Billy Packer, the college basketball analyst who called 34 consecutive Final Fours for NBC and CBS before retiring in 2008, was his usual grumpy self in an interview with USA Today this week.He actually complains about the fact that the NCAA Tournament will be shown on four networks this year, allowing all 63 games to be broadcast nationwide in their entirety. Packer thinks most fans don’t care about seeing specific games (wrong); that CBS doesn’t a better job of switching people to the most exciting games (also wrong); the play-in games are ridiculous (definitely true); and that ESPN would have done a better job of covering and promoting the tourney (probably true.)
But buried in the story is Packer’s biggest criticism of all: Basketball kind of sucks now.
“The game has regressed incredibly in the last 10 years, at all levels and the coaches know it. … It’s a different world and to do a good job you’d have to buy into it. That’s why I couldn’t do it anymore.”
In the final years of his career, Packer became a popular target of fans, because of his seemingly negative outlook on players and coaches and their approach to the game. It often sounded like the rantings of an angry old man longing for the “good old days” — the way this sounds like the sour grapes of a guy who lost his job.
But he was often right. Packer was quite negative in his assessments, but also more insightful about the sport than the vast majority of his peers. We always preferred his “constructive criticism” to the know-nothing boosterism of the Dick Vitales of the world. He called like he saw it, which is all we really want from the guys in the booth.
And it’s hard not to argue that college basketball hasn’t suffered from the one-and-done flight of its biggest stars, and it isn’t difficult to find older NBA fans who lament the lack of fundamentals from kids who never got seasoning in the NCAA.
But the point isn’t whether you agree with Packer or not (plenty of reasonable people believe the sport has never been stronger), it’s that no one is allowed to say things like that on TV. That alone is reason to worry about the future of sports.
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