Thursday marks the hyper-drive start of the NCAA tournament. It's the day workplace efficiency plunges -- the day millions of fans tune in to college basketball after four months of tuning out.
March Madness is the greatest event in sports, three pulsating weeks of busted brackets and buzzer-beaters.
But the four-month regular season is struggling for relevance in the crowded, football-dominated marketplace. It needs help.
"It's like college basketball doesn't exist for the first few weeks of the season," said Greg Shaheen, a former NCAA executive vice president in charge of the tournament.
That might be a tad kind. As the satirical news website The Onion noted in a headline Monday, one day after the brackets were unveiled: "Nation Gears Up For Start Of College Basketball Season."
Or as Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, a member of the Division I men's basketball committee (aka: the selection committee), explained:
"We've talked -- both athletic directors and members of the committee -- about how to bring more relevance to the regular season. It's a challenge we're all looking at."
Without change, the situation will continue to deteriorate. The upcoming four-team playoff will undoubtedly increase the popularity of college football, and when the event expands to eight teams -- it's inevitable -- college basketball's regular season might as well not even start until mid-January.
Actually, that's not a bad idea.
"There has been some discussion of moving the calendar," Barnes added.
But before we examine a radical calendar change, let's address three other issues facing the sport.
Many college officials and coaches are frustrated with the rule that allows players to bolt for the NBA following their freshman season. They want a greater commitment -- at least two years and maybe three.
But any shift at the NCAA level would require a change in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, and the Players' Association is believed to be reluctant.
Under the sport's current structure, authority is shared among four bodies: the basketball committee, which runs the tournament and selects the field; the basketball rules committee; the basketball issues committee; and the coaches' association.
"We need a stand-alone entity that's focus on the strategic, long-term interest of men's basketball," said West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, a member of the basketball committee.
Shaheen believes more high-profile nonconference games are needed to boost early-season interest and draw casual fans to the sport.
His suggestion: Reward teams that seek out marquee games, perhaps by reserving a handful of the tournament's precious at-large berths to the teams with the toughest nonconference schedules.
More marquee games would help, especially if they involve NBA-caliber players who have committed to spending three years in school.
But that wouldn't solve college basketball's greatest problem: The football overlap.
The basketball season used to start when college football ended: Thanksgiving weekend. Now basketball tips off in early November and football ends in early December. Add the NFL regular season and playoffs, and college basketball barely registers on the mainstream sports radar until February.
The best long-term solution is to move the start of basketball back three or four weeks to avoid the steamroller that is the college football regular season.
But that's trickier than it seems.
"If you start later," Barnes said, "then what do you do with the end of the season? What do you do with the tournament?"
Here's what you do:
You move it.
Start the regular season the second week of December, end it in early April, and play the Final Four in late April or early May.
March Madness becomes April Anarchy (or May-hem).
It's the only solution to the football overlap -- the only way to ensure the long-term relevance of the regular season.
There are obstacles, of course, but the most daunting is not CBS's broadcast of the Masters on the second weekend in April.
Under the terms of the current 14-year contract, Turner Sports, not CBS, is responsible for the majority of the $11 billion owed to the NCAA for the tournament broadcast rights. Turner, not CBS, would have greater influence in a date-change discussion.
The potential conflicts with Turner's calendar are baseball games and the NBA playoffs, which begin April 19 this year.
But Turner has three outlets for the NCAAs (TBS, TNT and truTV), and it splits the NBA playoffs with ESPN.
The tournament calendar could be set so only the final two weekends -- that's just six days of competition -- overlap with the NBA playoffs.
Perhaps the most daunting obstacle to a radical calendar shift, according to Shaheen, is the potential impact on advertising dollars.
"If you move the calendar back a month, you roll the tournament into the second (fiscal) quarter,'' he said. "Then you run into baseball games. That's an enormous advertising and broadcasting commitment.''
If advertisers spend less during the tournament, Turner and CBS would pay less for the broadcast rights, which currently account for approximately 95 percent of the NCAA's annual revenue.
How much less?
"The conversations haven't been developed to the extent that we've looked at the bottom line," Barnes said.
There's an added benefit to moving the calendar, one that would play well in the halls of academia: Starting the season on the second or third week of December -- after final exams -- would make college basketball a one-semester sport.
It's better for the players, the teams, the fans and the sport, which means it has little chance of becoming reality.
Contact Jon Wilner at email@example.com or 408-920-5716.