Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Mr. Tagliabue, how do you sleep at night?" "On top of piles of money with many beautiful women!"

With an ode to my favorite Simpsons character and a hat tip to the Mighty MJD, here is a Harris poll indicating that college football has become the third most popular sport in the United States, trailing only the NFL, which has dwarfed its rivals by leaps and bounds, and baseball. (In defense of baseball, the results of the poll would have been different if it was taken in May instead of early December, when football is at its peak.)

It's interesting and gratifying that college football is apparently significantly more popular than the NBA. In fact, college basketball outpaced the NBA for the first time in the poll's history, which is a sign that David Stern is right to be concerned that the Pistons and Spurs are dominant, while not generating much casual interest because their rivalry can't be personalized into some sort of simplistic, "Achilles vs. Hector" battle on which the league thrives. You'd never know from watching SportsCenter that college football and NASCAR are so much more popular than the NBA, which leads one to question whether the geniuses in Bristol (the one in the frozen tundra, not the one with the short track) know their audience (or their potential audience.) Compare how much attention Signing Day will get, as opposed to NBA games or whatever excuse the Worldwide Leader will use to involve the Yankees and Red Sox in their flagship show.

Factors that might have increased interest in college football over the past two years:

1. The USC Dynasty;

2. Several big stars like Young, Bush, and Leinart staying in school for several years;

3. Notre Dame fans coming out of the woodwork; and/or

4. HeismanPundit and CFR's "Gang of Six" Theory

The poll also hits on the reason why I felt a little alienated from college football (and specifically the SEC) at the end of the 2004 season: it's much beloved by Republicans. It's hard for me to have a communal bonding experience when I know that the fans around me, woofing to their heart's content, probably do the same thing in their tackily-decorated living rooms when Hannity gives another ill-reasoned put-down to the hapless Colmes. "Yeah, Democrats are traitors!!!" Some of my best friends are Republicans (it's hard to work at a major law firm and not get along with conservatives,) but it always worries me when I do something that Red Staters love and Blue Staters abhor. In that period, I had the same feeling of disquiet listening to Merle Haggard, eating at Waffle House, drinking bourbon, and being outside in February. Then I remembered that my party pissed away the election by nominating a liberal from Massachusetts who had all the personality of Herb Sendek and I felt strangely better.


Fox said...

Isn't the football/non-football thing more of a rural vs. urban thing than a north-south thing, especially when it comes to college football. All of my friends who grew up in major cities (NYC, Chicago) could care less about college football because they never had a team to root for/didn't have big open fields to play football in. But they love college hoops. And of course rural folks are far more Republican than city people.

Or at least you can tell yourself this so you can watch college football guilt free.

Michael said...

True, and growing up in Macon counts as rural. The problem is this: do the same things that make rural people Republican also make them college football fans, i.e. preference for tribal warfare? Or is it just a coincidence based on the fact that rural people like college football because they never had pro sports teams and they're Republicans for different reasons?

Fox said...

There's definitely some overlap. Several of my Republican fiends seem to be republican mainly because they think that real men are Republicans and favor a tough guy approach on all things political. That feeds in pretty well to the rural view of football, especially college football. But I don't think that's really why you like college football so much.

Now that I think about it, we shouldn’t overlook the impact that being exposed to a real college program has. I doubt I'd be such a big college football fan if I hadn't grown up in Blacksburg and I'm sure going to Michigan swayed you toward college and away from the pros. (To me, going to a home college game of your team is about 1,000 times better than going to a pro game, which has made a huge difference.) People in the Northeast just don’t have that opportunity (and California’s just too nice for most of the people there to care).

Fox said...

Oops, I meant "friends" not "fiends" but maybe that was a Freudian slip.

Michael said...

Well, you have to look at cause and effect. It's more likely that I went to Michigan over the University of Chicago because I was already a college football fan and liked the idea of going to four years of games at the Big House. (In truth, the social life and the notion of spending four years in sweet college town instead of the dreary South Side were more decisive, but I won't lie and say that sports had nothing to do with it.) I was a big college football fan from the time I moved to Macon. Part of it was living in Pittsburgh during some of my formative sports years when the Panthers had Marino (while the Steelers had Mark Malone and Cliff Stoudt) and were very good and the rest of it was going to the South, a college football hotbed, and rooting for Auburn when they had Bo and then an assembly line of great running backs.

So basically, I became a college football fan because of where I grew up and the college decision further led me down the road to obsession. It had nothing to do with values that are consistent with Dittoheads and thus, I feel better. Thanks, Fox.

Caelus said...

Most definitely, environment and local team success has much to do with how your sports and actual life turns out. I grew up in Michigan and lived in Georgia (second time around now) and the Seattle area and was forced to follow inept Lions, Falcons, and SeaHawk teams. At the same time I learned to love Michigan (1966 grad) and Washington (Don James versions) college football. I am currently trying to become a fan of either Georgia and/or Georgia Tech football.

Michael said...

Caelus, you'll find it easier to identify with UGA, which has all the hallmarks of a major program and has a coaching staff that I envy in comparison to that of my alma mater (although Carr & Co. are good recruiters.) Tech doesn't really have a huge fan base. They're like Miami with a lot less talent. They're reasonable fans understand this. Their fans who think that results from the 30s and 40s are relevant to today don't get it. Tech basketball, on the other hand, is more fun to follow than UGA hoops because there's more interest, they have a better track record, and they're in the ACC.