College Football: Pro and Con(servative) Views College sports fans can be distinctively different from the pro variety, no matter where they are. And that might complicate the growth plans of athletic conferences such as as the Big Ten, says Frank Deford.

College Football: Pro and Con(servative) Views

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Here in this country we are passionate about all kinds of sports and teams at the pro level, not to mention college athletics. And sports commentator Frank Deford has been thinking about what the teams we cheer for may or may not reveal about us.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: What do anti-abortion beliefs and patronizing Chick-fil-A and a devotion to college sports have in common? Hmm.

Well, according to Trey Grayson, the former Kentucky secretary of state and U.S. Senate contender, who is now the distinguished head of the Harvard Institute of Politics, those are a trio of giveaway markers that he's found on Facebook to suggest that you are conservative.

In the past, whenever sports have been collated with politics, NASCAR has usually been cited as a giveaway conservative identity fan factor. But the idea, expressed most directly by Mr. Grayson, that rabid fans of college sports can be a distinctively different ideological species from the pro variety, is taking on a certain currency.

It was revealing last week that when the Big Ten, which has always been sort of the mascot of muscular Midwest America, when the Big Ten took in the University of Maryland and Rutgers in order to attract television viewers in the New York and Washington/Baltimore areas, the savvy reaction was, doesn't the Big Ten know that the socialistic fans in the European-cozy Northeast don't give a hoot about college sports?

By contrast, the old Confederacy and that flyover part of the northwestern Louisiana Purchase is crazy for college sports, especially football, and that, of course, is precisely the conservative heartland.

But a caveat. The sectional adoration for college sports may have no relationship whatsoever with either political or Chick-fil-A preference. It may simply be that wherever honest grown-up professional sports abound, attention to second rate NCAA shamateur sports gets diminished. The Southeastern Conference in particular may be so popular primarily because Dixie possesses so fewer pro teams compared to the East, West and Midwest.

I was in Oklahoma City the other day, which happens to be the most recent American metropolis to get a major league team, the NBA Thunder. Previously, Oklahoma lived and died for its state university Sooners. Well, folks, the Thunder is already stealing thunder from the old alma mater. As somebody in Oklahoma City explained the new consensus to me: Used to be when the Sooners lost, we despaired for a week. We still care, you understand, but when the Sooners lose now, we tend to say, well, sure, too bad, but we got a Thunder game Tuesday.

Basically, sports is primarily a class thing and the pros simply play in a higher class than the colleges. It's a better product. Yes, yes - I know college games can be entertaining, and there's loyalty and tailgating, but wherever fans are, give them a choice, they'll gravitate toward the best.

So I'm sorry, Mr. Big Ten, but I don't know a soul who's going to watch Rutgers and Maryland play Wisconsin and Illinois when the Giants and Ravens, and even the Redskins and Jets, are hanging out in the neighborhood.

GREENE: And you can hang out with Frank Deford. Our commentator joins us every Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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