew up in Denver, home of the Broncos and Nuggets, and later on, the Rockies and Avalanche. My dad gave me a love of sports, and he was also a Denver native, born and raised. He never went to college, which I think is a reason he never was drawn to college sports.

The first college football game I cared about and attended came in my freshman year at Colorado State, watching the Rams play the University of Colorado Buffs at New Mile High Stadium.

I still have not been to a CSU basketball game, mainly because the team is consistently in the basement of the Mountain West Conference (which is not exactly strong, particularly in basketball).

The Rams men’s team were the last picked into the NCAA tournament in 2003, with Jason Smith leading the team, CSU’s second-ever NBA draftee.

Believe me, I am “Proud to be a CSU Ram,” just not that proud of the weak teams we put out from year to year.

Basically, I am not a sell-out, bandwagon-jumping, fair-weather fan who likes whoever is on top at that current point of time. I’m a homer. Always have been, always will be.

Growing up in Denver, I learned how the media influences what teams are popular, with the Nuggets getting no national games for entire seasons. Part of it was that the Nuggets were absolutely horrible throughout the '90s, and part was that Denver is still thought of as a “dusty old cow town.”

The Nuggets being so bad (the Broncos weren’t much better) led to me being an extremely loyal fan, leaving less room for other teams to pull some of my fanhood away from my two favorites. 

Now that I put my biases out on the table, let’s get to the reasons the NBA is much better than the NCAA.

Recently, I found myself immersed in March Madness, a Saturday afternoon with no other sports on besides NASCAR and the PGA Tour. Hey, I like golf (especially as a hangover nurse) on a weekend as much as the next guy, but I wanted more. I wanted the NBA.

I forced myself to watch relatively meaningless games which paired up powerhouses and no-names. Blowouts in the making; blowouts they turned out to be.

This is where I find my first beef with the NCAA—too many games are blowouts. Of the 38 games that had completed as of writing this article, 18 were decided by more than 10 points, seven by more than 20.

The separation of talent is too great for smaller teams to compete with huge programs like UConn, Duke, North Carolina, etc. Plus, there are two major conferences that have the majority of talent and the best teams.

The ACC includes Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida State and so on. The Big East consists of UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, all of which are consistently power players in the NCAA. The Big East and ACC are so deep, what makes other conferences think they have a chance?

The NBA has parity, or is at least much closer to it than the NCAA. Most teams, usually 20-25 of 30 have a chance to win the NBA championship at the start of the season.

The talent is spread more evenly throughout the league, which leads to more competitive games.

There will always be blowouts in basketball, but there are far fewer in the NBA than NCAA, which is more attractive to fans.

Next, the clocks in college are wacky, and should be synced up with the NBA. The college shot clock is far too long at 35 seconds. Twenty-four seconds, the same as the NBA, would be better than the eternity the current 35 second clock takes. Also, college games should be broken into four 12 minute quarters.

Shorter shot clocks and longer game times would lead to higher scoring and better games on the whole. College kids frequently use up the long shot clock with pass after pass, leading to a missed jumper, which must be where the term March Madness comes from, because it is definitely maddening.

College games could be higher scoring, which produces a more exciting game for fans.

I love how NBA games go to 100-plus points almost every night, whereas college games are usually played into the 60s.

College basketball should separate itself from high school, and be more like the NBA in this way. Plus, if the NCAA converts the clocks over, college kids would already be acclimated to the NBA rules, when and if they make it.

Then there is the problem of fouls. In the NBA, if a player is shooting and is fouled, they get to shoot free throws. A team has five fouls to give before the opponent gets to shoot two free throws for the rest of the quarter.

The NCAA has taken this framework, and made it much more complicated. For fouls one through six, two shots are awarded when a player is fouled in the act of shooting. For fouls seven through nine, players shoot one-and-one. After 10 fouls in a half, players shoot two shots again.

The NCAA should keep it simple and adopt the NBA foul scenarios, which would be helped by the change to four quarters from halves.

Another NBA rule the NCAA should re-implement is the jump ball, instead of their silly possession arrow.

Why is there a need for something as impractical as that? In 1981, the NCAA changed the rule, worried players would have an unfair advantage.

Again, the NCAA could have kept it easy by having a jump ball for the players, like the NBA, yet they wanted to confuse the rules.

The NBA, on the other hand, has recently instituted a new rule of its own, the semi-circle that sits close to the base of the basket. This semi-circle helps referees decipher if a play was a charge or not, because if a defender is in the circle, it is a block. Unless the offender receives the ball in the paint, then the circle does not matter.

While the charge/block call will always be a judgment call to some degree, this semi-circle has helped the NBA game and could improve the NCAA game as well.

Some agree, including Jeff Van Gundy, and fellow B/R writer Jake Lloyd. You can read his article on the topic here.

Lastly, the NBA is comprised by the best basketball talent in the world, hands down.

Only the best of the best NCAA players make it to the NBA, whose draft is a mere two rounds long. The NBA is stacked with talent. From team to team, there are players who will make your jaw drop, and stand up to cheer in excitement.

Even a casual fan can go to an arena and appreciate Kobe, LeBron, or Melo coming to town and lighting up the scoreboard.

Rarely are NBA games boring, with teams fast-breaking, throwing numerous alley-oops, and players pumping the crowd up. In contrast, NCAA games are slow, with too much repetitive passing, and many poor jump-shooters.

Although, the NCAA does have coaching that is superior to the NBA in some aspects. Coach K, Jim Calhoun, and others are leaders of young men, molding their game and their lives. They have a huge impact on whether or not those will become men with morals and values.

In contrast, NBA coaches must be half coach, half psychiatrist, able to work with different personalities, and egos, to meld grown men into a winning team.

Many NBA coaches do not get a fair chance, a year or two, to develop a rapport and a winning team before being shown the door.

Also, there are numerous sit-down style coaches in the NBA, who become observers instead of leaders during games. These coaches do not contribute to the game as a product and are basically pointless.

Overall, the NBA is where some of the greatest athletes contribute to the highest quality basketball being played anywhere in the world.

The NCAA may have better coaching, but that is because players must listen to coaching or lose a scholarship. Even though there are huge egos and salaries, the NBA is still the greatest, and is undeniably “Where Amazing Happens.”

College, though, does have a place in the world of 2009 basketball. It is indeed needed for development of players in the NBA, and will always have its place as the stepping stone into the Association for many players.

As that training program, college ball needs to transform their rules system into the NBA’s.

The NCAA will never be as magnificent as the NBA, but it’s something. A boring, low-scoring something.

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