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College Football vs. NFL…Counterpoint

By: Aaron Booth

A few weeks back Sports Smithy contributor Britton Norris laid out his case for why the NFL is better than NCAA football. Saying the NFL is better is a bit of a stretch. The NFL is not better, nor is it worse. It’s different, but that’s okay.

Norris argued that college football is about big schools beating other big schools, while in the NFL it’s “about the game.” The NFL, he says, is about particular players and matchups. There’s another way to look at this: college football is about the name on the front of the jersey and the NFL is about the name on the back of the jersey. In fairness, the nature of the NFL game is that a fan will get to know players over a longer period of time. I certainly see the appeal of that. NCAA by its very nature is transient. The players come and go. That’s just how it works. If having decade-long attachments to players is important then college football isn’t for you, but complaining about it is like complaining about bicycles because they don’t have enough wheels.

 

I do agree that college football is corrupt at many levels. If, however, you are running from the NCAA to escape corruption, the NFL isn’t exactly the place to find sanctuary. The NFL in its professional honesty embraces thugs and criminals, slapping them on the wrist with fines and suspensions when they feel it will help their image, but getting them back on the field as soon as possible because, after all, it’s “about the game.” Again, I totally agree that the NCAA is a mess with corruption, but what we have here is pots and kettles, not sinners and saints.

 

The NFL has playoffs and the NCAA does not. This subject has been hotly debated in print and on the airwaves for a long time. I hope to treat this subject at length another time, but that will have to wait. In staying focused on the arguments in the previous post, I would like to make a few quick points: 1) The NCAA does not employ computers alone to determine their championship game. Computers are a part of it, but they are not all of it. 2) The NCAA, to my knowledge, makes no claims that the bowl system is better than the NFL playoffs or that it is the most ideal system for crowning a champion. They would say that the combination of the rankings and BCS system is the best way to crown a champion in a league with 119 teams that can only play 11-12 games a season. By the way, having 16-game schedules wouldn’t fix this problem. 3) Some universities do “schedule games to win” but this rarely results in a shot at the title. The strength of schedule, or lack thereof, is precisely why Boise State and TCU have not played for the title. LSU has 12 regular season games – seven against ranked opponents, including two in the top 10, and neither of which were or will be played at home. The good conferences make it impossible to simply schedule garbage. A sweeping generalization that all teams fill their schedules with cream puffs simply isn’t true.

 

I would like to offer this defense of the BCS as compared to the NFL playoffs: The team that goes home with the glass football more often than not really is the best team in the league. That claim is a lot harder to make about the Super Bowl. Were the 10-6 Packers really the best NFL team in 2010? Were the Giants really better than the Patriots in 2008? The BCS isn’t perfect, but on the whole, it produces a credible champion. The Super Bowl gives us an entertaining spectacle between two good to pretty good teams that happened to have the right combination of luck and health in January.

 

The NFL compared to other sports leagues is fantastic as an organization. The NFL gives the fan a feeling of consistency and certainty that college football can’t match. College football is too big, with too much history, and too many different authority figures. Short of a complete dismantling of the structure, college football will never rival the NFL in this area. In spite of this, college football gives fans some things that the NFL doesn’t.

 

At the top of college football there is urgency every single week. Every team is not playing a marquis game every week, but some teams are playing marquis games every week. There is the possibility to an upset – even a big upset, but that’s not the most important or dramatic part of it. Because losing even one game in college football can end a team’s shot, every game matters. The great college teams don’t rest starters in the final weeks of the season. They can’t. The games in November are must-win. This isn’t about noble college coaches playing the stars out of a sense of pride while NFL coaches rest their lazy stars; it’s just the nature of the two leagues. The last two games of the season in NCAA are urgent for the top teams while the last two in the NFL aren’t (for the very best). This can be a problem in college football if you are only interested in your own team. Sometimes for that one team the dream ends early (sorry Mississippi State). The story of the NCAA season is far from over, and something that happens in this Saturday’s games could very well shape how it all turns out. In the NFL, provided your team’s star player doesn’t go out for the season, a win or a loss this Sunday means very little for your playoff hopes.

 

Urgency doesn’t make college football better, but it is an element I particularly enjoy and it doesn’t really exist in any sport. There are pockets of urgency in other sports, but no sport delivers urgency from start to finish like college football.

 

Obviously the talent level in the NFL is much higher than NCAA and that produces a certain kind of satisfaction for fans. An NFL play is fast and powerful and precise – no margin for error – very fitting for the highest level of the sport. In contrast college football produces excitement in a way the NFL can’t, and it is because the overall talent pool is lower and the gap between the best and worst players is larger. College football lends itself to a lot more highlight real plays. Trick plays work in college. College teams convert 4th downs. Those things happen in the NFL too, but not often. Women’s tennis is as exciting – maybe even more exciting – than men’s because they are not as fast and strong as the men. In much the same way, the difference in talent between NFL and college creates a different product on the field, and that’s a good thing. The guy that thinks of himself as the high and mighty “true” fan might cringe at this thought, but the wide talent pool in college makes the game a little more cartoonish, and that makes for a satisfying product.

 

I personally enjoy college more than NFL, but I really like both. I don’t necessarily believe one is better than the other. I believe they are different – preferring one or the other isn’t a matter of which is better. It’s burgers one day and pizza the next – everybody wins.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. You can follow him on twitter @da_booth.

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  1. September 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I like to watch and keep up with both as well. My biggest gripe with the NFL is the convenient and cozy relationship with the Colleges.
    They use then for filling their ranks instead of from farm clubs as do the MLB currently. The NHL and NBA also do this as well.
    I believe the farm clubs in baseball is a major reason that MLB is as successful as it is. I would love a farm club other than baseball in smaller markets thus benefiting them both financially and socially. This would further increase the length of interest span in individual players as well. The candidates deemed not quite ready for “prime time” can be sent to the “minor leagues” as with baseball is today.

  2. Chris Schlect
    December 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Aaron,

    Your remark about the name on the front vs. the back of the jersey is well-placed. I think the solution to this debate is found in an elaboration of this key insight. Some of your other points, I think, distract from the key matter at hand. College football is more the stuff of story and myth, tapping more deeply into our humanity, than the NFL.

    The real debate–which is better?–is between professional baseball and college football. The NFL is substantial, and a bigger deal commercially speaking. But the NFL does not carry the deeper cultural water.

    See my comments on the counterpart to this debate.

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