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The Popularity Question

Senator Blutarsky asks the following question:

Or when you can find a regular season Washington-Hawaii basketball game that draws as much attention as a Washington-Hawaii football game:

On the final weekend of the season, Washington at Hawaii received a 2.0 TV rating. An estimated 1.96 million households saw the game, even though it ended a 3:14 a.m., ET because the Warriors’ victory all but assured them of an at-large berth in one of the five BCS games.

(As an aside, a scrappy team from a minor conference is the last undefeated team in a sport, playing it's last real test of the season? That's going to be a draw no matter the postseason system in place. I know, becuase when it happened basketball in February, and it drew a 3.8 rating on ESPN.)

Continuing on:

There is one regular season basketball rivalry that draws national attention year in and year out, TH’s North Carolina and Duke. How many D-1 football rivalries are compelling nationally? And how many D-1 regular season football games are there every year like Washington-Hawaii or West Virginia-Pitt that draw our attention, compared to college basketball? If it’s not because of the differing postseason formats, what is it?

I think you vastly overestimate the national interest in a lot of football rivalries, but are there other reasons why college football is more popular than basketball?

Well, for one thing football in general is more popular than basketball. The NFL outdraws the NBA and high school football beats out their fellow students in the gym, and all of those leagues have playoffs. There's football's infancy occurring in a more agrarian society, the ritual of Saturday games, and the large team sizes and scholarships bringing in more fans initially and more easily fostering dynasties as opposed to their five-on-five bretheren. Hell, there's even the lack of air-conditioned gyms for the first fifty years of basketball's existence. There's the importance of radio or the greater stadium capacity - a whole host of reasons, just off the top of my head.

But let me turn it around. If college football's popularity is the result of their awesome byzantine bowl system, than why is the most popular team one that refused to play in a bowl game for forty-five years? If the BCS is the key to football's rabid fan base why do they tweak it almost every year? And if thirty-four vacations over the course of the month is the one true way to popularize your sport, why does no other league in any sport, anywhere on the globe think, "You know the best way to determine a champion? Play twelve or so games, take a month off and fill it with crap exhibition games and then put two teams chosen by vote on the field an eternity after they last played to fight it out. That is box office gold."

I just don't think the bowl system is the engine driving college football's success. And I don't think the tradition everyone's stoutly defending exists anymore. College football abandoned New Year's Day. They overloaded their schedule with meaningless games for meager payouts between .500 teams. And their denying good teams a shot, and fans good football. For what?