Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On 24 Hours of Basketball

There's something about ESPN's 24-hour college basketball marathon that kind of freaks me out. As a promotional gimmick, of course, it's brilliant, an astute way to draw attention to the opening week of a sport that essentially made cable sports what it is back in the early 1980's.* But I also wonder if perhaps this is a glimpse of some bizarre and fulsome future, if teams will now regularly arise for 4 a.m. shootarounds in order to accomodate 6 a.m. start times so as to fill in a national time slot on an ESPN network devoted to 24 hours of live college basketball, seven days a week, four/five months per year. That may seem like an absurdist notion, but think about where we were twenty years ago, about how sports networks essentially defied the conventional wisdom by televising every game they could get their hands on, about the explosion of channels and time slots, about the willingness of third-tier Division I schools like St. Peter's and Monmouth to essentially contort their lives for television.

Look at the ticker sometime: There are hundreds of schools you've never heard of who have chosen to field basketball teams in the hope of gaining publicity for an otherwise anonymous institution. Until last week, I had no idea there was a university known as Northern Michigan, which completes the directional monopolization of Wolverine State colleges; until last week, I had no idea a school in Indiana had chosen to name itself after an extinct tusked mammal. Until I looked it up, I presumed USC-Upstate was actually the University of Southern California-Upstate, which sounded more like the punchline to a Steven Wright joke than an institute of higher learning. All these schools, desperate for exposure, and a sports network willing to accommodate them: This is why I imagine that, in the next decade, the 24-hour hoops marathon will no longer be an anomaly. I imagine that this will be a basic-cable offering.

*Another element of culture covered here, in this book. Conveniently available for pre-order. (That is actually an initial version of the cover; final draft subject to change).

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