Last Thursday, the trajectory of my spring break experience took a rapid turn. The first round of the NCAA basketball championship kicked off, and from that point on I did nothing but watch the games. I was not alone, as according to Sports Illustrated, the first week of the men’s tournament brought in an average of over nine million viewers. The women’s tournament also put up massive numbers, hitting the million mark during the UConn-UCF game.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was certainly enough content to keep me occupied with just basketball, but why don’t we add some more variety to the mix?
Every year, certain college championships like March Madness and the College Football Playoff garner huge viewerships, and rightfully so. However, those are just two of the 24 sports sponsored by the NCAA, so why shouldn’t the other 22 get more of the spotlight?
I’m going to be open and honest about this, I have a serious bias here. I’m a fencer, and I personally enjoy watching fencing a great deal. The 2022 NCAA fencing championship began on March 24 and will continue through March 27, with men’s and women’s foil, épée and sabre competitions. As you can probably tell, fencing’s NCAA’s do not get the same national attention that basketball does.
Now, I’m not going to insinuate in any way that those two sports should be on the same level viewership-wise. It’s an obvious fact that basketball has a far larger fan and player base, but I have one word: Olympics.
Every two years, either the summer or winter Olympics come around and get people to care about a wide variety of sports they barely know the rules of. After the fanfare of the games dies down, the sports with highly visible professional leagues continue on their path of big crowds filled to the brim with diehard fans, while lesser-watched sports retreat into the shadows. It’s not like those sports’ athletes stop training or competing, they just leave the spotlight. World Championships happen much more frequently than the Olympics, but the easy access the Olympics brings simply isn’t there. None of the leagues coordinate when they hold championships, so it would be really hard to have a large event akin to the Olympics more often than it already happens.
However, here’s where the NCAA comes back into play. The NCAA is one organization, which can totally coordinate with itself. It would be amazing if there was some form of massive athletic event, piggybacking off of the most popular college events, that could grant even a little bit of a bigger spotlight to sports without a big one to begin with. Sure, the majority of people would still probably watch basketball and football, but at least other options would be advertised and promoted. Not only would this promotion be good for generating larger fanbases for each of the NCAA sports, but it would also show prospective college athletes that there are other options than the few that get televised regularly. The players with professional aspirations will be the most likely to stick to sports with big professional scenes, but the simple truth of the matter is that less than 2% of college athletes go on to play their sport professionally.
The few examples I used in this article are simply the tip of the iceberg. I used fencing as the primary example of a sport with less screen time than the heavy hitters, but it is far from the only one in that category. Conveniently, fencing and basketball have their championships at the same time due to both of them being winter sports, but perhaps each season could have its own multi-sport finale of sorts, with one in the fall, one in the winter and one in the spring.
While this article may seem more than a bit far-fetched, I want to make one final point. The NCAA runs constant ads during March Madness about how its goal is to support college athletics. I think it’s high time that they start recognizing that “college athletics” includes more than just the sports that make the most money, and begin to give all athletes the recognition and support that they need.