More people are apt to know who won the Little League World Series rather than its NCAA counterpart. That might function as more of a commentary on over-investment in the outcome of youth sports, but the fact is that Josh The Pilot has more than once flown clients to college football games for a $30,000 single day. (That’s just for the airplane, not the tickets or the ground transport or the tip for the poor sports marketing intern dispatched to personally deliver Insert Local College Restaurant Food Here to the sky box.)
If we are a nation of baseball– and for quite a long time, that’s exactly what we were–then why do we associate pigskin instead of cowhide for the local alma mater?
Given media emphasis on the seeming indestructibility of baseball, as well as its early appearance in America, it’s understandable to assume that football is simply newer and therefore shinier to the young, with higher payouts. But– wanna know when the first college football game took place? In 1869, between Princeton and Rutgers. That’s the same year the Reds were founded.
Organized baseball was well in place by the 1840s, but in the Ivy League, at least, they were already well on their way to College GameDay. By the 1890s college teams were pulling five figure crowds in the South, all of them cheering coaches swiped from Northern campuses– most of whom were well aware that their baseball counterparts, without students even on campus to attract attention in the spring and summer, had largely ceded the literal field.
A college campus is a culture. A small stadium shared with eight other motley teams is not.
Money for the Marching Band
The obvious reason why baseball never quite took root on campus while football shuts down entire towns seems obvious: College teams are the de facto minor league of the NFL, and low-pro baseball teams are left to cobble together promos like Nobody Night to keep pace.
One could also argue that the competition of baseball is spread too thin. While the larger percentage of MLB players are plucked from the college system rather than the farm, the hyper-local nature of A-AAA teams– an asset in terms of emotional attachment, which can quickly turn to a detriment when it comes to constantly changing parent teams– means that it’s difficult to sustain the sort of wide fanbase necessary to fund a true Big 12 machine.
Packers Fans in the Pubs
Absolutely none of this happens in Europe (they’re too busy with soccer) and it makes sense that football’s distinctly American flavor helps to concentrate its talent on one continent– a continent in which the sport is even more popular in Latin America.
And in addition to our friends in Cuba and the Dominican, baseball must share its on-base percentage kings with Asia. Despite the NFL’s insistence upon barging into England once a year, they’re not exactly waving Packers flags in Gloucestershire.
That’s because it’s ours.
And they know it.
What We Watch
So if you’re running an athletic department, you are going to add another flat screen TV to the locker of each individual player, not invest in a pitching clinic run by Corbin Burnes and Sonny Gray with a special appearance by Shohei Ohtani. The money follows.
And that is why you have never just stumbled upon a televised college baseball game on a Saturday afternoon. If you do, it’s probably because ESPN has exhausted its supply of cornhole championships and weekly World’s Strongest Man competitions.
Given what’s become of the recruiting-riddled core of college ball, perhaps that’s for the best. Those boys might not play for the biggest crowds, but they’re far closer to the origins of the sport than their brothers down the quad and on the gridiron.