UCLA basketball and me: drifting further apart

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As I started writing this, the UCLA basketball team was playing host to Stanford in a Pac-12 conference game at Pauley Pavilion. In the past, this would be a big deal for me. I would be trying to figure out how to balance what I wanted to watch on TV. In years past, I would have made time to watch the game.

This year, it's quite different. I only knew the UCLA game started because I got a text alert on my phone. The game started at 8 pm. I should have known UCLA would be playing Stanford around now since I saw a bit of Cal playing at USC on Wednesday night. But my heart and head just weren't in to watching the game.

So where did UCLA hoops and I drift apart? Just two years ago, I even took the time to drive down to the Sports Arena to watch the Bruins play a home game in their season in exile while Pauley Pavilion was being renovated. I even wrote a long piece about the team last season.

But this year? Even though UCLA has played fairly well (or at least it reads that way), I have mustered the same enthusiasm for watching UCLA play basketball as I do for a trip to Cleveland. (I've been to Cleveland. It didn't go well.)

I've been trying to pinpoint just what caused this breakup. There's no one reason, but several that just added up.

1. The Pac-12 Network. When Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott overplayed his hand with DirecTV and failed to get his pet project network on the service, a large chunk of UCLA's basketball schedule was no longer able to seen by me. Also, the Pac-12 has had games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1, and probably some other networks that I may or may not have. UCLA's first five regular season games were on the Pac-12 Networks. The next one was on ESPN3 (i.e. streaming only.) The second USC-UCLA game this season on February 8 will be on the Pac-12 Network only.

I've seen the Pac-12 Network at my in-laws house. It has not inspired me to write a complaint letter to DirecTV.

2. UCLA plays an extraordinarily unimpressive home nonconference schedule. This year's opponents were: Drexel, Oakland, Sacramento State, Morehead State, Chattanooga, UC Santa Barbara, Prairie View A&M, Weber State, and Alabama. I'm not sure how someone even makes a decision to sign a contract to play that group of teams. It's almost like UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero used some type of random number generator to make up the schedule. *

3. I used to want to go to games at Pauley Pavilion and take in the crowd. Sometimes, TV announcers say that Pauley Pavilion sounds like a library because the crowd is so quiet. However, in my job as an actual librarian, I would kill for a work environment that quiet. Also, why should I try to get to Pauley Pavilion, especially for a midweek game that starts at 6 pm (the January 9 home game against #1 Arizona started at 6 pm). I work Downtown and live in the San Fernando Valley. This makes getting to the Westside something that requires the same kind of logistical planning as the invasion of Normandy.

I had thought that a renovated Pauley Pavilion would be a big drawing card. But it's not. It's just a slightly bigger version of the old arena with bigger concourses and more toilets. And uninteresting basketball to watch.

4. My wintertime sports viewing has turned more to watching either the Kings (during nights) or English football (during the morning and afternoon.) ESPN has a college basketball game on one of its channels seemingly at all times of the day, but I mostly just blow right through them. College basketball has stopped producing a compelling product for people to watch, except during the NCAA Tournament, when people feel obligated to try to forecast all 67 games of the tournament.

5. The coverage of UCLA basketball in the local media has been pretty spotty and not much of it was complimentary after Steve Alford took over for Ben Howland. The big story after Alford's hiring was his awful mishandling of a situation involving a player he coached at Iowa. (Please read the linked story for details, it's too long to recount here.)

Maybe it was just time for UCLA basketball and I to part. We had a good run. I got to see some pretty mediocre teams during my four years as a UCLA student from 1983-87. But I got to see an NIT championship banner hoisted into the rafters. (Its current whereabouts are unknown.) I also got to see UCLA lose another NIT game at home. To UC Irvine.

When March rolls around, I may start to pay attention to see how UCLA is faring. I think the Bruins are in second place in the conference. I assume they'll make the NCAA tournament and maybe even win a game. Or maybe not. I should probably take the time to find out one of these days.

* I should have mentioned in the original post that the nonconference schedule I mentioned referred to home games only. UCLA did play at Missouri and played Duke in New York City. They also played Northwestern and Nevada in Las Vegas.

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