Passion, tradition elevate college football over NFL
By Ivan Maisel
The request to provide 20 reasons college football is better than the NFL is not a fair one.
How can anyone defend the humdrum nature of 110,000 screaming fashion-forward (orange, I hear, is hot) Tennessee fans against parity (NFL motto: Excellence just gets in the way)?
How can anyone justify the depth of antipathy that Ohio State and Michigan fans have for each other when compared to the thrills of a Houston-Jacksonville game in October (or the rematch three weeks later)?
What is the worth of winning the Little Brown Jug, or the Old Oaken Bucket, or the Egg Bowl, when compared to the $26.5 million guaranteed to a former North Carolina State defensive end benched in the middle of last season?
Oh, the sleepless nights of trying to face such a task. Oh, the agony.
Oh, and one other thing: Only 20 reasons? Sure you don't want 40?
The appeal of college football is rooted in the simple notion that your team represents you, your state, your alma mater, your youth. The NFL represents -- what, exactly? A bunch of 25-year-old millionaires who will dump your town the minute their agent secures a better offer. There is no loyalty in the NFL. College football is all about loyalty.
2. 25-year-old millionaires
Speaking of which, college football has none. What the game does have, instead, is humility. You want the bling and the talk? Have at it. We'll stick with guys who are still happy to get their names in the paper.
Army-Navy. Ohio State-Michigan. Alabama-Auburn. Texas-Oklahoma. Harvard-Yale. Williams-Amherst. No matter the division, there are rivalries that go 365-24-7. You revel in victory and agonize in defeat. What does the NFL offer in comparison? Dallas-Washington? How big can a rivalry be when they play it twice a year?
4. The postseason
That's right. I'm defending the BCS. Well, not exactly. I'm defending the lack of a playoff. Better yet, I'm going to let West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez defend it for me.
"In Division I [-A] football, every game is a playoff," Rodriguez said. "Once you lose one game, you're mostly out. If you lose two, you're definitely out. We got 12 playoff games. Teams take that approach. That's probably why there's so much interest. You stub your toe, you can never get back in it."
Those ugly December games when Peyton Manning plays one series and sits out, as if it were August? In college football, games in August are played as if they're in December.
5. Bowls on TV
Of course there are too many bowls. But from Dec. 19 to Jan. 8, when there's a game on just about every day, how great is that?
6. Playbook buffet
College offenses range from the option employed by Navy and Air Force to the I to the West Coast to the spread. Every week brings something different. They stretch the capabilities of defensive coordinators and the enjoyment of the fans. Most NFL offenses come from the same cookie cutter. Call them Two Degrees of Bill Walsh.
It's simple. In college, both teams get the ball. In the NFL, you can lose the game without one side of your team stepping onto the field.
NFL owners hold up their hometowns for state-of-the-art palaces that have as much personality as a downtown skyscraper. Give me old-school (there's a reason that became an adjective) classics like the stadiums at Notre Dame, Ohio State or most any SEC school any day of the week.
And think about this: Which sport has 16 stadiums that average more than 80,000 in attendance? The NFL has one. Which sport has four stadiums that average six figures in attendance? It ain't the Sunday one.
9. Ticket prices
The highest cost of a ticket at Georgia this season is $32. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC champion. The highest cost of a ticket at the Atlanta Falcons this season is $104. The Falcons went 8-8. Where would you rather be?
10. Commercials after kickoff
The worst thing to happen to football since the XFL. Let's go over this. Extra point. Lots of commercials. Kickoff. Lots of commercials. By the time the game starts again, you've got to remind yourself who's playing. That's not a problem in college football.
11. More bang for your buck
All those commercials and yet the games are shorter. What does that mean? Less football! NFL teams ran an average of 62.5 offensive plays per game last season. Division I-A teams ran an average of 70.6 offensive plays. And don't tell me that college games last longer. Yes, they averaged 3:06 and the NFL averaged 3:01, but that's explained by halftime. College halftimes last 20 minutes; the NFL, 12.
12. College halftimes
NFL halftime means a break. College halftime means tradition. Marching bands dot the I in Ohio or at least rouse the emotions by playing the fight song. Non-marching bands, such as the LSJUMB (Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band) at Stanford, mock all that is sacred. Either way, it's an inestimable part of the college football experience. NFL halftime means, um, time to make a sandwich.
The NFL, thanks to the salary cap, is the last bastion of socialism in the world outside of Cuba. In college football, coaches build something to last. History demands that Michigan must win (or Nebraska or USC). What does history demand of the Carolina Panthers? An introduction.
Joe Paterno has been at Penn State as assistant (beginning in 1950) and head coach (since 1966) for 56 seasons -- or seven years before the dean of NFL coaches, Bill Cowher, was born.
Checkerboard end zones. Aggies kissing their girls after a touchdown. Nittany Lion roars. Boats on Lake Washington anchoring at a Husky game. The flaming spear at midfield. The Sooner Schooner. Touchdown Jesus. Traditions are the imprimatur of every college team and its fans. As long as the NFL is operated out of one office in New York, tradition will be disallowed.
Hail to the Victors, you Helluva Engineer. What be the odds, great or small, drown 'em Tide. Whether you Fight On, or you just On Wisconsin, just remember, We are the Boys from Old Florida, and champions of the West.
17. The Heisman
The single most recognized individual award in American sports may not deserve its perch on the merits -- it is, in fact, awarded to the best offensive player on a national championship contender -- but the Heisman has held on to its stature even as it outlived its founder (the Downtown Athletic Club of New York).
Only blood relatives can name any NFL MVP who won before, say, 2001. A Heisman winner will be introduced as such for the rest of his life.
18. Keith Jackson
Suffered one year on ABC's "Monday Night Football." Called college football games for more than four decades.
19. Championship sites
Last four championship sites: Pasadena, New Orleans, Miami, Tempe. Last four Super Bowl sites: Detroit (in February), Jacksonville (not ready for Prime Time), Houston, San Diego.
20. Eternal youth
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose name has gotten tossed into every NFL coaching search since he left the Ravens staff in 1998, said he likes the college game because he likes to develop young players. The rhythm and arc of a collegiate career embody the fulfillment of potential. It's the same reason we continue to go back to our alma maters season after season. College football reconnects you with the kid you were, when Monday morning meant only a political science class, not the resumption of the mortgage chase. That's why you go back to campus every fall.
That, and the chance to beat your archrival.