OMAHA — The popularity of college baseball is a reliable source of dismay among fans and observers of the sport. The reality is that, while college baseball has risen above the niche status of not so long ago, it’s not close to as lucrative or sought-after as football or basketball, the two flagship men’s sports at the collegiate level.
In a vacuum, this wouldn’t be especially notable, but the relatively laggard standing of college baseball is in contrast to the strong and steady draw of Major League Baseball. While the National Football League is in its own stratosphere, MLB has claim to being the No. 2 team sport in the United States in terms of total revenues (and occasional claim on that same spot when it comes to favored status among the American populace). While the popularity of college football and college basketball roughly tracks that of the professional variants, that’s not the case with baseball.
There are a number of possible reasons for this. One that stands out is the strongly regional nature of college baseball. Because the season begins in February, teams in northern climes almost uniformly play the early weeks on the road. By the time outdoor temps can be characterized as “baseball-worthy,” schools in, say, the Big Ten are close to emptying their campuses for summer break. This is much less of an issue in the south, but it no doubt dampens the popularity of college baseball outside the SEC and certain corners of the Big 12 and ACC.
That said, things are trending in a more positive direction. ESPN has invested in more frequent regular-season telecasts of college baseball, and a number of name programs have invested in upgraded facilities in recent years. Also, the emergence of NIL (name, image and likeness) revenue streams for players could help college baseball better cope with the reality that Division I teams get a measly 11.7 scholarships with which to fill out…