Tuesday, March 30, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 119

Fencing at UH becomes popular in short period of time

About the Cougar

Interest in college baseball not where it should be

By Anna Sivadasan
Daily Cougar Staff

One of the biggest events in sports came to a climax Monday night as the men's college basketball champion was crowned at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. March Madness has always been the best time of year for college hoops fans.

Although fans don't agree on how the college football championship is won, it is still worth watching on New Year's Day as bowl game after bowl game is aired on the networks.

Collegiate baseball has always taken a back seat to college football and basketball.  However, the College World Series in always a big draw in Omaha, Neb.

Pete Medrano/The Daily Cougar

But do most college fans have any idea what significant sport crowns its champion in late June in Omaha, Neb.? Probably not.

Most people would consider the top three collegiate sports to be football, basketball and baseball. But where does this leave college baseball? Why is there not the widespread fan appeal and interest in college baseball compared to the other two sports?

Not many fans know that the state of Texas, renowned for its great football, has five teams ranked in the nation's top 25 in baseball, including two in the top 10 (Rice and A&M). However, if you ask the casual college football fan who won the Heisman Trophy last year, you'd get a pretty quick response. 

One of the biggest obstacles that stands in the way of college baseball getting equal status with college football and basketball is television.

Men's college basketball and football are always on television, and even the casual fan will participate in the office tourney pool or argue on whether there should be a football playoff to decide a national champion. 

The other two NCAA sports have TV deals that are able to market their sports and athletes to people around the country. Ricky Williams, Tim Couch, Elton Brand and Mateen Cleaves are some of the premier players in college football and basketball, and they are household names to the college fan. 

Eric Munson (USC), Alex Santos (Miami), Jason Jennings (Baylor) Casey Fossum (A&M) and Damon Thames (Rice) are five of the best collegiate baseball players in the country, and I'm betting that unless you're a hard-core college baseball fan or a major-league scout, you have no idea who these guys are. During a Saturday afternoon in mid-September, you could not turn on the TV without seeing a college football game on ABC, NBC or ESPN. Other than the occasional game on ESPN, college baseball has to wait until the World Series to get its chance to shine on CBS. Even then, the hoopla and media attention is not close to the level it reaches come March Madness and Bowl season.

The Cougars will take on No. 13 Baylor tonight at 6 p.m. in Waco.  The Cougars are 16-13 and will take on conference rival Memphis this weekend in Tennesee.

Ti Truong/The Daily Cougar

Another factor in college baseball's low fan interest was showcased best in last year's College World Series championship game between USC and Arizona State. With supposedly the two best teams in the country, the final score was 21-14. 

Many people do not want to sit through a 4.5 hour game that has two teams combine for eight home runs and double digit scoring. 

But the game is still being played on a diamond with a glove and a bat, and these guys don't get paid to play. It's fair to point out that neither do college basketball and football players, but at least they receive more than just a five-second mention on ESPN's Sports Center. 

Although the attention for college baseball is not there, that's not to say that college baseball fans do not exist. A game at Tuscaloosa, Ala., LSU or Disch-Falk Field in Austin draws thousands of fans to the stadium.

The complaint, however, is that college baseball doesn't receive the widespread interest across the nation that college football and basketball does. 

I will admit that as big a baseball fan as I am, college baseball did not appeal to me until recently. And this is coming from a person who would sit through three hours of the Oakland A's versus the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, not exactly a matchup of the Yanks and Red Sox in late September. 

But now that I have watched a large amount of college baseball games in the last year and a half, I wonder why more people do not give it the credence and interest level it deserves. Is college pitching at the level of the major leagues? Of course not. But most college football and basketball players aren't at the level of their pro counterparts either. A couple of weeks ago, the UH baseball team played Texas A&M at Cougar Field.

The stadium was filled and the enthusiasm was evident even before the first pitch was thrown. College baseball needs more of that kind of atmosphere and hoopla on a widespread level, not just on certain days when an intrastate rival is in town. The Cougars are only averaging 876 fans in 19 home dates this season, and those numbers are skewed by the Aggies visit and a couple of games against crosstown rival Rice.

It's all about supply and demand. Television markets to an audience, and if the audience shows a lack of interest, network TV has no interest in displaying college baseball on a consistent basis, and the national media will continue to list it under the headline of "other sports." And if you're a college baseball fan, that really stinks.

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