Wisch: Is College Football Really America’s No. 2 Sport?

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) Jim Delany had a lot to say last week.

During Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, the longtime conference commish said he’s pleased with the Big Ten Network (now boasting 45 million subscribers, up 15 percent from 2010). And that he’s displeased with Michigan and Ohio State (two of 14 schools presently under NCAA scrutiny).

He said that NCAA reform is currently in the works (for a system “that was established in the ’50s and is stuck in the ’70s”). And he said BTN won’t be televising high school football games (at least, not right now).

But of all the comments that Delany made last week, what I found most intriguing was the one he uttered about his league’s most popular sport – which he now considers to be the nation’s second most popular.

“College football has separated itself,” Delany told the assembled media last week. “The NFL is the most popular sport in America by a long shot. But college football, for a variety of reasons over the last decade, has separated itself from college basketball, pro baseball, pro basketball and hockey.”

That statement – a fairly bold one – got me wondering about college pigskin. Has it really surpassed the other major pro sports, as well as college hoops, to rank No. 2 in the American consciousness?

Or was the most powerful man in college athletics just trying to help get it there?

Now, I’ll acknowledge that the NFL is America’s No. 1 spectator sport. Although, I will bring up the same point that I often do when discussing the popularity of our nation’s pastimes, and ask you to imagine the demand for Major League Baseball tickets …

… If there were only 16 games in a season.

But, I digress. And, according to poll of 2,331 adults conducted by Harris Interactive last December, pro football is indeed America’s king. However, contrary to Delaney’s assertion, the poll showed Major League Baseball as the runner-up, with college football instead earning the bronze.

In its poll, Harris reported that just over 3-in-10 Americans who follow at least one sport (31 percent) claim professional football as their favorite sport, while 17 percent say baseball. Interestingly, baseball actually narrowed the gap from the previous year when 35 percent of sports fans said the NFL was their favorite with 16 percent saying MLB.

College football, meanwhile, earned 12 percent of the vote in December’s poll, followed by auto racing (7 percent), NBA (6 percent), hockey (5 percent), college basketball (4 percent) and soccer (4 percent).

According to Harris, when this particular poll was first conducted back in 1985, the NFL garnered 24 percent of the vote, while baseball had 23 percent and college football 10 percent.

So, there’s really no debating that college football has grown in popularity during the past quarter-century, while baseball’s popularity has decreased.

And it’s important to point out that since respondents weren’t asked, we don’t know how many NFL fans might have ranked college football as their No. 2 favorite sport over Major League Baseball.

So, in that light – and considering that polls are, well, just polls – I’m not saying that Delany is wrong. He might be right. But I don’t know about that for sure.

Nevertheless, what I’m most interested in is your opinion. If we can all agree that pro football is indeed America’s No. 1 most popular sport, what do you think stands in at No. 2?

Baseball or college football?

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Is College Football Really Americas No. 2 Sport?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Excellent topic, Dave, really excellent.

    If you clocked my time and $:
    1. MLB
    2. NFL
    3. College hoops
    4. College football
    5. NBA
    6. NHL
    7. PGA

    In my case maybe I’d be more college football intense if I hadn’t gone to an Ivy school……I went there 7 years and never once went to a football game.

    • Murphs Upper-Lip

      1. MLB
      2. NFL
      3. Tennis (so the Lip is the one, eh?)
      4. NHL
      5. NBA
      6. PGA (has to have a hook, though, usually)
      7. College B-Ball (just when the madness begins, though)

      The second tier is WAY below the top tier. I’m just one voter, but the aforementioned isn’t even on my list. C’mon, while college’s pigskin is mighty big, I really don’t think it’s knocked off our beloved pastime.

  • GeorgeAltmanFan

    Same as the Arse. Unless Tiger’s in contention and the Bears aren’t playing; then PGA zooms to No. 2.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Certainly college fb is up there, but I’m not so sure about #2.

    We posters vote with our fingers.
    Dave (and Bernsie) will gets tons of response to blogs about the Bears and (Dave) the Cubs and (Dave) Bruce Weber and yes also Illini football.
    Dave, do you have a sense of how topics/sports rank in your blogosphere?

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Hey Arse, sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Was at Lollapalooza on Friday and Saturday — and resting up yesterday. Ha.

      My Top 5 personal sports rankings, would fall like this, I believe:

      1. MLB
      2. College hoops
      3. College football
      4. NFL
      5. NBA

      I’m a big college sports guy, so that pushes those sports just ahead of NFL for me. I’ve always felt that my favorite sport is baseball, my favorite sport to watch on TV is basketball and my favorite sport to attend in person is football.

      As for blogging, though, I feel that the NFL and MLB generally spark the biggest discussions on this website, while college sports can also fire things up — especially if it’s a Bruce Weber-related topic. Ha. I probably enjoy writing about baseball the most. I just love the history of the game so much and how it carries so much more importance/continuity than in any other sport.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Glad you missed the rain yesterday at Lolapaloza.
        Oh to be young!

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Sorry Jimbo.
    Maybe college football is #2 to gamblers.
    But if you compare/contrast the 40 posts yesterday to Dave’s Cubs topic and the 4 posts to this one………the silence speaks volumes.

  • indiandaeng

    Not during March Madness. Has to be the highest rated coverage there is. Everyone gets involved from Vegas to the office betting pool.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Tough break for Leshoure, hope he can come back in ’12 and be effective (even if it is for the Lions).

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Really tough break for Leshoure. I hope he can bounce back, too. But an Achilles injury for a guy whose entire career is based on his feet and legs is not a good thing. Really a shame, because he is a talented RB.

      Oh, and so glad I missed the rain at Lollapalooza yesterday. That would have been a mess. I may not yet be old, but I’m far too old for that mud. Haha.

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