Do you remember all the jokes about how Indiana and Duke were basketball schools? And how no one was going to watch because the two football teams have no fans?
Well, the TV ratings for the Pinstripe Bowl have proven otherwise.
Per ESPN, Duke's Pinstripe Bowl over Indiana earned a 2.7 rating. By comparison, the Duke-UNC OT basketball game last Feb drew 2.6.— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) December 28, 2015
A 2.7 rating is about 4 million viewers. For two football teams from basketball schools, that is certainly something.
A few theories for why this game drew more than one of the biggest rivalry games in college hoops:
1. People have an insatiable appetite for bowl games.
With 40 total bowl games, and in the wake of three 5-7 teams making it to a bowl, a lot of folks have complained that there are too many bowls. Well, it turns out there is a market demand for these games. People will watch bowl games - it's an excuse to feature unusual matchups (such as this one), resurrected rivalries (such as BYU facing Utah in the Vegas Bowl), or under-the-radar teams that haven't gotten much national attention during the season (such as a game between Georgia Southern and Bowling Green, whose coaches just left for Tulane and Syracuse, respectively).
2. The game received a national TV audience on a Saturday on ABC, and featured two teams that made a name for themselves this season.
Indiana had four games against top-15 opponents during October and November that placed the Hoosiers in the same 3:30pm ABC/ESPN Saturday time slot. Thus, IU fans were used to seeing their team play at this time on Saturdays this fall, so tuning in on a Saturday at 3:30 to watch the Hoosiers felt natural.
On the other hand, Duke's controversial loss on a lateral in the closing seconds of the Miami game on Halloween night gave the Blue Devils some notice earlier in the season - and many fans by now are aware of the impressive turnaround job that David Cutcliffe has done as coach in Durham.
3. It was an exciting, close game throughout.
Duke took a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Indiana slingshot themselves right back into it, and the game was tied by halftime. No team could fully take an advantage in the second half, and the game went to overtime until it was decided. As the game stayed close, the buzz around it increased, and by the time of the controversial decision to call the kick no good, the eyes of sports fans around the nation were glued to this game.
4. March Madness is as popular as ever, but college basketball ratings in the regular season don't fare as well.
An average of 11.8 million viewers watched the NCAA tourney last year - its highest ratings ever. However, regular season hoops still tends to draw less of an audience, even in big rivalry games. The two Duke-UNC games last season both scored 2.6 ratings. These two games were the highest-rated regular season games of the year. Thus, the Pinstripe Bowl received a higher rating than ANY college hoops game during the 2014-15 regular season.