The Case for College Football: Better Than the NFL
AFTER THE EXCITEMENT OF SATURDAY IT’S HARD NOT TO FALL ASLEEP ON SUNDAY
By Joe Bodolai
After watching more than a dozen weeks of both NFL and college football for the gazillionth year in a row, you can’t say that I haven’t done my homework. So I can unequivocally state that when it comes to football, this is a blowout. College football is clearly more exciting and entertaining than the NFL on the field and off. It’s not even close.
I don’t mean just the youthful exuberance of student sections, bands, and cheerleaders who cheer not audition for rich husbands. Let me break it down in this handy chart that I suggest you print out and put in your wallet the next time you get in one of “you don’t know what you’re talking about” bar debates, which, if you’re like me, you do.
1. Passion for the Game
Not just the students, but the players. The only million dollar contracts are for the coaches and merchandising and EA Sports. The players get scholarship checks, and even when they get extravagant and illegal benefits such as Reggie Bush’s house, the total amount of booster slush money is pocket change compared to the Pacman Jones “make it rain” environment of the NFL. They go to classes, they often come from poor homes, and are trying to make a difference for their families and their futures. Many will never make in their lifetime what an NFL journeyman makes in one season.
2. The Rules
The NFL has three rules that are absolute kill shots to the head of exciting football. First is the ludicrous “two minute warning”. In close games the result may be coming down to the wire but not before a pointless energy and momentum killer stops the game and forces us to watch commercials while players stand around. When we are now “back to the action” it’s hard to feel the momentum and energy. It’s like a sprint to the finish line and then, “okay everybody, snack break.” If you have to be “warned” that there are two minutes left then the only people this would actually make sense to are the parking lot attendants who have to make sure the stadium exodus is efficient.
Second is the the NFL’s “oh hell, let’s just toss a coin” in overtime. I am tired of exciting close games turn into an obvious advantage to the team that wins the coin toss resulting in a boring and conservative drive and then one of the most boring plays in sports, the field goal. So, let me see, instead of equal opportunities to compete on the field, as the last sixty minutes have been, the ultimate win or loss is determined by someone’s guess of random chance! Hell, why not have the opposing coaches just play Indian Poker? This alone devalues every single great moment and decision of regulation time. The game has been played by individual players and coaches earning those advantages by great plays and great decisions. Why not flip a coin instead of video reviews. “Was that a touchdown or was he down. Dallas, call heads or tails.”
In college football, each team has the same chance to score and the stakes get higher and the degree of difficulty increases the longer the game goes. Teams can no longer kick a PAT but must go for two. Proof of concept: Ohio State’s double overtime win over Miami for the National Championship, considered one of the most exciting games of all time ranking with, oh yeah, Boise State’s win over Oklahoma and Vince Young taking down the Trojans. Name one NFL game with that much excitement and emotion.
Third is the clock control at first down. In college football the clock is stopped after a first down. This not only makes narrative sense such as announcers use in describing drives, but allows for teams to make comebacks. In the NFL, the result is a foregone conclusion in the final few minutes in an overwhelming percentage of games. I do not, however, like the new “ready for play” rule that forces college teams into an artificial hurry-up offense, but this was done for a stupid reason – to shorten game times. Come on, who on earth wants shorter college football games? What are you going to do now, click over to Spike TV?
The other rules that divide the games are basically safety issues, such as the ”in the grasp rule“ of the NFL, where a quarterback does not actually get tackled to end the play. This is designed to protect marquee players. In college, these guys take their hits. On the other hand, in college, when a player falls down without being touched he cannot continue to advance the football and the play is over. On another safety issue again the sports are different. In the NFL, a receiver can land with only one foot in bounds, while college rules demand both feet be in bounds for a catch. The one foot in bounds is a marketing decision to make for more ”spectacular“ catches but has resulted in more serious injuries. If you’ve seen North Dallas Forty you know how the NFL deals with injuries.
Finally, in college every play is ”under review“ unlike the NFL where the coaches must gamble on throwing the challenge flag. The college system is unquestionably more fair but clearly not foolproof, judging by two jaw-droppingly bad reviews in favor of USC to basically give them their win over Boston College. Clearly these were the worst on-field calls in a major game in a long time. Let’s pretend I didn’t mention it.
3. Pageantry and Atmosphere
Again, it’s a blowout win for college football. NFL tailgating is a made-up event that copies the populist tradition that is real tailgating. Stadiums and games are played in hometowns, and pre-game events reflect the local customs, cuisine and style of their town. Oh sure, you can say that Green Bay serves up those bratwursts, but, come on, they were a staple of Badgers’ tailgating even before there was an NFL. College tailgating has boosted the popularity of many local restaurants and unique menu items that are not ”the official Cheesesteak of the Philadelphia Eagles.“
Stadium atmosphere is again nolo contendre. Each school has its unique atmosphere, whether it is Miami’s smoke for the players’ entrance, Ohio State’s tradition of ”dotting the I“, Auburn’s incredible war eagle stadium entrance, the exuberance of the student section, the bands punctuating the action on the field with music that reflects the emotion of the game. It’s exciting and not a focus group creation
Halftime shows in college are spectacles, corny as some may be, that are actually unique to their setting, not homogenized corporate NFL bathroom breaks and beer runs. Nobody leaves their seat for the Ohio State band and videos of the Grambling and Southern University highlights are all over YouTube. Not the game, the spectacular bands.
Everything that surrounds the college game is more exciting than the NFL game. ESPN’s College Gameday is a national event, traveling to the location of one of the biggest games of the week. The background show alone with cheering students, handmade signs, and hot cheerleaders upstaging the hosts Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, and the goofy Lee Corso. NFL pregame shows are sterile studio shows artificially amped up by Fox’s ”Transformers“ animations.
4.Traditions and Rivalries
Do you actually try to convince me that Dallas-Washington, Cleveland-Pittsburgh are actual rivalries? Exhibit A: Ohio-State Michigan. This is not a weekend of war, but a year-round battle with twelve months of emotions defined by the result of the game. So powerful and real is this rivalry that ESPN famously created a commercial that began with one of the most shocking scenes ever on sports television. A guy in a Michigan sweatshirt was making out with a hot girl in an Ohio State t-shirt. My jaw dropped and then the graphic appeared: ”without sports, this wouldn’t be disgusting.“ If you don’t believe me that college rivalries are longer standing, more part of the social fabric than any made up NFL rivalry, just go to the Alabama-Auburn game or Texas-Oklahoma. And don’t wear the wrong color. The NFL is a season long TV event. College football is a way of life year round.
Again, sorry pro sluts, girls next door win. NFL ”dance teams“ are made up of ex-beauty pageant contestants and amateur dancers. They wear patent leather thigh-high boots and midriff baring tops that resemble real cheerleader outfits the way that nurses outfits on Halloween resemble real nurses. As much as I utterly despise USC, the sight of the sweater girls in their innocent young white sweaters and flouncy white skirts makes me wish I were an undergraduate again and could hit on them. And if you wanna see sexy without sleazy, guess whose uniforms are sizzling hot yet not in the Catholic schoolgirl way. Of course, the gold standard in uniforms – Oregon. Yowza girls. Bring it.
Now why do I think cheerleaders are relevant in this discussion? Because it embodies the moral characteristics of each sport. Like the game and the traditions, college cheerleaders are part of the student body. The NFL girls are shipped in and, since the Dallas Cowboys created the brand, they are a corporate sideline event designed for network TV cutaways and promotional appearances. While Boise State’s quarterback famously proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend by running into the stands after scoring the winning touchdown in the monumental upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, it was a genuine moment that embodied the promise and optimism of college life as they made a future. They got married before money, not because of it. I’m not going to name names here, but powerful guys with money and bimbos in sexy outfits are not always a genuine personal and emotional connection. It’s more of Tiger Woods kind of thing and I suspect lawyers and pre-nups are involved.
I’ve watched the full slate of Sunday games, the carcass of what was Monday Night Football, and the snoozefest studio shows and their ”fantasy focus“. I realized that with point spreads and fantasy teams the NFL has successfully shifted much of their audience’s focus to issues that are not about unbridled loyalty and passion for the teams and the performances on the field but to ”I’ve got the Saints giving seven and I’m sitting Ladanian Tomlinson this week. He killed me last week. Can we switch over to the Vikings game? I’ve got Peterson.“
That is a far cry from one sentence that sums up college football for me. Listen to if screamed in unison by over 100,000 people at each game. It’s a moment of unity between the players, the students, and the fans that the NFL will never have.
“We are…Penn State!”
I rest my case.
(This article also appears on Erie View, Dan Goldberg’s new sports blog at http://dg7007.wordpress.com/