More black players performing at the big state universities in the South. Additional conferences springing up with accompanying TV exposure, especially in the East. Bigger and better arenas across the land. Players who are sophisticated enough as freshmen to handle conditions on the road. ("I recruit New York City school kids who play summer games in Utah," says Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "Washington summer programs send players to Las Vegas. Kids go overseas in the summer now. When I was in high school in D.C., we were lucky to go to Baltimore. There are no foreign courts anymore. Good players will play well wherever the game is.") All these factors have contributed to parity in college basketball. Since UCLA's Wooden retired after winning the 1975 championship, 16 different teams have made it to the final four; the last three national champions—Marquette, Kentucky and Michigan State—were defeated in the regular season a total of 15 times. The word coaches frequently use in discussing this phenomenon is "commitment."
"Everyone has made a strong commitment to the big time," says Alabama's C. M. Newton. "You have to look long and hard to find a Division I school that has not said it wanted championship basketball. Just look around our league. Everyone has a nice, new place to play. [Florida is building one.] There have been 19 coaching turnovers in the last 12 years, and only three of them were voluntary. There is a hunger everywhere."
Alabama is not the only football school to have finally accepted round ball. In his six years at Arkansas, Eddie Sutton has built a program and reputation that rival those of North Carolina's Dean Smith. That is, no matter whom he recruits or where he plays, Sutton is expected to coach his team to respectability—on the court and at the box office. Since 1974 Arkansas' basketball revenues have climbed from $40,000 a season to about $1 million. "It can be done anywhere," says Sutton. "We just did it faster than most schools could."
Radio and TV have made basketball an attractive financial proposition for schools from coast to coast. When Hugh Durham took the coaching position at Georgia last year, a priority was the Bulldog radio network, which he increased from five stations to 35. San Francisco, even with Bill Russell, never had anything more than FM broadcasts from a school station. But for the last five seasons the Dons' games have been on major radio and television stations in the Bay Area.
College games on cable TV have proliferated at a stunning rate. If you can't catch about 10 or 20 games a night on the tube, you're either unplugged or unaware of the all-night charms of something called ESPN-TV.
The openhanded beneficence of NBC and TVS have made the NCAA tournament a gold mine, even for first-round losing teams, one of which is said to have received $60,000 for a defeat last March. "I remember back in 1959 when we played five games, went to the NCAA finals and won it all, we only got $16,000," says former California Coach Pete Newell. "Has the dollar depreciated that much?"
Well, maybe. But the sport has changed and is being appreciated more—even by those who formerly loathed stalls, delays, four corners and the other tactics used to freeze the action. Such stratagems have proliferated throughout the college game; they constitute the single most important technical factor in evening up the competition.
"Everybody's going back to holding the ball," says Abe Lemons, coach of the Texas Longhorns. "You've got a better chance to win if you keep the score low—that's a proven fact. If the other team's got better material, just don't turn 'em loose. You'll notice most of the upsets involve very low scores."
Wyoming let the air out and upset Brigham Young 56-53. Princeton, young and not overly talented, passes the ball around all night, keeps scores in the 50s and has won enough on frustration alone to be going into the season's final week with a crack at the Ivy League title. Stanford virtually came to a complete halt against Oregon State before the Beavers responded in kind and won 18-16.
Then, of course, there is the ACC where everybody has a copy of North Carolina's four corners—the latest being Clemson's Tiger Pause. And at Tennessee, 5'7" Ralph Parton has gone from walk-on to hero as the designated dribbler in the Vol stall. "I can't play up there with the 7-footer," says Parton, "but he can't play down here with me, either."