March Madness officially began last Friday night, as one team claimed the first of 68 slots for college basketball’s post-season’s tournament. The ticket was not rewarded to one of the sport’s legacy-laden, blue-blood (or Kentucky bluegrass or Carolina blue) programs. It was snatched by the hard-court Crimson Kings of Harvard (insert library joke here).

 

The kids from Cambridge play a hard-nosed brand of basketball. They’re tough, skilled, athletic, and they do a really good job of making you forget the fact that you hate everything about Harvard – perhaps that’s their greatest accomplishment.

(Related: March Madness Preview)

 

The most interesting thing, however, about Harvard’s ascent to the mainstream basketball consciousness is that they’re just like every other team that will flash across our TV and tablet screens over the next few weeks – we don’t really know anything about them, and we’ll almost assuredly forget everything we do learn about them by the beginning of April. Welcome to the new age of faceless irrelevance for college basketball.

 

While the NCAA and NBA have done their best to purge college basketball of compelling story lines, the blame for the sport’s lack of stickiness does not entirely lie at the feet of their over-sized basketball shoes.

 

The bottom line is it’s really hard to make us pay attention to something for a sustained period of time, to invest real feelings and to identify with its principal characters on a visceral level. Case in point, I consider myself to be a college basketball enthusiast, yet I’ve not watched one game from start to finish this season.

 

We’d much prefer to binge watch, to dress something up as an event like the Olympics or the Oscars and talk about it for a couple weeks before discarding it altogether. I was struck by the total lack of substance and emotion of the Sochi Olympics, both in the way the events were presented on TV and the way I consumed them as a viewer.

(Related: Sochi 2014 Coverage: Olympic Royalty Outsed, Russian Princess Steals Crown)

 

(Related: Sochi 2014: Slopestyle Skiing Swept by Team USA, Under Armour Under Fire, US-Russia Hockey Game)

 

It’s one thing to acknowledge that a particular sporting event is an escape – an inherent frivolity; it’s quite another to accept the sobering reality that it may have no relevance whatsoever. That it seems sort of silly to rally around something that falls short of the standards of high quality, high competition and high drama you once demanded of it. In other words, I’m genuinely concerned that college basketball has become the equivalent of pairs ice dancing, with slightly less sequin and a few more tattoos.

 

At the end of the day, do we truly care about the results of the competition, or are we just looking for a diversion that’s wrapped up in a pretty bow and doesn’t require us to work too hard to know the players and appreciate the journey?

 

I, for one, would love to see college basketball return to its greatest form. And, yes, I’ll be logging countless hours of March Madness viewing. Maybe I’ll even remember something about Harvard when it’s all over.

 

What are your thoughts?  Share them via the comments section below or tweet me @muipr.