A recent article in the New York Times by Richard Sandomir reinforced the fan following of college football, even during a viewing period that seems pale in comparison to the drama we've witnessed over the past two weekends on CBS and the family of Turner stations.
No college football bowl game among the 38 broadcast by ESPN this past December-January achieved less than 1.1 million viewers. In comparison, nine early-round tournament games had less than that figure with Arizona-Texas Southern drawing slightly north of 500,000 viewers.
I've had many a discussion with friends and those in the business about the glut of college football bowl games but, guess what--people are watching. Iowa versus Tennessee drew 4.1 million viewers for the TaxSlayer Bowl; Iowa's two primetime NCAA tournament games averaged a little more than 2 million viewers. Wisconsin played in the Outback Bowl and netted 6.4 million viewers for that telecast; the Badgers' two victories last weekend in the tournament had 2.7 million and 3.5 million viewers.
Let's be clear--this is not an apples-to-apples comparison as all bowl games, save the Sun Bowl, are broadcast on the Worldwide Leader family of networks. In contrast, the tournament lineup isn't destination viewing given the use of a network like truTV coupled with the lack of prior certainty about broadcast start times. Yet, what's striking about these numbers is the affirmation of the power of college football--a sport that clearly knows the importance of the regular season and will keep broadcasting bowl games that seem to mean little, yet draw millions of eyeballs.
Take solace, though, hoops fans--last Sunday's battle for bragging rights between Kansas and Wichita State drew 9.9 million viewers. That viewer number is the most for any tournament game heading into this Sweet 16/Elite Eight weekend. And, Kansas, my home state with a 2.9 million population, didn't account for all of those televisions tuned to the game.