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NCAA Basketball Does Not Need Fixing

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After a thrilling final to the highest rated NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in decades, national sports writers still believe the sport needs to be fixed.  Sports Illustrated states that college basketball enters "one of its most critical off-seasons in recent memory" and will become a "one month sport." This echoes earlier statements from respected individuals in the field, like UConn Women's head coach Geno Auriemma, ESPN's Jay Bilas, and SI's Seth Davis who have called the sport "a joke" and that it is "in a crisis".  The common critique is that slow paced teams, like Virginia and Wisconsin, are decreasing scoring, creating a boring and unwatchable sport.

Despite all the warnings that the sky is falling, the statistics do not support all the dire proclamations.  The championship game had its highest TV ratings in 18 years and the Final Four games were the highest in 22 years.  If you look at the points per game and TV ratings for the title game in the past 18 seasons there are no drastic changes to warrant the pessimistic commentary:

NCAA Basketball Scoring and Ratings

While scoring is down from last year, it is actually up from two seasons ago. If you look at the 2006 season, scoring was only 2% higher than this season, but the title game's TV ratings were 54% lower.

Pundits have often compared college basketball to college football and the NFL as sports that have increased scoring in order to increase ratings. However the facts do not back up these claims:

NCAA Football Scoring and Ratings

The BCS title game in 2013 had 17% lower ratings than in 2000, despite a 20% increase in scoring per game.

The same goes for the NFL, the most dominant and popular sport in the nation and TV:

NFL Scoring and Ratings

Despite all the changes geared towards quarterbacks and increasing scoring, in 20 years, the points per NFL game only went up 5%. Even though every Super Bowl breaks a record for the most total viewers, the actual ratings have only increased a measly 3% in 20 years.

Not every sport has seen an increase in scoring over the years.  Both the NHL and Major League Baseball have seen a decrease in scoring and ratings in the past twenty years:

NHL and MLB Scoring and Ratings

Baseball's Fall Classic has half the audience it did in the late 90's, but there has not been a running national commentary to lower the mound or bring in the outfield fences.  Maybe viewers actually did "dig the long ball."

The common solution mentioned to college basketball's "problem" would be to adjust the 35 second shot clock to be more like the NBA at 24 seconds. According to the NCAA basketball critics, the NBA is a more free-flowing pure form of basketball that college basketball needs to emulate. If that were the case, then the NBA's scoring and TV ratings would be increasing over the years. However, that is not the case as well:

NBA Scoring and Ratings

NBA's scoring has remained constant at roughly 100 points per game in the past 20 years.  However, the ratings for the Finals are half of what they were during the Jordan era. Last year's NBA Finals rematch of Miami-San Antonio did a third the ratings of the Duke-Wisconsin NCAA title game.

As the stats in other sports show, increasing scoring does not necessarily mean increasing popularity and ratings.  Maybe shooting percent, fouls, and turnovers are the cause of all the malaise towards college basketball.  However, the stats do not support this either:

NCAA Basketball Stats

All the ills of "one and done" players and reliance on three point shooting have caused a drop of a mere 0.5% in FG shooting percentage in 12 seasons.  Meanwhile, personal foul calls are down 5% and turnovers are down 20%.  If the refs and freshmen are not to blame, then what needs to be fixed?

Nothing at all.