College basketball

From Academic Kids

College basketball refers to the American basketball league organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA.



The game of basketball was devised by James Naismith in 1892. The first recorded game involving a college basketball team took place in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania on April 8, 1893 when a team from Geneva College defeated the New Brighton YMCA [1] ( [2] ( The first intercollegiate game was played on February 9,1895 when Minnesota State School of Agriculture defeated Hamline College by a score of 9 to 3. The first intercollegiate game involving the now familiar five-player format occurred in Iowa City, Iowa on January 18, 1896 when the University of Chicago defeated the University of Iowa 15 to 12. Before that time, there were usually seven to nine players on each team.

By the turn of the 20th Century, enough colleges were fielding basketball teams that leagues began to form. The NCAA was founded in Chicago in 1906. The first NCAA Men's College Basketball Championship tournament was held before 5,500 fans in Evanston, Illinois in 1939. That year, Oregon beat Ohio State 46 to 33 in the final game to win the national championship.

The first college games to be televised took place at Madison Square Garden in 1940. Pittsburgh defeated Fordham, 57 to 37, and NYU beat Georgetown, 50 to 27. Since the advent of television, the popularity of college basketball has exploded. March Madness is consistently one of the most watched events of the year and draws over 700,000 fans.

Division I Men's Basketball

As of the 2004-05 season, there are currently 330 colleges and universities fielding Division I Men's Basketball teams. 47 states boast at least one Division I Men's Basketball program; only Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota have none. (However, North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University are currently in the process of transitioning to Division I.)


These teams play in 31 different conferences, which are classified as either major or mid-major conferences. The distinction is unofficial; indeed, the winners of all 31 conferences receive an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament alongside 34 at-large selections. However, the teams from "major" conferences are the traditional powers and continue to dominate the game to this day, thanks in part to the relative ease they have in attracting blue-chip high school recruits. The major-conference teams also have the benefit of playing a tougher schedule, more easily garnering respect. Accordingly, most of the 34 at-large selections on Selection Sunday go to major-conference teams. The following are currently considered to be the major conferences in college basketball:

The six conferences that are members of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in college football:

Three other non-BCS conferences that play Division I-A college football:

One conference whose football members play in Division I-AA:

(It should be noted that some teams play in different conferences in different sports. For example, Temple University plays football in the Big East and basketball in the Atlantic 10, and vice versa for Villanova University. Many of the A-10 football teams play in mid-major conferences in basketball.)

The current members of the six BCS conferences, Conference USA, and the Mountain West Conference have won every NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship since 1967, although some teams' championships predate their memberships in their current conferences. Conference USA will likely lose its "major" status in July 2005 when 8 of its 14 basketball members leave for other conferences, five to the Big East alone. (All of the C-USA schools that have won national titles are among the schools leaving for the Big East.) The Mountain West and Atlantic 10, which are also gaining members from Conference USA, are more secure in their "major" status at this time.

Only two of the 21 mid-major basketball conferences play Division I-A football: the Mid-American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. Of the remaining conferences, some play in Division I-AA (e.g. the Ivy League) and the others don't compete in football at all (e.g. the West Coast Conference). The following are considered mid-major conferences in college basketball:

No mid-major team has made it to the Final Four since 1979, when Penn and a Larry Bird-led Indiana State both made it to the semifinals, each losing to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team (Penn in the semifinals, and Indiana State in the final). However, the trend in recent years has been towards parity among all the schools in Division I, and practically every year a perennial major-conference power loses to an unheralded mid-major team in the tournament. In recent years, Gonzaga has become the closest thing to a power in mid-major basketball, having made it as far as the quarterfinals in 1999 and in the years since ranking highly in the influential AP Top 25 Poll and the Ratings Percentage Index throughout the basketball season. Increasingly, basketball analysts are considering Gonzaga to be a major program that happens to play in a mid-major conference.

Finally, a small number of teams (currently eight) compete in Division I basketball as so-called "Independents", without belonging to any conference. Oftentimes, these teams have just moved up to Division I from a lower division, and compete independently while hoping to eventually secure a spot in a conference. They are generally among the least-competitive teams in college basketball.

Relationship to Professional Basketball

In past decades, the NBA only drafted college graduates. This was a mutually beneficial relationship for the NBA and colleges -- the colleges held onto players who would otherwise go professional, and the NBA did not have to fund a minor league. For the most part, players benefited from the college education. As the college game became commercialized, though, it became increasingly difficult for "student athletes" to be students. Specifically, a growing number of poor (usually black), under-educated, highly talented teenage basketball players found the system exploitative -- they brought in funds to schools where they learned little and played without income. In 1974, Moses Malone joined the Utah Stars of the ABA (now merged with the NBA) straight out of high school and went on to be a star. The past 30 years have seen a remarkable change in the college game. The best international players routinely skip college entirely, many American stars skip college (Kobe Bryant and LeBron James) or only play one year (Carmelo Anthony), and only a dozen or so college graduates are now among the 60 players selected in the annual NBA Draft.

The pervasiveness of college basketball throughout the nation, the large population of graduates from "major conference" universities, and the NCAA's brilliant marketing of "March Madness" (officially the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship), have kept the college game alive and well. Some commentators have argued that the higher turnover of players has increased the importance of good coaches. Many teams have been highly successful, for instance, by emphasizing personality in their recruiting efforts, with the goal of creating a cohesive group that, while lacking stars, plays together for all 4 years and thus develops a higher level of sophistication than less stable teams could achieve.

Other Divisions

While less commercialized, Women's Division I, and Division II and III, both Women's and Men's, are highly successful college basketball organizations. Women's Division I is often televised, but to smaller audiences than Men's Division I. Generally, small colleges join Division II, while colleges of all sizes that choose not to offer athletic scholarships join Division III. D-II and D-III games, understandably, are almost never televised. Many teams at these levels have rabid fan bases, though, and to those fans these games can be equally or more entertaining than big-name college basketball.


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