When people discuss the most popular sport in America, it always comes down to baseball and football. Baseball is known as “America’s pastime” and was at one time unquestionably the biggest sport around. As the years have come and gone however, the NFL has taken over that distinction in most onlookers’ eyes. While the debate can still be made that professional baseball is still up there with the NFL, and is still more popular than the NBA and NHL, one thing can be agreed upon – college baseball has never been as popular as college football or basketball.
The NCAA College World Series officially got underway yesterday, and I have often wondered why there isn’t more of a following for the sport. College football has just as many fans as the NFL does, and many people I talk to actually prefer college basketball to the NBA. So the question is, why the lack of popularity for college baseball? Is it because of the short season? Perhaps it’s because in football and basketball, we see the college stars go straight to the league, while the baseball players have to go through so many different minor league levels. While ESPN does air the games, they don’t exactly do extensive coverage of them on SportsCenter, nor do the local media.
Pitt’s baseball team entered the season just outside the top 25 after a 38-18 season. The flagship station for Pitt, 93.7 “The Fan”, didn’t mention the team at all during the year. Is it possible that due to the 50 rounds of the draft, that the fans don’t hold the players as being as valuable as the NBA (2 rounds) or NFL (7 rounds) where it’s harder to get drafted? The eight teams that made the College World Series in Omaha this year, had a combined four first round picks in this year’s baseball draft - Danny Hultzen (Virginia), Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt) and Levi Michael (North Carolina) – so it’s not that the star players aren’t being showcased.
We know the success of March Madness each year with the Cinderella teams breaking brackets and the one-and-done setup. College football has a successful – but oft despised – system that allows any team that wins half of their regular season games be eligible for a bowl game. So what should baseball do to improve their following? They currently have two double-elimination brackets of four teams each. Thereafter, the winners of each bracket meet in a best-of-three final, but is it time they change that to make it more cutthroat? We love Cinderella teams in basketball, and baseball has these teams as well. Look at the University of California, for instance. They were on the brink of being eliminated due to University budget cuts, but alumni were able to raise over $9 million to keep the baseball program active. Now, seven months later, they are competing for a National Championship.
When all is said and down, I think the difference between the sports primarily comes down to the TV deals. There is college basketball on almost every night of the week. College football is on the major networks and cable all day Saturday, and now even during the week. The Big East has a nationally televised game every Thursday during the season. College baseball doesn’t have this same sort of exposure. Sure, ESPN airs the World Series and some games throughout the year, but that visibility is not even close to that which the other sports enjoy. There are packages you can buy to see more college baseball games, but the general public doesn’t get exposed to them, and that is how the game needs to build a fan base. The lack of media attention could also affect the lack of betting, which undeniably is one of the reasons college basketball and football are so popular. Neither of these possible reasons, however, tops the effect that the minor-league system has on college baseball. We already have so many different levels of baseball to watch, and the best prospects are scattered throughout the minors. Also, many of the best players get drafted right out of high school.
Hopefully over time, college baseball will gain more of a following and get the exposure and recognition that it has lacked. Let’s face it: Media controls the world, so more televised games would be a good first-step in the right direction.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com