Excitement, scoring, wins, championships and fan devotion comprise some of the “ingredients” of a sports fan. Students and alumni typically make up college football fan bases, but there are still schools that gain a following from regions that might not have a Division I school around them.
On Oct. 3, in an attempt to document this fandom, The New York Times published an interactive map detailing which parts of the country rooted for which college football teams. With information taken from the number of “likes” each team received on Facebook, sorted by ZIP code, the map detailed regional borders of team fandoms.
In addition to the Facebook data, The Times also “applied an algorithm to deal with statistical noise and fill in gaps where data was missing … Facebook likes show broadly similar patterns to polls,” according to the article.
According to the map, many states support just one school, typically the major state school in the region. Not only does it show which schools dominate in their home states, but it shows the kind of influence and reach each school has across the country. For the states that don’t have a major school, like Montana, it’s surprising to see that Oregon reaches all the way out there and possesses a strong following. Also, in a state with multiple strong football programs like Texas, the Longhorns overwhelmingly dominate state schools like Texas A&M, Baylor or Texas Tech.
The states that support multiple schools all have one school that is the primary team, and then a smaller region that supports the other schools. Penn State dominates Pennsylvania almost statewide, while the Panther faithful represents just the smaller Pittsburgh region. Pennsylvania has always been loyal to Penn State, and it’s due to more reasons than the school’s football tradition.
“Penn State has more of a following because their fans just mindlessly cheer for them,” A.J. Corry, a junior biology major, said. “They haven’t even been that successful throughout their history, but the fans don’t even realize it.”
Penn State has about 7,000 more undergraduates than Pitt and has many branch campuses all over the state that feed into the main campus. There are many students who develop an obsession with Penn State football. After they graduate, they pass it down to younger generations and spread their influence across the region. The Penn State fandom also extends into Delaware and parts of New Jersey.
Based on past successes, Pennsylvania should have a stronger love for the Panthers. Pitt has nine national titles compared to Penn State’s two, and it has 50 consensus All-Americans compared to Penn State’s 39. There are also eight NFL players in the Hall of Fame from Pitt and only six from Penn State.
Pitt has the better history when it comes to players and championships, but, recently, Penn State has had more success. When a team has a string of below-average to average seasons, then fans shift their attention elsewhere. Pitt has had some star players come through Heinz Field recently, but the team hasn’t found much success at national championships or top-25 votes.
“The stadium being off campus when we have a lot of games at noon makes it hard to get to games,” said junior Stephan Patterson. “And then we’re not competing with the better teams in the nation anyway.”
Exciting young offensive players like Tyler Boyd, James Conner and Chad Voytik are a nice core and could signal the beginning of a fan revitalization. Even with the drought in championship teams, Pitt students continue to take the trip to Heinz Field and cheer on their school.