If you've read any of our articles here at State of the U about football, you've undoubtedly heard about the national bias against the U when it comes to our football program. Many people are offended by the 'Swag' that was invented in Coral Gables, and there is documented evidence that the NCAA and others have taken measures to counteract what has made the Miami football program a national story during their glory days in the late 80s and early 90s. What is interesting is that the animosity against the football program has not spilled into the other major programs at the university, more specifically basketball.
Canes Hoops have never won a national championship. We share a conference with 2 of the most storied programs in all of sport, Duke and North Carolina (as well as Louisville who has won 3 national titles), yet our basketball team gets the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Just this week, ESPN has released multiple college basketball pieces that mention Miami in a positive light. In their piece released on Monday, ESPN predicted that Miami would be the next to last team to lose their first game (with current top-ranked Villanova being the last), with their first loss being predicted for January 13th. That means that ESPN predicts Miami will go 15-0 to start the season. While our team has put together one of its strongest teams in recent memory, it seems no more of a sure thing than other programs in the country. Our football team, by comparison, struggled to find members of the sports media that believed in prolonged success despite a 10-0 start (we lost 2 straight following that start, but that's not the point). One would think that a program that has won 5 national titles would have more faith from the media than a program that has won 0, but this year has shown the opposite. Why is the basketball landscape more forgiving than the football landscape?
1.College Basketball is more susceptible to cinderella stories than College Football
For some reason, Miami is not and probably never will be included in the 'blue bloods' of college football despite their storied past. That fact will always make it difficult for Miami to get the benefit of the doubt every fall. We are definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to regaining national relevance, but we have a long way to go to approach the Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn, USC level of the college football world (I won't mention Alabama because what they have accomplished in the last 10 years makes them deserving of their perch atop the rest). The College Football Playoff won't even consider an undefeated team that isn't from the Power 5 conferences (Wisconsin would have barely gotten that recognition had they finished undefeated in a power 5 conference this year). However, in college basketball the small programs have made legitimate runs in the NCAA tournament, with some even reaching the final four and national title game. Most of us would have never heard of George Mason University if not for the cinderella run of our own Coach Jim Larranaga during his time there. Acknowledging that any team could lose to anybody makes the college basketball scene much more open to non-traditional programs.
2. Basketball teams have less players, so transcendent talent can make a bigger impact on the game
We have seen time and time again where a single player has an amazing run through the tournament to lead a team to a national title. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier both come to mind from UConn, as well as Anthony Davis from Kentucky and Carmelo Anthony from Syracuse. Steph Curry single-handedly carried unknown Davidson to the Elite 8, only losing the the eventual national champions Kansas by 2 points. Miami currently has 2 players considered as top tier talents in Bruce Brown Jr and Lonnie Walker IV, and their presence could buoy the Canes as a highly regarded program this season. ESPN included LW4 on their list of the 10 most exciting players in college basketball on Wednesday, which will likely draw viewers to Miami games from all over the country.
The closest comparison on a football team would be a talented quarterback. Oklahoma was considered a top team for a majority of the season despite a struggling defense due to the outstanding play of their heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield. Malik Rosier had a great start to the season, but showed inconsistency when Miami reached the meat of their schedule, which left room for doubt by the college football community. It is worth noting that CMR and the coaching staff have done a great job of identifying top talent and bringing them on campus at this position, so hopefully that will give Miami more support and notoriety in this area.
3. College Football has a different atmosphere than College Basketball
While all college sports are more steeped in tradition than their professional counterparts, Football definitely brings out more extreme responses from fans than basketball. Football has more of an obsession with perfection, as there are much fewer games, and it is much more common for teams to finish a season undefeated than in basketball. With less room for error, football opinions are typically much less forgiving than basketball. The demographics of college football fans also differ from college basketball diehards, as many of the top college football programs lie in areas of the country with no professional teams around, while successful college basketball programs are more widespread and don't lie in areas where options for fans are as thin. SEC Football is the top draw for sports in their region of the country. Big Ten football is competitive with NFL markets in their region. College Basketball still has its purists, but doesn't dominate their regions like football does, allowing for less immovable opinions. Lastly, the top level of College Football has less teams than the top level of College Basketball. With less teams, fans and media professionals have to be tougher when trying to distinguish between options in football than in basketball. Along the same lines, football has the CFP which only takes 4 teams with a shot at the National Championship, whereas basketball has a 68-team tournament, meaning football has to be debated more in the court of public opinion unlike basketball, where most arguments can be resolved on the court.
Miami is in a great position as a school having top 10 programs in both football and basketball. This provides the opportunity to reach 2 very distinct audiences. Hopefully, our success on the football field and the basketball continues to not only help the perception of the respective programs, but to represent the school as a whole in a positive light. The golden age of Miami athletics could be starting right before our eyes.