The final game in the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament had an average of 23.4 million viewers; the Men’s College World series drew in 2.9 million viewers over the course of two nights. Both tournaments were covered from start to finish by ESPN and both drew in crowds for games, so why is it that college baseball doesn’t get the recognition its deserves when Major League Baseball is known as “America’s Pastime”?
There is always a lot of hype surrounding the BCS National Championship game or everyone turning their brackets in before March Madness but there never seems to be much chatter regarding baseball. So why is college baseball is not as popular as football or basketball? Well, I’ll tell you.
When you think of baseball you think blue skies, warm weather and peanuts. The college baseball season starts in February, which is tough for any school up north because they are still dealing with snow. (Standing in the outfield while it’s snowing? No thanks.) Up until this past year when Indiana made it to their first CWS, the last Big Ten team to make it to Omaha was Michigan in 1984.
This was the first year that the NCAA implemented changes to how the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is measured, making it more like college basketball. Now winning on the road will be more highly valued than home victories. Minnesota coach John Anderson said in By The Numbers that he thinks “the change just gives some hope to teams in the northern half of the country.”
Unlike college football and basketball, baseball gets the short end of the stick during the regular season when it comes to television coverage. Up until this past year, when ESPN upped the ante by covering every game between the 64 contestants for the national championship called the “Road to Omaha,” no one saw college baseball on television until it teams made it to Omaha.
Due to the popularity of conference networks, exposure should continue to improve. The new SEC Network that kicks of August of 2014 is promising to show 75 baseball games during the regular season.
Another issue college baseball has faced relates to the quality of the product. Up until recently you would’ve thought you were watching a little league game when you were watching a college baseball game. As much fun as it is to watch someone hit a homerun, it makes it boring when you see it happen every inning. In 2011, the NCAA began making all bats meet the new BBCOR, or “Bat-Ball Coefficient or Restitution” standard, which ensures that metal bats perform more similar to wooden ones.
Since the start of the BBCOR standard batting averages, home runs per game and earned-run averages are the lowest they have been in more than 30 years. The equipment change will help prepare college players for the big league, and will also help scouts better determine who is a better hitter.
Another issue for baseball when it comes to performance on the field relates to the existence of Minor League Baseball. When you watch a college football game or basketball game you watch top recruits that will one day play in the NBA or NFL. In baseball, however, the best baseball players usually go to the minor leagues straight out of high school. Of course, you have the exception,s but this is generally the case.
In this most recent MLB draft, a total of 18 players in the first round were chosen from college, while the other 15 players selected in the first round came from the high school ranks. New rules on draft spending have hindered teams from being overly aggressive in adding amateur talent, making it harder to convince high school players to not accept a college scholarship.
Overall, the reason why college baseball isn’t as popular is simply because it’s never been popular. How many people have you met who are just as avid fans when it comes to college baseball as they are with football?
My answer: none off the top of my head.
Sad isn’t it?
What’s even more depressing is when I’ve attended home college baseball games in the past, I’ve noticed season ticket holders tend to be people in their 30’s-60’s, not students.
The majority of us get into sport because of watching it with our parents. However, our parents never watched college baseball with us. Therefore, there is no tradition.
For college baseball to thrive, it begins with its most passionate fans. They are the ones who will make it popular by word of mouth.
Once that happens, college baseball can get the recognition it deserves.