No need to fear, college hoops is here!

It will certainly be disappointing if the NBA season is canceled as a result of the league’s ongoing labor war. However, that disappointment will likely be short-lived.

Quickly filling the void left by the pros will be college basketball, which tipped off a new season last night with the opening round of the2K Sports Classic. There were a total of three games on the schedule, two of which were broadcast on ESPNU. It was the start of what will be a dream TV season for hoops aficionados.

Perhaps in anticipation of a prolonged NBA lockout, ESPN’s family of networks and its parent ABC will be televising a record-breaking number of college basketball games this season. The schedule will include more than 1,450 regular-season and Championship Week games. That surpasses the previous high of 1,200 matchups televised last season.

Of course, this doesn’t count all of the games that will be televised on regional networks and national networks like CBS.

By continuing their bickering, the NBA’s millionaire players and the league’s billionaire owners could do immeasurable harm to the popularity of their product. It’s not that fans will stop watching NBA out of spite, although a few will, no doubt. What’s more likely is that many hoops fans will simply turn to the college game as their preferred choice.

This could be particularly pronounced among young fans. For an entire season, kids will get that much more familiar with college players, coaches, schools and traditions. By the time the NBA finally gets back on the court, it’s entirely possible that many kids will simply shrug their shoulders as they sit down to watch ESPN’s Thursday Night Showcase instead of TNT NBA Thursday.

I’m sure there are plenty of players and owners who watched the beginning of college hoops this week and considered the potential damage they could end up doing to their business and their pocketbooks. Perhaps that’s one reason why we’re hearing rumblings about an 11th-hour resolution sometime in the next couple of days.

If they don’t get things resolved, with college games resuming tomorrow night and ramping up through the weekend, the NBA’s labor strife will begin to fade into the background for millions of hoops fans across the nation.

Games on Wednesday in the 2K Classic include:

Akron at Mississippi (4pm PT, ESPNU)
Lehigh at St. John’s (4pm PT, ESPN2)
Liberty at Texas A&M (5pm PT, FOX Southwest)
Duquesne at Arizona (6pm PT, ESPN2)

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