Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Distraction...with a Capital "D"

Consider this Part II of my exhortation to enjoy sports as an active experience. A few days ago, I wrote about the impact of fantasy sports on me and on how we view sports. But, it is not simply the matter of a stats-crazy sports culture. There is also this small matter of actually watching what happens during a game. This sounds so simple, but distractions from the actual game constantly bludgeon the viewer/listener during the course of a college basketball contest on television. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to focus on what teams are trying to do on the court.

1. Media Timeouts
In TV-land, there are commercial breaks every four minutes during regulation. That is four per half in addition to team timeouts. I realize that bills have to be paid, but watching a game on television means eight sessions of being bombarded by thirty second clips for Efferdent, Miller time, Viagra, and local car dealerships, plus the 15 minute halftime show (and I use the term "show" loosely). The frequent media timeouts break up the flow of the game tremendously and distracts folks from the on-court happenings.

2. Sports Ticker/Scoreboard
My wife and I watched Four Minutes (the Roger Bannister story) a few nights ago on ESPN2. When the movie started, my wife's first comment was, "Is that annoying ticker on the bottom of the screen going to be there the entire time?" "Uh, yeah," I replied, realizing that I did not even notice the ticker unless I made a conscious effort to do so. It has become just another component of my distraction-riddled existence...AL, NL, NFL, CFB, Bottom Line, AL, NL, CFB, Golf, Tennis, Bottom Line, AL, NL...it is neverending. Do I really need the same scores every three minutes distracting me during a movie? Is it even a distraction if I have become immune to it? Let's just move on.

3. Dickie V-ism
Dick Vitale may be good for college basketball on some levels, but he is the ultimate distraction when attempting to watch the game. His incessant hyperbole and ACC-pimping sucks the marrow from the actual game. He is like a flashy preacher at a megachurch. He may care about his work, but he also seeks to be bigger than his message. What he is selling is fantastic: college basketball IS "awesome with a capital 'A'." But, do we need to here it at 175 decibels before every commercial break? Many color commentators are less about offense, defense, backscreens, and dropsteps, and increasingly about catch phrases, coach worshiping, and furthering their own agendas...and perforating eardrums.

4. Dipsy-doo Dunkaroos
Acrobatic slams and rejections into the 15th row do indeed pump up the crowd and create excitement. I am all for dunking with ferocity and throwing shots into the bleachers to send a message to the opposition. However, that is often how the game is defined in a Sportscenter clip. As a result, Joe Fan has come to define "exciting basketball" as windmill jams and shots pinned above the square. The beautifully executed pick-and-roll often goes unappreciated. Our desire for violent throwdowns has eroded our appreciation for crisp passes, solid screens, tenacious half-court defense, and backdoor cuts. I am not advocating a no-dunk rule, but it would be nice to see some love for sweet, mid-range jumpshooting or Pete Carril-quality back cuts.

Where does it end? Hologram ads in the paint or behind the backboard on free throws? How far away are we from these added distractions? How do we combat this distracted existence? One easy solution is to PHYSICALLY go to games. Across the nation, attendance at college basketball games is trending downward. More games are available on TV packages, which is not inherently bad, but the live experience cannot be replicated. There is a D-I college basketball game within a reasonable driving distance nearly every weekend for most everyone in America. The Mid-Majority houses a sortable schedule that displays games closest to your zip code. Sometime this season, punch in your zippy and take a road trip with family or friends. Furthermore, many smaller conference teams have very reasonable ticket prices. Chances are, you will have a great experience and possible even hit a gem of a rivalry game (Western Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky on Dec 3, anyone?) or see a great player that gets little national pub (Yemi Nicholson at Denver or maybe Christian Maraker at Pacific?).

The college basketball played on TV constitutes a small portion of the hoop world. There are 330 D-I basketball teams playing in 31 conferences. The "Big 6" conferences are but a fraction of the important college hoops being played on a daily basis beginning in November. Find a game, take your spouse/friends/family, buy a t-shirt at the game, and discover something special: a game experience free of TV commercials, Dickie V, Sports tickers, and the like. You will be surprised how much you enjoy the sounds, the smells, the crescendos and decrescendos of the crowds, and the experience of watching a game in its natural environment. True, you will not be able to distract yourself with 12 other sports channels, or flip between four different games, or watch Coach K peddle Am Express. However, what you will be able to do is to hear a college pep band play songs, smell popcorn in the air, and during timeouts you can actually THINK about what has taken place in the last few minutes instead of being buried by an avalanche of 30-second ads for toothpaste or a Swiffer.

Get involved with a local team. You can watch Duke or UConn anytime on TV and be distracted on any given Saturday during major network TV games. Go to UNC-Greensboro, Tennessee Tech, Montana, or Northern Arizona and experience a game away from the machine of "big-time" college basketball. You might have a big time away from the "big time."