With Tennessee’s football season on pause for a few weeks, it’s time to salute basketball.
Not just the Vols. The entire sport of college basketball.
I truly love college football. But I’m going to list the reasons why I find college basketball season superior. It’s part professional, based on covering both sports, and part personal.
What makes sports compelling? It’s not practice. It’s not the coach-speak from the weekly media conferences. It’s the games.
Football is one game a week. Granted, that one day is a spectacle and a pageant in places like Knoxville. But that leaves six days of filler.
Basketball is two – at least – games a week. Tennessee schedules 12 football games, 31 basketball games. Last week, the Vols played three straight days in a tournament.
Add the postseason and the Vols have played as many as 37 games.
Speaking of games, when’s the last time you took binoculars to a basketball arena?
Hoops is more intimate. Unless you’re in the nosebleed seats you can observe the facial expressions and body language on the court and the bench. No helmets to mask the emotions. Want to yell at the ref? He can probably hear you.
At Stokely Athletics Center, the News Sentinel once had seats right beside the visitors’ bench. One night, coach Butch van breda Kolff felt his Lafayette team was getting hosed. He pulled out his wallet, thrust a $20 bill at me and asked if I’d go to the concession stand and buy the ref a “Vols’’ shirt.
More games means more scheduling possibilities.
Want to see the Vols play a Big Ten team in football? Then hope for a bowl matchup. The last time a standing Big Ten member played in Neyland Stadium was … never. The only regular-season Vols vs. Big Ten game was Iowa at the 1987 Kickoff Classic in New Jersey.
Basketball season? I’ve covered the Vols in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Columbus, State College, Lincoln, Madison and Piscataway, to drop a few Big Ten names.
A word about SEC scheduling.
This is Texas A&M’s 11th year in the league. The Vols have played the Aggies in football twice. They’ve played in basketball 12 times! You see everybody, including Bruce Pearl, at least once a year. SEC basketball rivalries feel sorta legit.
The schedules of both sports are, regrettably, fluffed with padding. Glad to see you, Akron or McNeese State. But, oh, boy, basketball can produce some real drama.
In my years covering Vol football, I’d say Wyoming, Georgia State and (’96) Memphis are about the only times I recall Goliath Tennessee being slain by a David with a slingshot.
In basketball, watch out. Partial list of Thompson-Boling Arena winners: Arkansas-Little Rock; Western Carolina; Mercer; Austin Peay; Tennessee Tech; Chattanooga. Tennessee is 1-3 against College of Charleston lifetime.
Gonzaga, Butler or Loyola of Chicago could never beat Tennessee in football. But they can beat even a good Tennessee basketball team.
I’m not suggesting any of that is a desirable outcome. But it sure makes things interesting.
Finally, the travel.
UCLA and Notre Dame were exceptional football road experiences. Oregon and Miami, too. But in all my years, I’d have a hard time fleshing out a list of top-10 non-SEC, non-bowl road trips. Louisville?
Hoops took me to meccas like Madison Square Garden and Allen Fieldhouse. Twice to a Hawaiian paradise. Alaska. Puerto Rico.
The ultimate was that 1997 summer exhibition tour to France and Italy. If football ever did a European exhibition tour, I missed it.
So, enjoy the bowl game. And all that basketball before and after.
Mike Strange is a former writer for the News Sentinel. He currently writes a weekly sports column for Shopper News.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Mike Strange What makes basketball better than football?