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.
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.