Tuesday, February 5, 2013

MYTH-ZOU: Baseball is #2 in the SEC

Myth #2:  Baseball is the #2 sport after football in the SEC.

FACT: Baseball is NOT the #2 most popular sport at every SEC school (and football is not the #1 sport at every school).
Photo by arctic_whirlwind flickr.com

Yes, at places like LSU, Mississippi State, and South Carolina, baseball beats out basketball in fan interest. Of course, there are reasons why that is true.

LSU and Mississippi State have a long tradition of devotion to the Game, with roots going back to the days when Ron Polk and Skip Bertman revolutionized the approach to playing and promoting baseball in the South, back when the SEC was a backwater in the college baseball world.

In Starkville and Oxford, Mississippi, the attendance at baseball games sometimes exceeds the population of those towns. The Mizzou equivalent would be pulling in crowds of 100,000+ on a regular basis. The difference, of course, is that there's not much other sports (or anything else) to compete with the college games.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the fans apparently come out in good numbers for all the "big 3" sports.  This may be because they'll do anything to distract themselves from the everyday fact of actually living in Arkansas.

The flip side of the SEC is that some fairly successful baseball programs don't attract the sort of crowds you might expect. Florida is a perennial contender, but can't compete with perennial middle-of-the-pack Ole Miss for attendance.

And then there's Kentucky, where football is eclipsed by basketball, and Tennessee, where women's hoops have been near the rocky top of fans' attention.

According to this message board thread at SECRant.com, Baseball is a solid #2 at LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt; at Arkansas and Ole Miss, baseball and basketball trade 2nd and 3rd depending on which sport is currently more successful; and baseball is either a distant 3rd or barely on the radar at Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee.  Florida, as usual, is too mellow to care about much of anything beyond football and whatever Tim Tebow is doing.

At Mizzou, both football and basketball have a long and storied tradition, and Baseball competes with successful softball, wrestling, gymnastics and other Olympic sports since Mike Alden began developing the "other" sports.

Given the existence of two Major League Baseball teams within a hundred miles each way down I-70 from CoMo, and given the cold weather that sometimes chills interest during Mizzou Baseball's annual long March home-stand, it's unlikely baseball will ever rank with basketball - let alone football - at MU.

But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of room for improvement.  And that leads to Myth #3, our next installment in the MYTH-ZOU series.

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