I use the word “unpopular” loosely because obviously some people care about it or it wouldn’t exist. But I have never known anyone who cared about college baseball. It doesn’t have much public presence. I never hear people talking about it.
Obviously there are many other sports you never hear about. But baseball is a BIG sport in America. Professional baseball has a huge following. Why is college baseball so neglected?
Probably because there are 8 gazillion professional baseball teams, all of which are better than your average college baseball team. I wouldn’t pay for a college baseball game any more than I’d pay for a pee-wee league game.
College baseball is simply not considered a high level of ball. It is of comparatively low quality.
In football and basketball, college play is essentially the last step before the pros. There are sub-leagues, like the CFL and whatnot, but for the most part the progression is to go from college directly to the pros. Very few successful players go through a lesser league; they usually go from Ringer State straight to the big time. So when you are watching the college game, you are watching the development of the next great stars of the game.
Furthermore, college football and basketball is the primary source for ALL pro players. Baksetball does get some players from overseas and used to get the odd high school player, but still, 90% of all pro basketball players and probably 99% of NFL players go through NCAA play.
Baseball, however, requires more training than college provides. Very, very few players go straight to the majors from college; the last one I can think of was John Olerud in 1989. When you watch college ball you’re watching baseball that is at least 3-4 rungs below the major leagues, and you’re missing out on at least half the talent that goes to the majors because unlike basketball and football, many players enter the professional minor leagues from minor league ball and overseas ball. The real stars of tomorrow are playing in AA and AAA ball, not NCAA. For 8, 10 bucks you can see baseball at the AA or AAA level that’s twice as good as college ball and not very far below major league quality.
Everything Rick said about the quality of play in college baseball is true, but I don’t think that’s the reason so few people follow it.
The big difference between college football/basketball and college baseball is this: college football was a huge spectator sport LONG before there was an NFL, and college basketball was a very popular spectator sport LONG before there was an NBA. But professional baseball anteceded college baseball.
College football and basketball had established traditions and a place in millions of people’s hearts before there were professional leagues. So, even when pro leagues came along that offered a superior product, fans weren’t about to abandon teams and games they loved. But college baseball didn’t have any such traditions or any devoted fans before the major leagues were established and thriving. So, when college baseball DID get going, most people shrugged and said, “It’s okay, but it’d a pale substitute for the big leagues.”
Also, college football and basketball are big traditions on campus, as most of the games are contested during the academic semesters. If your Division I university’s baseball team is any good, it’ll be competing in the playoffs – culminating in the College World Series-- a month or so after the spring term is over and most students have graduated or gone home for the summer. So it’s harder to follow for what would otherwise be its most natural audience.
It is also very regional. It is a spring sport, so while the teams from the south and west coast can begin play in February, the teams from states that have winter can’t play at home or even practice outside until late March at the earliest.
The last team outside of the South or West Coast to win the College World Series was Ohio State in 1966.
I played for Wisconsin back when they had a team, and the season would go like this - late January/February begin workouts indoors under a huge net and in batting cages. Mid March - take a two week road trip to the south bookending spring break, getting sunburned as hell and getting bashed by the southern teams who had been playing and practicing outdoors for six weeks. Return to Madison hopefully to temps in the 40’s so we can actually hit fungoes to the outfield.
Just to pile on, since 2006, the NBA instituted a rule that you had to be 1 year removed from high school and at least 19 to play.
RickJay makes a few good points about the quality of play, though I’d argue about some of it. It’s not like AA or AAA ball is well attended in most towns. Even for football and basketball, it’s mostly about the school, rather than the quality of play. It’s not like half the teams in March Madness are actually worth watching, either. Or most of the teams playing NCAA football.
My alma mater is Rice, which, despite being a small school and otherwise unremarkable in football and basketball, is a national baseball powerhouse. That’s led to quite a few players getting drafted and doing well in the majors. Lance Berkman is probably our best known current example. The University of Texas, just over in Austin, is another powerhouse team and develops some good players. Most SEC schools also have great programs.
We also have a current example of some good development in college. One example of where college play helped is Anthony Rendon. He was drafted in the 27th round by the Braves out of high school. He instead decided to go to Rice and 3 years later, he’s drafted 6th overall by the Nats and is potentially the best college player in the last several years.
Even Strasbourg was a college draftee out of SDSU.
The fact that baseball is a summer sport and playoffs occur in May/June also makes it a sport that is difficult to follow. It doesn’t help that post-season play overlaps the NBA playoffs. College football bowl games happen towards the end of the NFL regular season but mostly before the playoffs, and March Madness doesn’t overlap anything.
This is the big one from what I can tell. Having gone to a school who made the NCAA playoffs just about every year I was there, as well as the College World Series my freshman year, baseball was just not popular because it started in February or March, and didn’t promise to end until after the spring semester was over with and everyone was at home.
Add to that the 65 or so game season, combined with primarily day games on weekdays, and you didn’t have a recipe for a lot of spectators. It probably didn’t help that the baseball field was probably the farthest thing on campus from the on-campus student housing and any classroom buildings.
Not this year! Starting last year (or year before), they “deadened” the bats. HRs were relatively few and far between.
As for the popularity, I really don’t think skill level has much to do with it. As long as the two teams are even in potential skill, the game can be interesting (Exhibit 1: LLWS). I think it’s more the scheduling issues mentioned above.
That said, FSU averages 3-4K in attendance for home games (4.6K+ last year). I suspect that many Rookie/A/AA teams would love to get that many behinds in the seats. But then, we are one of the elite programs with a nice facility with capacity for 6,700 and no minor league teams in town.
I watched some games and the bats still sound decidedly “ping-y.” I had hopes that the composite bats would improve the aesthetics of college baseball, but I think the effect was pretty minor.
In terms of reducing the offense, I think the composite bats were a roaring success. But it wasn’t 10-8 games keeping me away, it was the sound of the bats themselves. It just sounded like a different sport.
I really like the atmosphere of going to College Baseball games. When I lived in Mississippi, I enjoyed going to Miss State game and when I was going to Ga Tech, I would attend games about 10 times per year. College Baseball in person is great atmosphere. I watch it on TV more than I do MLB these days.
and Yes, I am still bitter about the 1994 strike. My favorite uncle (a former minor league baseball player) loved baseball, he took me to games all the time when I was a youngster. He died in November 1994. MLB owners and players took my uncle’s last World Series away.
It’s an accumulation of all the stuff that’s been said. Weather is a huge factor. If you are a promising baseball player that want’s to go to college will you go to Minnesota, Wisconsin, UCLA or Arizona St.? Already, some of the largest, richest athletic programs in the country can’t attract top notch players. Some of the great baseball players that came out of the Big 10 for instance, were also playing football or basketball. Guy’s like Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey. Didn’t Dave Winfield play football as a receiver at Minnesota?
Then there is the Cape Cod League. If you are a good player in an NCAA college, you spend your summer in the Cape Cod League and life is good while the competition is better. IIRC, Reggie Jackson (and a lot of other famous players) played in the Cape Cod League.
Baseball (and hockey) players can be drafted by a pro team and still retain their eligibility which I think is a good thing. That’s not the case in football and basketball. So college is the route to the pros for football and basketball players, therefore the corruption. In baseball and hockey, the kid has to want to be in college because there are many other options: There are many minor league baseball teams at different levels, the Ontario League (hockey), Junior A (hockey). That’s not to say that great players in baseball and hockey don’t come out of colleges, they do. It’s a long, impressive list. A couple of years ago the #1 NHL pick decided to spend a year playing college hockey because he thought that would be better than being in the minor leagues. Good for him. It’s just that the route is different and it’s a different decision making process for the athlete.
My favourite Dave Winfield story: When he was asked how he felt about being drafted by the San Diego Padres - then just a fifth year expansion team and a pretty bad one - he said “To be honest, I’d never heard of them.”