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If you take a tour of Duke, the penultimate stop comes alongside Towerview Drive, in plain view of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Here, the tour guides love to—or perhaps have to—point out the fact that Duke women’s golf has brought home more national championship titles than men’s basketball. As reigning champions, the golf team now holds six national titles next to just four cut nets—and yet I can’t recall anyone ever getting covered in blue paint just to stand along the fifth hole fairway.
The United States has made a clear delineation between exciting sports—most often those ending in ‘ball’—and every other sport; the line is usually drawn by the amount of media coverage each sport earns. Sports such as golf and tennis have specific channels that must be bought, while the NBA Finals aired on ABC and ESPN.
The majority of sports fans passionately follow these so-called "exciting" sports during the season and bemoan the offseason, counting down the seconds until opening day. But opening your eyes to the wide horizon of the entire sports world can help move the offseason along, especially in the 21st century, when a variety of sporting events is available at any minute from any device. Enjoying sports isn't about enjoying speed or strength—it's about appreciating the excitement inherent in any athletic event, whether it's played on a field, court, track, or green.
Our society's preference for some sports over others is due largely in part to skewed coverage since the media first began carrying sports. A media negotiation breakthrough in the 1950’s allowed individual teams to pay for airtime, paving the way for today’s teams—such as the Los Angeles Lakers—to pay as much as $4 billion on contracts guaranteeing continued coverage. And although most individuals representing professional football or basketball probably don't need to buy companies’ attention, with the apparent disparity between sports, other professional athletes, might want—or even need—to do so.
Speaking from experience, most people—cue Ann Coulter rant in the background—would argue that in sports such as golf or soccer, there is not enough fast-paced action or high scoring to keep a viewer interested. Although I could probably name all 32 NFL Teams with little-to-no trouble, ask me about the latest MLS matchup and I’ll be completely lost.
That said, I still watched on the edge of my seat as the U.S. national team showed the world that we are capable of competing in soccer on the global stage. More than 26 million Americans watched the World Cup Final in Brazil even after the beloved U.S. team was eliminated.
Why is it that Rory McIlroy, winner of the 2014 British Open demands only 15 percent of viewer interest, but Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won anything in more than two years, claims 53 percent of a popularity poll?
I’d say it’s because fans love a story—a narrative. Tiger's young energy fascinated, captured, and maintained an audience alongside him as he rose to the top. Willingly, we all followed the stars and stripes as they exceeded everyone’s expectations by simply surviving FIFA group play. Without a clear dominator on the green, Americans have turned off golf since Woods’ injury in 2008—golf's TV ratings have fallen by 47 percent—and have not bothered to watch for anybody with a new story to tell.
Am I telling you to drop everything and stream NBCSports every Sunday morning so you can catch every Barclays Premier League matchup alongside every Open on the PGA Tour? No, I’m not—but don’t we have a little time to vary our sports fandom across more than a handful of sports? Those complaining of a sports ‘drought’ in between the NBA Finals and the kickoff of preseason football might find an unexpected interest in next Saturday’s packed soccer lineup or McIlroy’s continued domination of the No. 1 worldwide golf rank.
As a Wade Wacko and Cameron Crazie who is as passionate as the next, I understand the draw of a fast-paced sports—but does pace truly provide excitement? In any one NFL game—such as the Super Bowl, watched by 46 percent of the country—the ball is only in play for roughly 11 minutes. For me, that means there’s something about the sport beyond the sport itself—whether it’s media coverage or player publicity, it definitely makes a difference.
Instead of spending so much time worrying about whether Duke has become a football school or remains a basketball one, follow a golf match, or cheer on the tennis team. Any sport becomes exciting from the right angle, but you have to be willing to find it.