In case you failed to notice (and I’m guessing you did), Cal Baseball’s season ended yesterday. The Bears went up to Seattle last weekend hoping they could win enough to garner a postseason bid, but after winning Friday to clinch 4th place in the Pac-10, the Bears dropped both weekend games to Washington. Then, when the NCAA Regional fields were announced yesterday, Cal was (once again) on the outside looking in.
Now, this would be the point where most sportswriters would start to wonder about Head Coach Dave Esquer’s job security. After all, despite this year’s 4th place finish, Esquer’s second-highest ever, his program has been decidedly mediocre. In 8 years, Esquer’s teams have a combined record of 230-215, a tepid .517 winning percentage. They have made the postseason once, in 2001, when they tied for 3rd in the Pac-10. It’s not terrible, and almost certainly not bad enough to get Esquer fired, especially in a non-revenue sport, but it sure isn’t exciting, and it’s not going to bring new fans out to the ballpark.
However, the lack of excitement surrounding Cal Baseball is hardly unique to Cal, and it’s hardly Esquer’s fault. Why doesn’t anyone even notice when Cal misses the postseason? Why are there only a few hundred to a few thousand fans at a Cal Baseball game? Why is baseball generally considered a non-revenue sport? These are questions I’m more interested in.
There’s no question that football is the most popular sport in America right now. The NFL is king, and pigskin dominates the NCAA landscape. Among the professional ranks, basketball and baseball follow at 2 and 3, the order depending on the survey you’re citing. Yet, while college basketball is a big deal, and the NCAA tournament provides the lion’s share of the NCAA’s annual budget, hardly anyone pays attention to college baseball. Can you even name last year’s College World Series winner? How about the last five winners? I can’t even do that. Now, try the same exercises with college football and basketball. Big difference, huh?
With so many baseball fans out there, why don’t any of them care about the college game? Why doesn’t the popularity translate? I’m a huge baseball fan, and yet even I hardly pay any attention to Cal baseball. In fact (and I have no numbers to back this up), I’ll bet you more people play fantasy baseball than watch college baseball. Heck, the Little League World Series gets about as much press as the College World Series does.
I’ve got a few theories on why baseball gets relegated to the ‘Other Sports’ section of the ESPN college page with the likes of tennis, softball, and track & field, but I certainly don’t have a definitive answer. Still, I’ll roll out a few of those theories over the next few days, examine them, and see if we can’t come to some sort of better understanding of the situation. It would be nice to have another sport to obsess over during the time between March Madness and two-a-days, wouldn’t it?