Why Lebron James reminds me of college football

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As I sat in my living room watching the Miami Heat lose to the Chicago Bulls ending their attempt to break a decades old win streak in the NBA, I was blown away by the moment. Then my mind drifted to college football…

As the self-proclaimed defender of the college football regular season, I often reiterate how unique and special the college football regular season is. As such, I’m often hesitant to embrace a move to a playoff postseason format (though not opposed to a 4-game playoff). Anything that can potentially jeopardize the best regular season in sports should be approached with extreme caution.

These are the ingredients of great moments in sports.

What is interesting about recent events in the NBA is that for a couple weeks, Miami Heat games reminded me of college football. Last night’s Chicago Bulls matchup was the apex. Physical play. The biggest superstars in the world playing their asses off. A crowd going crazy on every play. Athletes playing at the top of their game. A losing squad so upset about losing that they walked off the court without shaking hands with the opposing team. These are the ingredients of great moments in sports.

When it comes to the professional leagues, these moments typically don’t come in the regular season. It took a 27 game win streak to create such an environment. When’s the last time there was a must watch NBA game in March for sports fans? A buddy of mine texted me and said “This is playoff basketball.” Indeed it was, but how unfortunate it is that the difference between regular season and playoff basketball is obvious to us all?

The uniqueness of college football is that these moments DO happen throughout the regular season. They do every year. You don’t have to look too far back to recall such moments.

Remember AJ McCarron’s tears as a result of beating LSU on November 3rd last year? Two of the top programs in the country going at it so hard that the only response for the winning quarterback was to let out the emotion. As SDS contributor William Wallace wrote about this moment:

There is a great line in the movie version of Moneyball, where Brad Pitt handsomely says to Jonah Hill, “How can you not be romantic about Baseball?” That line came to my head as I watched the fourth quarter of Alabama at LSU.

It was the best of so many things. History, rivalries, toughness, fanaticism, alcohol, team work, leadership, the South. Had this game been played in last season’s BCS Championship game, the BCS wouldn’t be getting dismantled. Instead of SEC fatigue, we’d have SEC withdrawals. Nobody would have anything to bitch about. This game was more than anyone could have hoped for.

A week later, we saw the Texas A&M Aggies go into Tuscaloosa and experience the same thing at the expense of the Crimson Tide. The moment was not lessened by the fact that we had experienced the same thing 7 days earlier.

And yet a week later again, we saw Stanford beat Oregon in overtime in unbelievable fashion shaking up the college football landscape and capping off a three week stretch of unbelievable drama by the top programs and top athletes in college football. Ladies and gentlemen, the regular season of college football.

It’s fitting to have this conversation during March Madness. The event esteemed by most sports writers as the best sporting event ever. I love March Madness, but let’s not kid ourselves about its reality. It’s entertainment value is at the expense of the college basketball regular season. Quick, tell me when college basketball officially begins each year. Most of you can’t tell me that because it doesn’t matter! 99% of you start paying attention around the end of February to see if your team is going to get into the tournament. You don’t even watch the conference tournament. Can’t we appreciate the fun of March Madness (90% of which is filling out brackets) without having to talk about how college football should be more like a 68-team tournament which includes 30 teams you wouldn’t watch if they were playing in your driveway?

A buzzer beater win by Wichita State over a team from the Northwest is fun. Sure, I’ll give you that. But, that moment is gone in my mind ten minutes later.

I’ll remember AJ McCarron’s exhausted tears after beating LSU in 2012. I’ll remember Johnny Manziel lighting it up in Bryant-Denny. And I’ll remember Lebron James flinging his 6’8″ frame into the chest of Carlos Boozer as he left it all on the court. In March.

The goal of designing a structure for sports should be to maximize the times when the top teams and top athletes play meaningful contests while minimizing the meaningless contests. Nobody does this better than college football.

Does college football have cupcake games sprinkled in the schedule? Sure. But the NBA has stretches of 50 games that are meaningless. NFL teams “suck for Luck” or sit their players in the latter weeks when certain playoff appearances are guaranteed. I won’t even comment on the 162-game MLB season.

Thank you Lebron James for bringing the best parts of sports to us in the middle of the NBA regular season.

Thank you college football for giving us 13 straight weekends of consistent greatness every fall.

I hope we don’t ruin it.

Photo Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

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