College basketball needs to grow up

Jay Bilas, the noted college basketball analyst, has been saying since the NCAA Tournament began that there are no great teams this season.

Why limit it to this season?

Because great players usually don’t stick around longer than a year or two, basketball teams are known more for the suits on the sideline — or sweatsuit in West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ case — than the athletes on the court.

It wasn’t always that way. Players used to stay for three or four years, meaning Duke became identified with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, UNLV with Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon and Georgetown with Patrick Ewing.

That was when 30 million people tuning in to watch the national championship game wasn’t a shock. Now a TV audience of more than 20 million creates headlines.

People have tuned out because college basketball has become a sport in which — as comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked about pro teams — fans cheer for laundry and not who’s in the uniforms.

That needs to change.

Rather than do something absurd like expand the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams, NCAA officials should work with the NBA to follow the NFL’s lead and institute a rule that players must be at least three years removed from high school before playing pro ball. The NBA has an interest, too, because its ratings have fallen alongside college basketball’s.

The highest-rated basketball game remains the 1979 NCAA championship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, when Indiana State and Michigan State were the sideshow.

More mature and polished talent entering the NBA would only help the league.

■ AFL RETURNS — After a year off, the Arena Football League returned Friday for a new season.

Owners got tired of losing money, which led to the league shutdown. They slashed player salaries and benefits in an effort to make a buck or two.

Attracting top talent to a league that pays about $1,000 per game might be difficult, but many AFL stars have returned.

San Jose and Philadelphia, who met in the 2008 ArenaBowl, are sitting out this season. But San Jose is still paying its coaches in case it returns next season.

“Our product is a good product,” Arizona Rattlers president Danny White said of the 15-team league.

But is it good enough to survive?

■ BUNGLING STEELERS? — The Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on being one of the NFL’s best-run organizations.

But the ugly headlines created by two of their star players this offseason led Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook to write that the Steelers are no better than the bad news Cincinnati Bengals.

Really? In 2006, the Bengals had more arrests (nine) than victories (eight).

While the allegations of sexual assault against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and assault against wide receiver Santonio Holmes are certainly black eyes for the Black and Gold, they don’t reduce the Steelers to Cincinnati’s level.

Not yet, at least.


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