I'm really excited for Thursday night. You know what Thursday night brings: The grand return of NFL football. For many, it's a personal holiday of sorts. But beyond the obvious fact that the NFL's renewed cycle gets people excited, why else is that opening game such a big deal? For the same reason/formula it is every season.
This year it'll be Baltimore vs. Denver. Ravens vs. Broncos, the defending Super Bowl champions taking on Peyton Manning. It's so good and brings such build-up because the teams are expected to be exceptional again and, moreover, it's carryover from last postseason. Baltimore and Denver faced each other in the AFC championship game. And here's the first game of the 2013 NFL season, one that connects threads from the emotions and drama that ended last year.
On a smaller scale, that's what college basketball could've had if 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State had been able to play in the season-opening event in Dallas. Alas, that won't be happening. On Tuesday the organizers for the Tip-Off Showcase released the three-game program. There was a scramble to get Wichita State into the event for a quadruple-header, but those plans fell through. Sources told CBSSports.com that LSU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State passed. Had Florida State landed Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2013 (now at Kansas), there were tentative plans to get them into the event.
Sources also said Texas was initially involved in the Tip-Off Showcase but pulled out in the spring, causing organizers to hustle for a makeup game that eventually never came to fruition. Getting local teams to the arena was a primary initiative (thus why Oklahoma, TCU, SMU and Baylor are in play), and Wichita State qualified, but a worthy draw of opponent wouldn't step in. That'll happen when you make a Final Four and prove yourself to be good -- but not so good that taking dropping a game against you isn't yet considered a "good loss." (Think: Gonzaga.)
So with that -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- Wichita State's absence means the season-opener will lack the national appeal it would've had otherwise. The other three games on tap for Nov. 8 at American Airlines Center: Oklahoma vs. Alabama; SMU vs. TCU; Baylor vs. Colorado. Tip times and a TV network should be announced within the next few weeks. It's a nice event and the college hoopheads will be tuned it. But it could've been bigger.
Wichita State had no say in the matter. The scheduling onus was not on them, but on bd Global, the group who organized the event and has a background in setting up certain college hoops mini tournaments. WSU told me there were no parameters on who they'd play. They were up for anyone.
"I'm assuming they wanted another local or high-major program," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. "I heard LSU mentioned at one point. I heard A&M mentioned at one point. So I don't know how serious those negotiations became. It just never came to fruition."
With that, Wichita State will open its season against Emporia State, a D-II school based in Kansas. And it's not like not playing in the Tip-Off will debilitate WSU's non-conference heft. The Shockers -- who have not officially posted their 2013-14 schedule -- will play Saint Louis, Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Tulsa, Alabama, North Carolina Central and Davidson, among others.
"The blueprint exists," Shockers senior associated athletic director Darron Boatright said. "The way Gonzaga scheduled their opponents when they became nationally relavent, and as healthy as our program is currently, that is what coach wants to do and who we want to become. And if we're going to take this opportunity to reach the big stage, now the trick is try to find a way to stay on it. Second to recruiting, it's the most important component on your program."
Wichita State knew a little over two weeks ago that the game wasn't going to happen.
With every season in the past half-decade college hoops' November has gotten better and better. The start of each campaign has brought better events featuring better teams, like the Champions Classic, which is played less than a week into the season.The one thing that's been missing is a true opening-night event, complete with big-time programs who reached college basketball's ultimate weekend the season prior.
“Launching a true college basketball tip-off event is not only exciting but an idea that is long overdue,” Tip-Off Showcase promoter Brooks Downing said, and he's right. This is a good start toward something that can get even better in the near-future.
I absolutely love the symbolism of starting and ending the college basketball season in the same general place. This year's Final Four will played at AT&T Stadium, in Arlington. I'm told there are plans to do this again in the years to come, in Indianapolis and Houston. Let's hope so, and if possible, let's see college basketball's organizers emulate the NFL model. Try to get at least two teams from the previous year's Final Four to square off for a rematch.
Season starts are not only about renewal but also about callbacks and picking up where we left off. For Final Four teams, that shouldn't mean playing Division II competition, far away from national television. It should mean playing each other and bookending the season with the best matchups possible.