UK basketball notebook: Big Blue Nation has small TV market impact

Herald-Leader staff writerMarch 29, 2014 

Two statisticians studied television ratings for recent Final Fours and came up with a sobering conclusion: There is nothing special about Kentucky.

The Big Blue Nation is undeniably blue, but it's not especially big. Even though UK Coach John Calipari, in an expansive mood literally and figuratively, declared to the Madness crowd last October, "It's a nation that stretches across 120 counties in Kentucky, all 50 states and to every country in the world."

The statisticians found that the Blue Nation of Michigan is bigger.

"We were caught off guard with how big Michigan was last year," said Scott Grimshaw, a professor of statistics at Brigham Young.

His partner in the study, BYU graduate student Paul Sabin, said that Michigan was "clearly on top" in terms of projected television ratings for any team in this year's Final Four. The ideal matchup for a national championship game would be Michigan against Dayton.

In terms of TV ratings, there are no "nations" of any color. No team — not Kentucky, not Duke, not anyone — moves the Nielsen needle significantly, Grimshaw said. "There's not a single team that has a national presence," he said.

Interestingly, as Grimshaw spoke from the BYU campus and described himself as the "unusual Kentucky fan" in Utah, he paused. Then he said, "Other than the person who just walked past me on the quad who said, 'Go Wildcats.'"

Apparently, TV suits who want big ratings root for teams like 11-seed Dayton.

"It's the Cinderella story," Grimshaw said. "It's defying the odds. It kind of becomes the story in everybody's market."

It's the David-versus-Goliath angle (or is that Dayton versus Goliath?) that makes for must-see TV.

This year Kentucky, which plays Michigan on Sunday in the Midwest Region finals, could not even claim the biggest "nation" among Southeastern Conference teams, the statisticians said. That distinction belongs to Florida because of being the overall No. 1 seed and how the TV markets of Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville dwarf anything in Kentucky.

When asked if Florida should be seen as a king-sized Kentucky, Grimshaw said, "Yes. With better seeding this year."

The 8-seed hurts Kentucky's potential to draw a Final Four television audience, Grimshaw said.

"Kentucky didn't live up to the pre-season hype that would have given them 2014 Wichita State-type media attention," he said. "I estimate that the No. 8 seed, which reflects this year's team receiving less national attention, will cost them 12 percent (or 2 million) of the casual basketball fans if they make it to the Final Four."

Sabin, who will receive a Master's degree in statistics later this spring, worked with Grimshaw in studying the TV ratings for Final Fours in the last 11 years. This year's Kentucky team projected as a ho-hum TV attraction, he said.

Grimshaw, 52, grew up in Southern Utah. He attended Southern Utah, a small liberal arts school that made the 2001 NCAA Tournament. He received his Ph.D from Texas A&M and taught at the University of Maryland before moving to BYU.

"My son asked me why I picked Kentucky in my bracket this year but didn't pick BYU," Grimshaw said. "I told him it was because I wanted to be right!"

Sabin plans to seek a Ph.D, probably at Virginia Tech, he said.

Among the statisticians' findings were:

■ Among the most passionate fans regardless of what games are televised reside in Louisville, Columbus (Ohio), Cincinnati and Memphis. The poorer TV ratings are at Miami, Sacramento, San Diego and San Antonio.

■ Kentucky gets a boost from playing in a major conference (the SEC) and from having an "iconic" coach in Calipari. "You can't become more iconic, I guess," Grimshaw said.

Another plus is one-and-done players. Viewers in, say, New York might be interested because the college team has a player his or her local NBA team might draft.

■ Sabin saw Wichita State as a Cinderella this year. Grimshaw did not.

■ "People would rather see someone like Dayton play in the Final Four than Duke or Kentucky or one of the big-name schools," Sabin said.

'Not unique'

Statistician Scott Grimshaw advised that the study's results be put in context.

"Remember our study was focused on the popularity of Final Four games," he wrote in a follow-up email. "There is plenty of evidence that Kentucky basketball is huge, but they aren't unique.

"There was a time college basketball was the world of blue bloods, but now many teams receive attention from ESPN and the internet throughout season. I think the landscape has changed and popularity isn't exclusively measured by how many people go to your games or watch your games on TV. Now it's everything from buying T-shirts, tweeting about how good your team is (or how bad your rival is!), or posting to message boards."

Rating the broadcasters

Richard Deitsch covers radio and television for Sports Illustrated. Here's a few of his thoughts on the cacophony of voices we heard calling college basketball games this past season:

■ "I think Jay Bilas is outstanding. He's smart. He's thoughtful. Well-prepared. Willing to go against the establishment. Willing to be critical of the NCAA. Willing to be critical of coaches."

Fran Fraschilla, Doris Burke, Steve Bardo, Clark Kellogg are "respected good analysts.

"I'd put (Dan) Dakich at that level. And maybe Jimmy Dykes, too."

■ Analysts and play-by-play announcers should not be "enablers" of coaches.

"That's something, for me, that's become bothersome," he said. "I love Dick Vitale's enthusiasm, but I really get dismayed at the 'godding up' of coaches. And I feel Vitale does that far too much, and I think it takes away from his analysis."

■ He applauded "the delightful craziness" of Bill Walton.

■ He drew one line in the sand for all broadcasters.

"I always keep in mind, above all, who has the viewer in mind," Deitsch said. "Before their careers. Before their friendships. Before everything else.

"That's why I respect a guy like Bilas. Because, in general, I think that's how he approaches it. ...

"I actually find Bill Walton working for the viewer when he goes into his tangent crazies. Fraschilla, too, and certainly Doris Burke."

■ Vitale rates an "A" for enthusiasm (or is that enthusiasm with a capital "E"?).

"Vitale is the best for that," Deitsch said. "I am positive he loves being around the game and being around young people. ... He loves being at the center of college basketball. That is a great thing for analysts of any sport."

Too much sports?

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad:

"America no longer leads the world in anything other than gun deaths, and you need look no further than our ceaseless pursuit of sporting success to see why. The outsize importance of big-time sports on college campuses reflects a skewed value system that, if not leading us to ruins, is at a minimum leading us to mediocrity.

"The games should delight us, not define us. Yet in America, we get the college athletic scandals we cultivate; we cultivate them because we choose to celebrate athletic accomplishment over academic achievement. From 'Friday Night Tykes' to 'Monday Night Football,' we obsess on sports. We neglect more pressing community needs to prop up sporting interests. We treat 15-year-old quarterbacks like Roman gods and relegate 15-year-old math wizards to reference rooms.

"If the culture values Nick Saban more than, say, Jonas Salk or Itzhak Perlman, then the culture is in a dark and unimaginable place."

Fantasy

John Smiley of Roanoke, Va., asked the question: Where were you when Mercer beat Duke the other day?

Norman Chad's reply: "I was actually on Fantasy Island drinking a Mai Tai with Mr. Roarke — was shocked he could deliver on my request so quickly."

One voice

Billy Tubbs coached Jeff Webster, who mentors Julius Randle.

Tubbs, who vouched for Webster as a role model/mentor, noted the importance of one voice of authority.

"Jeff would get the player to that point," Tubbs said of Randle as a college freshman. "Once he reaches college, he's really got to trust in the college coach. So you really don't need two people coaching the one player."

Too nice?

Jeff Webster did not object to the notion that Julius Randle would benefit from a nastier disposition on the court.

Then again, Billy Tubbs seemed to recall Webster as an example of an effective-yet-gentlemanly player.

"That may have been one of Jeff's characteristics," he said. "At times, he may have been too nice."

Overshadowed?

Kentucky's run to the Midwest Region finals brings to mind something Patric Young said at the SEC Media Days in October. The Florida big man addressed the question of whether the attention paid to Kentucky's games and recruiting led to an under-appreciation for what Florida had done.

"I can't say that," he said. "Their program has so much history. But I believe some of the things we accomplished has been overshadowed."

Perhaps the feeling of being unappreciated helped fuel Florida's motto this season: Strength When Adversity Grows ... (or SWAG).

Happy birthday

To DeAndre Liggins. He turns 26 on Monday. ... To Brian Long. He turns 22 on Wednesday. ... To Erik Daniels. He turns 32 on Tuesday. ... To Saul Smith. He turned 35 on Friday. ... To Sean Woods. He turned 44 Saturday. ... To Ralph Willard. He turned 68 Saturday. ... To Johnathan Davis. He turns 45 today. ... To Chris Gettelfinger. He turns 56 on Tuesday. ... To Charles Hurt. He turned 53 on Friday. ... To Jeff Sheppard. He turned 40 on Saturday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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