Taking One for the Team: How Far Will Conferences Go for a College Championship?
For many die-hard college sports fans, there’s no question which athletic conference is best: their own.
Sure, conference loyalty is a scarce commodity during the season. You won’t find Auburn extolling Alabama’s virtues in the run-up to the Iron Bowl, or North Carolina fans gushing about the quality of Duke’s basketball program next time their Tar Heels visit the Cameron Crazies. But when the postseason dust settles in either sport, the inevitable debate ensues: Which conference is top dog when it comes to competition?
There’s a separate – and possibly more interesting – comparison to be made among conferences, however. When it comes to sheer intensity of fandom, which conference rules the roost? Of all the loyal legions of college sports fans out there, which conference boasts the most dedicated devotion?
To discover the truth, we surveyed over 1,000 college sports fans, gauging just how intense their team loyalty is for football and basketball respectively. We then sorted their responses by their team’s conference to learn which fans are most extreme. Continue reading to see where your team’s conference ranks on the scale of fanatical fandom.
Big Conference Fans
Ah, the SEC. Home to many of the sport’s most storied programs, the conference ranked above all others concerning football fan intensity, despite recent troubles on the gridiron. While our metrics assess loyalty to each fan’s team, it’s worth noting the SEC’s conference pride is unparalleled. After all, our runners-up, the ACC and Big Ten, don’t have their own chant. Kudos to the Sun Belt Conference as well – while not a part of the Power Five, it did tie with the Pac-12 for a top five spot in football fan loyalty.
When turning to hoops enthusiasm, however, no one touches the ACC. It’s hard to blame the fans: An ACC team has taken home three of the last five championships. The second place Big 12 has plenty of court culture of its own, as well – you can hardly call Kansas and West Virginia fans indifferent. The same could be said for the Pac-12, which has been among college basketball’s best in recent years.
Which Sport Matters More?
Apologies, Bobby Knight, but no sport incites fan passion quite like football. In every single conference, fans valued a football championship more than seeing their team cut down the nets at March Madness. It wasn’t a blowout in all cases, however. In the ACC, for instance, basketball was a pretty close second. Then again, they don’t have to be choosy: Thanks to the efforts of UNC and Clemson, the conference currently holds both.
Apparently, the SEC doesn’t care much for variety. Its teams have won seven of the last 10 football championships, and more than 4 in 5 fans would take another in a heartbeat. Compare that to just one basketball winner in the last 10 years: Kentucky’s 2012 triumph on the back of Anthony Davis.
What Winning Is Worth
Here’s where the hypotheticals get weird: When we asked what fans would give up to see their teams win in each sport, we got some surprising results. While the term “responsible” doesn’t exactly leap to mind when describing your average tailgate, our fans seemed to have their priorities straight. Giving up booze for a semester or year were the biggest no-brainer trade-offs for a championship in either sport, while a smaller number of fans were willing to incur potentially larger life consequences, like failing classes or getting regrettable ink.
Comparing among conferences, however, a little desperation starts to emerge from those who have struggled to win the big one of late. The Big 12 was distinctly willing to accept these terms, ranking first and second for basketball and football respectively. That may be because it’s been nearly 10 years since its teams won a championship in either sport. By contrast, the SEC was among the most willing to accept these sacrifices for a football championship, despite having a healthy shot at the title every year anyway.
Giving Up for Gridiron Glory
Looking beyond the Power Five, we see some mid-major conferences show their devotion in spades when it comes to what they’d do for a football championship. Sun Belt and Conference USA fans were particularly likely to sacrifice themselves for an improbable win, taking the top spot for multiple trade-offs. While these fans may still hold out faith, mid-major conferences themselves have acknowledged the virtual impossibility of taking home a title, even considering an alternate playoff of their own.
Still, the SEC’s football die-hards showed the most loyalty. Its fans were most likely to undertake no fewer than four of these experiences in exchange for a championship, including enduring a weeklong hangover. On the other hand, it’s not a stretch to assume that’s roughly what happens to many students anyway when a SEC school takes home a title. Three of the conference’s members ranked among the nation’s top party schools in 2017.
Hard Choices for Hoop Dreams
There you are, ACC! While showing only mediocre commitment in football hypotheticals, the conference dominated basketball devotion, proving itself most willing to do seven of the 14 trade-offs on our list. More surprising, though, was the spunk shown by the American Athletic Conference, which took four categories for its own, including most willing to fail a full semester’s worth of classes. We can only assume this is due, in part, to the dominance of the UConn women’s team, who won 111 games in a row before their 2017 Final Four defeat.
Some other smaller conferences, however, were less enthusiastic about exchanging some pain for a piece of hoops history. In fact, not a single Power Five conference ranked among the least willing to accept any of our hypotheticals, for either football or basketball. So much for the underdog spirit, mid-majors: You can’t expect to win with that attitude.
The Most Fervent Fans in Each Conference
Get ready for some controversy: In case you were feeling an excess of conference unity, we broke down the most devoted teams in each one. Roll tide, indeed, in the SEC: Alabama’s fans were most willing to take our championship trade-offs in both football and basketball. Some other results were more surprising, however, with traditional powerhouses lagging in their willingness to trade for a win. Over in the ACC, UNC took top honors not just for basketball but for football as well. Arizona State did the same for the Pac-12, beating out more historically successful programs like Oregon and UCLA.
Only in the Big Ten did we see a split among sports: The University of Iowa was most frenzied about football, whereas Indiana took top basketball honors. Hear that? That’s the sound of Mark Cuban shouting “Go Hoosiers!” from the depths of his Dallas mansion.
Fan Love for All
If our survey reveals anything, it’s just how pervasive America’s allegiance to college sports teams truly is. Whether your team usually sits at the top of the national rankings or the bottom of its conference pack, team loyalty is a beautiful thing to behold. Conference pride goes even further, uniting fans who’d typically like to tear each other’s teams to shreds. That’s what we call passion, and we’re all for it.
For those who may be inclined to forget, there’s actually more to college than sports. While we can’t improve your team’s chances on the field, we can give you the tools to succeed in class. At StudySoup.com, we strive to connect you with comprehensive study guides tailored to your classes. Use our resources to make sure you never fail – even if it’s in exchange for a championship.
We surveyed over 1,000 American college sports fans about their feelings of fandom and what they’d give up to see their teams succeed in football and basketball respectively.
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