February 25, 2008

Which is Tougher: Undefeated in College BBall or the NFL?

With Memphis losing to Tennessee on Saturday, we're sure to go another season without an undefeated D1 men's college basketball team. The last team to accomplish that feat was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

Quinn Buckner and the Hoosiers were the last to achieve perfection.

Of course, this season also saw a close call on a more famous perfect record, with the Patriots nearly missing the first perfect season in the NFL since the 1972 Dolphins.

This is how to go undefeated and piss people off.

So which accomplishment is more difficult?

There hasn't been a perfect season in either the NFL or college basketball in over 30 years, though there have been close calls in both sports. The Patriots this year made it to the Super Bowl with a perfect record, and the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl and only had 1 regular season loss. In NCAA basketball, the closest call was the 1991 UNLV Running Rebels who were huge favorites over Duke in the finals but lost. Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State team was undefeated until they lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the finals.

The 1972 Dolphins were the only team in the Super Bowl era to post a perfect record, and just the fourth perfect NFL team overall. The '76 Hoosiers were the sixth team since the inception of the NCAA tournament to go undefeated (following the incredible back-to-back '72 and '73 UCLA seasons). Before I wrote this post, I would have guessed that there were far more undefeated college basketball teams, but when you go beyond the Super Bowl era, things even out a bit. If you leave out the supernatural UCLA run, the two sports have remarkably similar histories of unbeaten teams.

The NFL unbeaten record only seems to be more difficult because of the insufferable '72 Dolphins. If we had to endure Quinn Buckner popping champagne and appearing on sports radio every season like Mercury Morris, the Hoosiers record might loom larger. The hype shouldn't matter when deciding which accomplishment is more difficult.

To go undefeated in the NFL today, a team needs to go 19-0. To go undefeated in college basketball, a team would have to go 40-0 (plus or minus a few games). Many of the basketball games would likely be against bad teams, including the first round of the NCAA tournament. In the NFL, there are some easy games, but none as easy as a big-time school's non-conference schedule. Still, 40 games without a loss is impressive even if you're playing the Washington Generals.

The NFL season ends with the playoffs, which for the top seeds involves three tough games in four weeks. The college basketball season ends with a 65 team tournament where the winner will have played six games in three weeks. Football is a more physical sport, but keeping up a level of play through the NCAA tournament is impressive under any circumstances.

In the end, going undefeated in either sport is an incredible achievement, especially with the level of play in this day and age. But for a team of college kids to maintain perfection over a 40 game season, with the distractions of class, finals, and college girls is even more impressive than a perfect NFL season.

6 Responses:

J-Red said...

Reading your support for both sides, I'd give a slight edge to basketball. Taking into consideration everything you said (especially including student travel), I think there are a few more things that make it more difficult in basketball.

In basketball, you field a five-man team. A "difference maker" on the basketball floor makes a HUGE difference compared to one of the 25 men who regularly contribute in football. An injury to a difference maker in basketball is crushing, whereas it can be survived in the NFL. Also, consider that basketball players play both ways, meaning their absence hurts every second of every play, unlike football.

J-Red said...

Also, in football it's more difficult to get upset by a weaker team. No one player can totally take over a game in football, at least not to the point that the other players on the field are mere bystanders.

If a basketball player catches a hot hand, and makes seemingly every shot, there is little you can do to stop him. You can foul him or you can double-team him, but unlike in football where that makes the game 10 on 11, in basketball it makes it 4 on 5, and that's much easier to exploit.

KGoon1590 said...

I'm not really sure, but I would probably say that it's harder for an NFL team to go undefeated. The only team that people talk about when they talk about perfect records in football is the 72 Dolphins, and that's the golden standard. The scrutiny that Memphis faced didn't measure up to the Patriots - in part because they weren't as close, but also because football is the most popular sport in the country and the NFL is the US's highest-grossing sports league.

Yes, dynasties are tough to build in basketball, but there have been more perfect teams in the competitive era than in football and more teams have come closer to perfect basketball records than in the NFL. Also, college bball coaches are aided by the fact that they can adjust their strength of schedule. If Memphis didn't play Tennessee, they'd probably take an unblemished record into the big dance.

Schlom said...

I think it's harder in the NFL because the talent level is so much more even. Also football games are much lower scoring so luck becomes a much larger factor as we saw in the Super Bowl this month.

Anonymous said...

@Schlom - So the Giants were "lucky" eh? Yup, it had nothing to do with the fact that they brough wicked pressha on ya quartaback. Tom Brady play half the game from his fackin' back. Go sign another petition and cry in the corner.

It is most definitely more difficult to go undefeated in College Basketball. I like the reasons mentioned in the initial post. The simple fact that you play more games gives you more opportunities to loose. Also, who remembers a few years ago when Princeton was torching people? It wasn't because they were a better team, they just ran a scheme very well. You come across teams like that frequently in the NCAA. Throw in academic problems... Your star, overpowering player slept through his English test? Sorry he's done for the year.

Justin said...

It is harder to go undefeated in Baseball