Most sports fans realize that college football is more popular than college basketball is today. Is there any way to quantify though, just how much more popular college football is?
To try and answer that question I went back and looked at how many people, on average, actually watched college football’s BCS Championship Game vs how many people watched college basketball’s NCAA Tournament Championship Game. To keep the numbers relevant to today, I went back only three years (if I went back 10 years, college basketball would have an even lower number).
Before I get to the numbers, which do favor college football, I think that college basketball has an advantage overall. That’s because college basketball awards its annual championship to the winner of the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament is a playoff system that college basketball uses to determine its champion.
College football does not currently have a playoff system. Under a deeply flawed and highly unpopular system, the BCS just takes its two highest ranked teams and throws them into its championship game. If college football ran its own playoff system, or tournament, I think the national championship game would end up doing even better in the TV ratings than it already does.
BCS Championship Game Total Average Viewers
2009 Florida defeats Oklahoma – 26.8 million
2010 Alabama defeats Texas – 30.8 million
2011 Auburn defeats Oregon – 27.3 million
The average for three years is 28.3 million people.
NCAA Tournament Championship Game Average Viewers
2009 North Carolina defeats Michigan State – 17.6 million
2010 Duke defeats Butler – 23.94 million
2011 UConn defeats Butler – 19.6 million (down 18% from 2010)
The average for the three years is 20.4 million.
Average Viewers for National Championship Games in College Football and Basketball (over last three seasons)
College Football – 28.3 million
College Basketball – 20.4 million
So 7.9 million more people on average watched college football’s championship game each year over the last three years vs college basketball’s championship game. That works out to an average of 38.7% more people.
If you are a fan of both college football and college basketball, those numbers probably won’t surprise you much. I’ve been a Rutgers Scarlet Knights college football fan, and Syracuse Orange basketball fan for over four decades now. As much as I like college basketball, I do enjoy watching college football more.