Do top 25 rankings matter?

It doesn’t matter.

It’s pointless.

No one cares.

From the amount of Twitter dialogue I’ve seen, it seems like there has been a recent, more noticeable, backlash to the in-season basketball polls of late. Writers and fans alike have been more dismissive of results, using a variety of similar phrases as those above.

And while the beauty of college basketball, as opposed to BCS football, is that polls do not determine who gets to play for the title, they do in fact matter.

A lot, I would say.

You see, most people don’t follow basketball religiously like you or me. The mere fact that you are reading this on a relatively obscure, team-specific blog probably puts you in the one percent of diehard fans. You seek out any and all stories about (insert team here) and frequent a forum or two.

To you, dear basketball junky, polls are mere temperature checks to gauge the sanity of sports writers and whoever it is that fills out ballots for coaches.

You’ve seen enough games and read enough column inches to make your own opinions. You can hold a debate on Duke’s claim to the top spot without Ryan Kelly for multiple hours on Twitter, the equivalent of about three days in real life.

Let me put this more clearly: polls aren’t meant for die-hards. Sure they are easy gossip fodder, but at the end of the day, their value is miniscule. You will watch a Tuesday night basketball game between Ole Miss and Vandy even if there are no little numbers in front of the team names.

Therein lies the value of a ranking; the little number in front of a school’s name is like a neon sign in front a bar flashing FREE BEER for those that don’t devote much time to studying the college basketball landscape. It is an easy method to funnel attention to casual fans.

Why do you think NCAA tournament is so popular?  Every team has a little number in front of it. People who don’t follow closely throughout the year can get a sense of who is supposed to win and by how much. It takes all of the guess-work out of it, as the ranking indicates the strength of each team.

Think back to 2011 when Marquette “upset” Xavier in the first round of the tournament. Marquette was an 11-seed and Xavier a 6-seed. The little numbers clearly stated that the Musketeers should roll, and when that didn’t happen, it was labeled as a surprise. Sure the seeding was a bit skewed as KenPom had Marquette ranked higher than Xavier, but the average fan wouldn’t know that. They just see the bigger number beating the lower number and they want to watch.

And frankly, it’s all about the eyeballs. With television contracts ballooning—seriously, we are talking about a basketball league potentially getting $500 million for 12 years— there are plenty of incentives to get every extra viewer you can.

When Johnny Jumpshot is channel surfing in the 9:30 time slot before getting his “Daily Show” fix, seeing a ranked team on the screen may be enough to draw him away from those NCIS reruns.

It’s not simply about live eyeballs, though. Tape-delayed retinas work just as well. By this, I mean a bit more ESPN pub. Teams in the top 25 of the rankings tend to have more and longer highlights. While this doesn’t translate into improved on-court play, it does increase exposure, potentially helping to bring in academic and athletic recruits.

Frankly, save for the bluebloods, every school wants as much (positive) attention as possible. Getting ranked in the top 25 is an easy way to garner that.

So while you or Matt Norlander may not care about who’s in the top spot on Jan. 16, by no means does that make the rankings unimportant or a waste of time.

Rankings matter most during the regular season when subjectivity is at play. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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