Regular-season college basketball: The kids are all right.

While we were chatting with College Football Playoff czar Bill Hancock in Tampa for our TMG podcast, somebody mentioned concerns that the playoff could diminish football’s regular season—the way the NCAA tournament has diminished basketball’s regular season.

Gould Headshot square

I didn’t go there then. But I want to go there now. . .

While it’s true that many people don’t tune into regular-season college hoops, I’m here to tell you that’s their loss.

Because it’s great stuff.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

This is not, for example, a stellar year in the Big Ten. There are no obvious Final Four candidates. And yet, that might make the games even more watchable. Because anything can and does happen.

Penn State and Nebraska are beating people. And they’re not wearing shoulder pads.

Notre Dame's short-pants Irish are playing their fannies off. Even if that trip to Tallahassee didn't go well, they're seriously in the hunt to win the ACC.

A conference championship and the Fighting Irish in the same sentence? What a great idea.

I think a premise that my colleague Blaudschun put forward during our Bill Hancock chat was that basketball’s regular season doesn’t matter because the automatic bid goes to the conference tournament winner. Which matters in smaller conferences.

I heard a sentiment for giving the regular-season champion the automatic bid, not the conference tournament winner.

I don’t have a dog in that hunt. While it would be more fair, in a sense, to reward the season-long winner, that would cut the legs off of the conference tournament.

I can see the cases for both sides. And I don’t really have a preference.

What I’m talking about is how watchable the regular season is—if you like college basketball.

Of course, the interest in March Madness dwarfs November-through-February Dribble-itis.

But that’s the nature of the beast. College football and the NFL capture regular-season interest because they play fewer games—not because of their post-season formats.

We follow baseball in an in-and-out-way because baseball games are like streetcars. There’s always another one.

Some days, we watch the whole game. Other days, a few innings. And other days, we study a box score.

With the NBA and the NHL, there’s something along those lines.

The truth is, I don’t follow the NBA and NHL regular seasons as much as I used to. Because those seasons are endless. And even if a team has a great regular season, that only sets them up to catch heat if they ``choke’’ in the playoffs.

With college basketball’s regular season, I am interested in the games for the games themselves.

And because winning the Big Ten’s regular season still matters. And because finishing high enough to earn an NCAA berth also matters.

This subject came up in Tampa while we were talking about the concept of giving a college-football league champion an automatic playoff berth.

That’s not going to happen for a number of reasons. Five leagues won’t fit into four berths. And even in an eight-team scenario, automatic bids would arouse ire of the Group of Five, who could use anti-trust law.

Phooey on all that. We'll save that for another day.

I’m here to talk about college basketball’s regular season. I like it. It’s fun. It’s dramatic. It’s a relentlessly great escape from the troubling news in the rest of the world.

And I’m hear to tell you this: If you enjoy it, it has meaning.

If you’re fretting about whether it leads to something in the post-season, or are dismissive because fewer people watch it, you’re missing the simple pleasure of the joy of college basketball.[/membership]

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