Say it ain’t so:
While Indiana may never shed its hard-earned and well-established reputation as a basketball state, those who have watched the evolution of the two sports over decades say football is at least closing the gap between the sports in popularity and prestige.
“It’s different school to school, but I’d say football passed basketball five years ago,” Center Grove athletic director Jon Zwitt said. “The pendulum swings for everything and for over a decade, football has more than surpassed basketball at the ticket window.”
In Indiana, the numbers seem to validate the trend. In 1965, the combined attendance for all rounds of boys basketball playoff games was over 1.5 million. Football didn’t even have an Indiana High School Athletic Association playoff system until 1973.
Since 1985, when the IHSAA implemented a five-class system for football, the two best-attended five-game state finals have come in the past three seasons: 51,217 watched the five championship games in 2007, 44,303 in 2005. The IHSAA does not have total playoff attendance numbers for football.
Meanwhile, the 2008 boys basketball playoffs had a total attendance of 427,974, the second-lowest total going back to 1960. Attendance for the four 2008 boys state finals games was 27,963; in 2007, it was 26,215.
If basketball is still king in Indiana, it’s at least sharing the throne with football, some might say.
Really, how can Hoosiers even bear to go on if the state loses the whole kid-at-the-driveway-hoop-with-a big-dream myth/legend? What replaces it? Kid with a big dream throwing a football in the street?
Seriously, though. Some will say this is a temporary challenge to basketball’s supremacy, because of several factors: the ouster of Bobby Knight and IU’s troubled program with Kelvin Sampson; the popularity of Peyton Manning and the Colts; the lingering anger over the imposition of class basketball. But I think the writing is on the, er, gym wall. The kids can do the math and see how many more slots there are in college for football players than for basketball players. And, face it, fans, football is just a lot more interesting game to watch.