After a handful of exhibition games to get home crowds excited, the college basketball season starts in full swing on Tuesday with the Champions Classic on ESPN, featuring Michigan State vs Kansas and Duke vs Kentucky. That’s three of the country’s top four teams (and another in the top ten) squaring off in a pair of fantastic non-conference games to start the season.
Basketball season starts on Nov. 6 with the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis with Michigan State, Kansas, Duke and Kentucky! Games tip at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on ESPN #collegehoops #basketball pic.twitter.com/WKie5PxDso
— Champions Classic (@championclassic) September 6, 2018
There’s just one problem with the two games.
They’re taking place on Election Night in a particularly charged political climate, where so much attention and focus will be on Tuesday night’s returns, even though it’s “just” a mid-term election.
In a world where “POLITICS!” and “CABLE NEWS!” have been frequently cited as reasons for ratings drops for sports programming (especially the NFL), who in their right mind decided to schedule such a great pair of college basketball games on Election Night?
Maybe it’s the Pacers’ fault, who have home games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (where the two games will be held) on Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday that week. Maybe it’s the fault of one of the four teams involved, because they have other marquee games already scheduled.
Nah. It’s ESPN’s fault. The NBA schedule was announced in August. None of the four teams involved in the Champions Classic have significant non-conference games in the two or so weeks following the event.
ESPN announced that the games would air on Election Night back in *January*. Yes, they voluntarily decided to place these games on Election Night nearly ten months ago. The event, which is owned and operated by ESPN Events (like many other early season college basketball tournaments and college football bowl games), was actually moved up a week from recent years (including 2016, when it aired on November 15th…a week after Election Night).
The logic from ESPN was essentially “hey, college basketball season should start with these games, instead of awful non-conference games that rarely result in soul-crushing upsets!”
“We feel that there is natural connection to the start of the season and to the State Farm Champions Classic,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “These four schools have come together to help build an exciting stage to launch the college basketball season.”
And that makes sense, but by putting the Champions Classic on Election Night, you risk alienating viewers from all across the spectrum, from older fans that are immersed in the political world all year to younger fans who have been spurred into action and activism over the last year or so and are trying to make an impact.
But if ESPN was so desperate to move the Champions Classic up a week, they didn’t have a choice – it essentially had to take place on Tuesday, Election Night. On Monday, the network airs Monday Night Football. On Wednesday, they have an NBA doubleheader, and on Thursday, they’ve got college football (and would have to go head to head with Thursday Night Football). On Friday, they air one college basketball game and one NBA game, and Saturday is still flooded with college football. By that point, we’re already past the “start” of college basketball season, and there would have been no reason for the event to be moved in the first place.
To me, the funny thing comes a week later on November 13th, where the Champions Classic has aired in recent years. ESPN’s coverage on that evening consists of…the College Football Playoff Top 25 release show and two more parts of Basketball: A Love Story. They’re not even airing any other college basketball that night. The network essentially moved its premiere early season college basketball event up a week, head to head with Election Night coverage on something like nine networks, and punted on the next week where the event usually takes place.
Bang up job, everyone.