The next time you’re walking or biking in your hometown, take a look around. Kansas State license plates. Red Nebraska flags. Jayhawks in yards. Boomer Sooner car window stickers. Now start noticing clothing and you’ll see t-shirts galore all bearing the colors, logos, or mascots of college sports teams. 

No question about it, here in the USA we love our college sports. Millions of people follow March Madness in both the men’s and women’s tournaments. Stadiums are filled with fans religiously supporting their favorite schools as they vie for conference and NCAA championships from baseball, softball, cross country and track to the big one: College Football! It’s easy to see why college sports inspire such fervor. Just look at the picture above showing Kansas Wesleyan’s flag football team celebrating their win over Ottawa, the biggest win of the 2024 season for the Coyotes. College sports can be fun!

By the numbers, major college sports are also Big Business. The NCAA made $1,000,000,000 (that’s $1 billion!) on March Madness alone in 2023. Even that number is dwarfed by the estimated $15.5 billion wagered on the tournament last year. Conferences received $6,000,000 for teams that made the NCAA football playoffs and $4,000,000 for non-playoff bowl games. College sports depend on avid fan bases to keep the interest level high and the money flowing. 

Teams–and now players–seem to change conferences at the drop of a dollar bill. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s I followed K-State as they competed in the Big 8 against Iowa State, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and of course, those hated KU Jayhawks. In 2024, the Big XII has 14 teams spanning the country from West Virginia and the University of Central Florida in the east to BYU in the west. Many long-time rivalries have fallen victim to conference realignment and big-name players in the “major” sports of football and men’s basketball transfer frequently in hopes of earning more playing time and money. For some fans, the changes are exciting, while others dislike them intensely.

My own interest in major college sports has waned drastically since I attended K-State from 1980-1984. I have not attended or watched a game on television in years and only casually follow any Wildcat teams. I do follow our local KWU Coyotes, however, because I know many of the athletes, having had them in classes over the past three years. Many KWU athletes hail from Salina area high schools as well. Tickets are reasonably priced and the competition is always fierce. 

Interested in learning what colleges some of my friends follow and why they follow them, I posed that question on Facebook. Here are some of their widely varied replies. As you ponder their thoughts, you might find some opinions that reflect your own feelings or others that are completely different from yours. 

James follows “pretty much all KSU sports,” largely because his mother worked on campus. His overall interest has waned and he did not buy season football tickets this year. He is not bothered by players jumping from school to school because “I just don’t invest myself in their personalities.”

The youngest of my correspondents, Matthew, supports the schools from which he has degrees–Pittsburgh State, Montana State, and Northern Colorado–as well as Fort Hays State, where he currently works. Like Matthew, David follows schools he attended or because he lives in a state that shares the school’s name. 

Aron cited family ties: “My brother played baseball at K-State in 2002 and 2003, and I lived there from 2003 through part of 2006. Those were some fun football years and I still root for K-State in general even though I don’t watch a whole lot of games these days.” Teree is a “huge” KU fan because her sister and father both attended. 

Shelly is the opposite of Teree and Aron. Her father was a KU fan, but the rest of his family all followed K-State. Shelly writes “I possibly started liking K-State just to irk my dad.” She wouldn’t be the first child to do that!

Perhaps the most loyal fan I know is Doug. His school? Duke. He started following the Blue Devils in 1978 as an elementary school student. His interest only deepened when he became a coach and began relating to Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, admiring his “class and coaching greatness.” Following Doug on Facebook brings a deep immersion into the life of someone I’d call a Superfan. 

Joann has loved sports her entire life, but being born in 1946 meant few opportunities for a girl to participate in them. She is a KU fan through and through, but her true love has been watching her son coach Ottawa University’s softball teams to over 600 victories and four appearances in the national tournament. Joann has traveled to all the KCAC schools many times to support the Braves. 

My sister Denise writes that she follows KU basketball because she likes sharing the experience with her sons and their families. Also, she and her husband do pushups for every point the Jayhawks score, which can be quite a workout!

Finally, two respondents, Meta and Katy, follow no college sports. Despite her father donating enough money to K-State athletics to be recognized as a “Golden Cat” and her brother having several Wildcat tattoos, Katy says, “I don’t ‘follow’ any sportsball.” Meta, on the other hand, does follow professional baseball because her father was a fan and she likes the culture and history of MLB.

Will any of these fans change their allegiances or follow college sports more or less avidly with the onset of new conferences and player transfers? My guess is that those fans who truly love their teams will remain loyal, but lukewarm fans like myself may gradually lose interest. Perhaps we will become bandwagon fans if our teams are winning, but otherwise we will follow them casually at best. 

Either way, you can be sure of seeing games on televisions in restaurants, bars, and even SPL. Some viewers will be watching avidly, while others will happily sit with their backs to the screens. As long as college athletics programs bring in astounding sums of money, there will be people to gather around a big screen with friends to enjoy The Big Game.