For a league well known for its marketing shortcomings, the NHL has done a surprisingly good job the past five years with the Winter Classic.
The annual outdoor game played in a tradition-rich stadium on New Year's Day has turned into a must-see regular season event, typically delivering stunning visuals, high ratings, big crowds and much-needed buzz.
That was the formula college basketball needed to follow when it stumbled onto a similarly intriguing novelty concept last November when North Carolina and Michigan State played the first game on an aircraft carrier. Instead schools have watered down the concept and diminished its impact, scheduling a trio of games on different U.S. naval ships for Nov. 9 with a fourth event still under consideration for the following day.
Marquette will face Ohio State on a ship off the coast of Charleston, S.C. Syracuse will meet San Diego State on the flight deck of the retired USS Midway off the coast of San Diego. ESPN reports Florida will take on Georgetown on a naval ship off the coast of Jacksonville. And then the following day, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports the USS Yorktown will likely host an all-military doubleheader between Air Force, Army, VMI and the Citadel off the coast of South Carolina.
The possibility of four games on naval ships next season exposes the lack of leadership at the top of college basketball. You can't blame the schools involved for seizing a chance to generate publicity and provide a good experience for their players and fans, yet what's lacking is someone who grasps the bigger picture and can act in the best interest of the sport.
The Carrier Classic can only build brand identity the way the NHL's Winter Classic did if it's one annual event featuring marquee teams that the public wants to see. That's what organizers managed to provide last season when the Tar Heels and Spartans met in front of a crowd that included everyone from President Obama, to model Brooklyn Decker to NBA luminaries Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Vince Carter.
Next year, the attention now gets spread among four compelling-but-not-must-see matchups and the concept loses much of its luster. Diehard college basketball fanatics will watch their favorite teams, but will any of the three high-profile games bring in casual viewers?
To be fair, there is definitely some positive aspects to this: Each game will be a memorable event for the student-athletes and the members of the military involved and proceeds will support the troops.
Still, that the aircraft carrier game has gone from compelling concept to sudden trend is bad for college basketball. It's too much of a good thing.