There's Enough Stuff Already

We're nearly halfway into the Big Ten season, which means it's getting to the point where things feel "real." Like, hey, Rutgers is actually pretty decent! Illinois has figured out its defense! The early-season breakout players have transitioned into just breakout players. And some teams that impressed early—say, Georgia—have performed in conference play more in line with preseason projections.

All this navel-gazing produces a healthy amount of postseason award talk. They don't hand out the hardware in late January, of course, but it's fun to talk about, right?

But one award, no matter when it's being discussed, always grinds my gears—Coach of the Year. Coaches are important, no doubt, and the good ones are worthy of admiration. But I'm not sure what this award is for. If it's "for the best coach, (ya moron)," then I humbly submit the coach that wins the Big Ten title should win it. If there's a tie for the title, then all coaches sharing in such tie should likewise share the award. That, of course, seems a bit redundant and simple, and I do not disagree. It's one reason why I think we should abstain from having a Coach of the Year Award.

Detractors will point out that often the team that wins the conference title also happens to be the most talented. This is obviously true, just as it's obviously true that a significant portion of a college head coach's responsibility is to convince talented players to play for their institution. Carving that piece off of the job requirement, for the purposes of this award only, feels a bit like pondering which is the best streaming service available without considering the respective content library of each.

Then there's a more nuanced version of this argument, which is that it's undoubtedly more difficult to convince 4 and 5-star players to play for Rutgers than it is to convince them to play for Michigan State. Well, yes, that's true. But it's also true that's in large part due to the long-term efforts of Michigan State's coach. Furthermore, now you've got this very complicated calculus of baked-in recruiting advantage vs. on-court results, and we should surely not count things like injuries and hardship transfers and ill-advised early departures against these coaches either, should we (or should we?)?

Where this all leads is to a place where you just want to throw your hands up and give the award to the coach that won the conference, or (better yet) not have the award at all. Instead, what we get is an award which is something of an admission by the collective media that Boy, We Really Got This Team Wrong, without, of course, admitting it got anything wrong at all. The team was "supposed" to be much worse than this, you see. Of course, our projections are flawless, so it must be the case that only an especially great coaching performance could have accounted for this! It's just...hubris, is all.

In reality, I don't think there is anyone on the planet that has the requisite knowledge to know who did the best job in any given season. That would require knowing details like which coach diagnosed and corrected a mechanical tweak that led to a precipitous rise in his wing's three-point percentage. Or the award could be deserved for something off-the-court related, where a coach picked up on a player going through a difficult time and managed to get him resources that helped. Or maybe something as banal as staffing—heck, John Beilein probably deserved one just for hiring Luke Yaklich (or maybe not—see Texas this season).

I can buy that a beat reporter might know intimate details about this for their team, but I don't think there is one that knows these things for all teams in a given conference (if there is, that is who The Athletic should hire). Until such a super reporter exists, and is able to share his or her insights with the world, I would prefer if no award is handed out. And don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't think college basketball coaches deserve no recognition. It's just that, well, as Don Draper once said...

This is the point at which I'm usually labeled as a basketball curmudgeon. After all, it's a fun discussion, isn't it? And yeah, sure, no one is being harmed here. But there is a lot of great content about this game out there, more than there ever was. Don't get into it with some national writer's COY list, spare your digital attention for the likes of Jordan Sperber, Gibson Pyper, Torvik, Jeff Haley, Dylan Burkhardt, Gasaway, Pomeroy, and many others. I'm omitting more than I'm including here, which goes to show just how much great content there already is about college basketball. I can't imagine forgoing any of it just to have a debate that's more a celebration of media hubris than anything else.