Is College Football Gaining or Losing Popularity vs. the NFL?

Joe Burrow played for LSU in college and plays for Cincinnati in the NFL

If you’re on this site, you’re definitely a big college football fan. Odds are, you like college football more than you like the NFL. But, do you match the rest of the country?

The short answer is no, the NFL is holding its popularity better than college football. Over 5 years, Super Bowl viewership declined -19% while college football championship viewing declined -24%. Of course, the numbers don’t tell the full story.

One things certain, and that’s that NFL has a firm hold on the number one sport in the country. 165 million unique people viewed NFL games last season. College football land at somewhere between half and one quarter of that depending on what metric you use.

However, many points indicate that CFB is experiencing incremental growth. TV ratings grew following the introduction of the playoff before falling during the COVID era (note, NFL ratings fell during this time too). Merchandise sales, though not always the most correlated, point in this direction too; following Georgia’s National Championship, Fanatics saw record sales for college licensed merchandise.

Due to the COVID years weighing down all live sports ratings and lots of moving parts in realignment and TV deals right now, it’s likely the next few years will provide a much more definitive answer on how college football popularity is changing compared to the NFL. Hopefully, intriguing matchups and an unbeatable culture help make this the biggest sport in the country.

Best Candidates for PAC 12 Realignment

The Big Ten has announced that USC and UCLA will join from the PAC 12. More PAC 12 schools are already reported as applying for admission to the Big Ten. Here’s who a desperate PAC 12 may invite to replace them.

Note: The PAC 12 would need to vote to relax it’s research school requirement before admitting most of these members.

San Diego State

San Diego state SDSU pac 12 realignment

The San Diego state Aztecs have been reunited to the PAC 12 multiple times before, and they fall right in its footprint. Furthermore, they’re one of the better Mountain West Schools at both football and basketball.

UNLV

UNLV pac 12 realignment

The new Las Vegas Raiders stadium is quickly becoming the best away game in the NFL. Who’s to say you couldn’t have such an away game for college football? UNLV would bring much needed money into the PAC 12 as well.

Boise State

Boise state pac 12 realignment

Boise State was often rumored to the PAC 12 as well after their stand out performances in the field at the highest level (we all remember the Fiesta Bowl). They’d also fit in the PAC 12 realignment footprint.

Nevada (Reno)

Nevada pac 12 realignment

Nevada is one of the more realistic candidates as they would have less academic barriers to entry to hurdle. They also have a consistently relevant football program, producing the likes of Kaepernick and Carson Strong. Plus, a natural rival for the addition of UNLV.

Do you agree with our picks? Think we got it all wrong? Share the link on Twitter and tag us (@CFBSelect) to start the conversation.

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Where James Madison falls in Conference Realignment

The James Madison Dukes will hopefully make the jump to FBS soon.
The James Madison Dukes will hopefully make the jump to FBS soon.

College Football has been dominated by a dynasty for the last decade. Then, in January 2017, they were finally dethroned by a new contender. No, we’re not talking about Clemson Alabama. We’re talking about North Dakota state, who has won the FCS championship 8 times since 2010, finally being dethroned by the James Madison Dukes.

But, the Dukes are making headlines once again with conference realignment. First, the SEC snatched Texas and Oklahoma in a stunning news break that took just a week to come to fruition. Then, the Big 12 bounced back by raiding the American Conference for Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and then plucking independent BYU. The ripples keep going – the American has now announced they’ll be taking 6 teams from Conference USA, and it appears more movements are to come with Marshall and potentially Southern Miss looking to join the Sun Belt.

FCS James Madison squares up against FBS NC State
FCS James Madison squares up against FBS NC State.

James Madison has frequently had their name thrown into these conference realignment conversations. But, it takes a lot to make the jump from FCS to FBS. Only a few schools have done it recently (namely Coastal Carolina and Liberty), but both have obviously managed enormous success since then. However, they have something JMU doesn’t have as much of – a willingness to throw money into their athletic department.

Liberty has their Christian boosters and Coastal has baseball money. While JMU has been quite successful since that 2016 championship, they don’t exactly have the athletic budget to pour into the upgrade. But, would they sustain success if they made it? And where would they even go?

James Madison vs NC State
UNC vs James Madison. This could be a regular FBS matchup.

One things for sure – CUSA is not the answer. If CUSA even manages to survive this raid on their conference, they will have almost no contenders. WKU would probably be the best school remaining. So, why would JMU, who is doing just fine and succeeding in the contentious DC recruitment area, make this suicide jump?

The only valid place for them to go is the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt has quickly positioned themselves as the premiere G5 conference, or at least on equal footing with the American. Louisiana has been great as of late. Coastal is putting up massively winning records in back to back years and getting a lot of attention. Troy has had recent success, and will likely bring it back soon. If Southern Miss gets added, who knows how soon they could return to glory?

But, James Madison has a lot of advantages over these sunbelt teams. They’re arguably in the third best recruiting area in the country. They have a history of success, and a very meaningful trophy to show for it. They have a decently active alumni base who would get on board fast. And they’re stadium – it’s one of the most beautiful stadiums in CFB (though we did not include it on our FBS list).

So, what happens next for the James Madison Dukes? Do they stay in FCS? Do they make the jump? We expect we’ll be seeing them in the “Fun Belt” soon, but CFB is messy – don’t hold your breath.

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Best Candidates for Big 12 Expansion

byu and colorado state big 12 expansion
BYU and Colorado State are both great candidates for Big 12 Expansion

With today’s announcement from the Pac 12 that they do not intend to expand, every Big 12 team besides Texas and Oklahoma (who, in case you’re living under a rock, are moving to the SEC) are now in a state of limbo. The Big 12 conference won’t survive past 2025 – unless of course they add some serious College Football schools through expansion. Here’s our list of the best schools for the Big 12 to target to have a chance to stay afloat.

UCF

ucf big 12 football expansion
Courtesy ucf.edu

Lets get this obvious candidate out of the way. Following their undefeated National Championship season (you can debate that one in the comments), UCF became the de facto leader of the G5. It’s a no-brainer that they offer the most in terms of geography (the Big 12 has already tried to break into Florida via FSU), talent (yes, we remember the winless year, but they’ve won big across decades) and brand. If the Big 12 expands and doesn’t add UCF, people will be scratching their heads.

BYU

byu football big 12 expansion
Courtesy Lawless Republic

Yes, BYU carries some baggage. The Utah school’s close mormon ties are off putting to some, but they have an extremely loyal and large fan base. Plus, they’re continuously a powerful performer viewed more in lie with the current Big 12 schools in terms of history and on field product. One interesting angle – BYU has a TV station, BYU.tv. The Big 12 is losing their resident TV station with the eventual departure of the Longhorn Network.

Boise State

College Football News Preview 2020: Boise State Broncos
Courtesy College Football News

Boise is one thing – entertaining. Who doesn’t remember the Statue of Liberty play in which they beat soon-to-be Big 12 ex Oklahoma. Even more recently, the Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin led offenses terrorized defenses all around the Mountain West. Boise’s play style and personality would fit perfectly in the Big 12 – the roadblock issues are the school’s academics, facilities, size of fan base and budget.

Colorado State

colorado state big 12 expansion
Courtesy The Coloradoan

Did we mention facilities? Yes, Colorado State may not be the first school you thought of for Big 12 candidacy. However, they have one hell of a negotiation point, and that’s their stadium. Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium seats 41,000, less than 5,000 behind the smallest Big 12 stadium, TCU. Few other schools on this list can compete with CSU in terms of the facilities they already have. More seats = more ticket revenue (if filled), which will definitely catch the Big 12’s eye.

Houston

houston big 12 expansion

While the Big 12 already has a few schools in Texas beyond the Longhorns (TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech), adding Houston helps the Big 12 keep 4 teams in its central state. Plus, the local rivalries are certainly intriguing. Houston also has fielded some extremely competitive teams (including a few almost-playoff invaders). The program has been sliding a bit recently with some unsuccessful head coaching searches, but Houston is one of those G5 programs you can rely on to consistently play well enough to glue eyes to the screen. This is the most important thing to the Big 12 right now.

Cincinnati

College Football News Preview 2020: Cincinnati Bearcats
Courtesy College Football News

Cincinnati is up there with UCF for no brainers on this list. While Cincy hasn’t quite caught the spotlight like UCF did recently, they’ve continuously put a winning product on the field. Cincinnati would be an instant contender in the Big 12, at least finishing in the upper half based on previous performance. Provided Head Coach Luke Fickell sticks around, Cincinnati is probably the most P5 ready school on this list. Plus, they (along with the final school on this list) will ease WVU’s travel burden.

Memphis

Memphis football: Everything we know about Mike Norvell, Cotton Bowl, next  coach
Courtesy The Commercial Appeal

Memphis has had some ups and downs, but they land on this list for a few reasons. They expand the Big 12’s footprint to an important football state they don’t occupy (Tennessee), they play winning football, and their program is trending upwards. A smaller fan base presents an issue, but Memphis will be more appealing to sell tickets for than say, Marshall, who is comparable in terms of performance.

Who do you think should go to the Big 12, should they expand? What do you think happens next? Let us know in the replies or on Twitter @CFBSelect.