Appalachian State rolls into the Big House, and beats Michigan. Wow.
Two different college basketball powerhouses, Ohio State and Michigan State, lose exhibition games to Division II opponents. Say what?
Kentucky, gets housed in a wire-to-wire beat-down at their own gym to Atlantic Sun also-ran Gardner-Webb. Get outta here!
Mega-hyped college freshman O.J. Mayo makes a splash in his USC debut with 32 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
His team lost. Going away.
Tiny Mercer College whipped Mayo and the Trojans in Los Angeles, 96-81. Mercer shot 60 percent from the field, which is unacceptable for any defense. USC shot an embarrassing 18-of-32 from the free throw line.
I'm sorry. This is not parity. This is apathy.
"Coach told us, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard,'" Mercer's Calvin Henry said.
"That was our quote of the week," Mercer coach Mark Slonaker said.
And apparently, there's more of this on the way in college sports. The prevailing thought is that teams are closer in talent than ever before. Pundits say that advances in video analysis, scouting, recruiting and the increased exposure of television have leveled the playing field in both football and basketball.
Maybe so. But not to this degree. This is something else.
I think I've got a working theory, but I'll admit it's not a complete, logical thesis just yet. I may need your help fitting some pieces of the puzzle together.
Let's start by clearly defining my idea of "parity" today in college sports.
In football ...
Parity is Illinois being able to go to Ohio State and win.
Parity is Kansas being good in football for the first time in decades.
Parity is the SEC East possibly ending in a six-way tie.
In basketball ...
Parity is a good small conference team being able to knock off a power opponent at a neutral site in March.
Parity is most definitely NOT a team picked to finish eighth in its conference, fresh off three years of probation, going into storied Rupp Arena and blasting the doors off a Kentucky team from start to finish.
In that game, Gardner-Webb came out with a 14-0 blitz to start and led at halftime, 26-10. They never trailed. When it was over, Kentucky sat in its own puzzled mess before a stunned home crowd.
Final score: 84-68.
That's an abomination, folks. That is not the "new era" in college sports where programs are supposedly "closer" in talent and skill than ever.
If there were true parity as some are insisting, then Kentucky would have also had a fight the night before against another second-tier team, Arkansas State. They did not. They won easily, 67-40.
The gap wasn't really as close as we wanted to believe that day. It's more likely Michigan just failed to show up.
And this is now happening more than ever. It's devaluing the notion of an upset in college sports.
In essence, horrible losses like the ones I mentioned above are happening with greater frequency than ever. Parity is a close loss to a tough team. These losses are unacceptable.
All of them happened at the power school's home field or court. All of these losses involved not just "power" schools that should have had no problem dispatching relative weaklings, but all of them involved power schools RANKED in the Top 25.
In football, Michigan was ranked fifth in the nation.
In basketball ...
Kentucky was ranked 20th before losing.
USC was ranked 18th.
Michigan State was ranked 8th!
Only Ohio State was out of the Pre-Season Top 25 thanks to the triple defections of Oden, Conley, and Cook. Still, the Buckeyes were 27th in the "others receiving votes" category.
I repeat: these losses aren't aberrations. They are ABOMINATIONS!
And abominations like this simply did not happen "back in the day." Sure, there were upsets. But when Virginia lost to tiny Chaminade back in a preseason tourney in 1982, just remember two things.
- The game was being played all the way in Hawaii.
- The final score was close, 77-72.
This is hardly like letting a nobody school come into your building and humiliate you from start to finish.
So what's my theory?
Again, it's only rough draft, but it's something like this: Today's teenagers who play sports, are more prone to wild lapses of attention to task and far more often unprepared to play a game with full team effort.
This is because the "distracted generation" of today is constantly being pulled by hypnotic technology and social networking addictions.
In short, I'm blaming FaceBook and MySpace.
I'm not kidding.
Back in 1982, just to pluck a year sufficiently on the other side of the technology revolution, a kid playing college basketball wasn't stimulated and distracted by everything they are today.
He didn't have an Xbox 360, nobody was calling him on a cell phone, his girlfriend wasn't texting him. He didn't care about what music was posted on his page at MySpace, he didn't read about his stats on dozens of different web sites and he didn't watch middle-aged sports writers debate the merits of his team on PTI.
In 1982, playing a college basketball game was the MOST stimulating thing in a typical teenager's life. It was the one place every week that gave him social status, and he looked forward to it with far greater anticipation.
The attention to detail in practice -- and the desire to totally CRUSH teams like Gardner-Webb, Mercer and Grand Valley State -- was never, ever, in doubt.
It is now.
If all of this was mere parity, then Michigan would have stumbled to a .500 season following the App. State loss. The Wolverines did not; they just got distracted for a week and mailed it in.
Maybe I'm over-thinking this. Maybe I sound like a grumpy old man complaining about "kids these days".
Maybe I should accept the fact that really, really, REALLY improbable upsets in college sports are here to stay, for whatever reason.
But I can't. I can't accept that.
An NCAA tournament team like USC, ranked in the Top 25, playing at home, with perhaps the first overall pick in the NBA draft, should NEVER lose so badly to a team like Mercer.
Lose a close game? OK. Maybe I can buy that. Giving up nearly 100 points? That's a disgrace. And I'm not willing to accept simple "parity" as an explanation.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.