ESPN Kids Writer Mailbag Week of 5/18

Q: Why is college baseball not as popular as college football or basketball? Rob from Birmingham, AL

A: Rob, this is an interesting question. There are some big-time college baseball fans out there, but I agree with you that college baseball doesn't seem to be as popular as college basketball or college football. Just about every sports fan watches the NCAA Basketball Tournaments and the Bowl Games, but not as many people watch the College World Series. I think that one of the main reasons is that very rarely do college baseball players jump directly to Major League Baseball. Even the best college players usually need a couple of years in the Minor Leagues to develop the skills they need to compete in the Majors. In football and basketball, pro teams directly draft players right out of college. A college hoops star might help his or her team to the Final Four one year; and then play in the NBA Playoffs the next. In football, a player might star in the Rose Bowl one year and the Super Bowl the next. Rarely does this happen in baseball. If a player helps his team win the College World Series as a senior, fans might not see him play in the big leagues for another couple of years. College baseball players usually don't make an immediate impact in the pros, so the connection between college and pro isn't as strong as it is in other sports. I think that's one of the main reasons why baseball isn't as popular as other college sports, however that doesn't mean college baseball players don't work as hard.

Q: What year did college baseball start? What were the first teams to play? Anisa from San Antonio, TX

A: Anisa, college baseball is just about as old as the sport itself. It is widely believed that the first college baseball game was played on July 1, 1859. Williams College played Amherst College in Pittsfield, Mass. Both of those teams are still among the most competitive teams in Division III baseball.

Q: Which college has the strongest baseball program? Raymond from Gillette, WY

A: Historically, the most successful college baseball team has been the University of Southern California. The USC Trojans have appeared in the College World Series 21 times, and won 12 National Championships. The University of Texas is also traditionally very good. The UT Longhorns have reached the College World Series 32 times and won six championships. Other great programs include Arizona, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma State and Stanford. Recently, Oregon State has been very good, winning the College World Series in 2006 and 2007. Fresno State won its first College World Series in 2008. The University of California Irvine is the top-ranked team in college baseball this season.

Q: Why are there Bowl Games instead of playoffs for college football? Marc from Fort Lee, NJ

A: Marc, this is a very important issue in college sports right now. Lots of fans and sports writers feel that there should be a playoff system in college football, similar to the NCAA Tournament in basketball. However, many fans love the sense of tradition in college football, and therefore don't want to change the bowl system. It is an ongoing debate, with people arguing for both sides. Those who want a playoff system think that it would add more excitement to the college football season. Those who prefer the Bowl Games believe that they are just as exciting as any playoff system and they like the history that goes along with big games like the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl. This is a debate that will likely go on for a long time.

Q: What is the difference between Division 1 and Division 2 in college sports? Brad from Port St. Lucie, FL

A: Brad, the biggest difference is that D-I schools are allowed to offer many more athletic scholarships than D-II schools. This means that D-I teams can recruit more of the best high school players in the country. Because of this, D-I schools have become athletic powerhouses. Most professional athletes played D-I sports in college. There are also Division III schools, which don't offer any athletic scholarships. Division II is often seen as an intermediate level for college athletes. In Division I college football, there is also something called the Football Bowl Division and the Football Championship Division. The Bowl Division schools are the major programs that compete to play in the big Bowl Games every year: schools like Michigan, USC, Oklahoma, Alabama, etc. The Championship Division schools are usually a little smaller. They give out fewer scholarships and not as many people attend the games. These schools are not eligible to play in the Bowl Games, but there is a Championship Division Tournament at the end of the season. Some Championship Division schools are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Colgate and Delaware.

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