Let me preface this by saying that I am not a crazed college football fan. I don’t scream “ROLL TIDE” or “O-H” in the faces of strangers. I’m not from the South and the college team I root for stinks (Go Terps). I didn’t go the same college as my father and his pappy (they didn’t go to college), and we certainly don’t all get together to wax nostalgic at Saturday tailgates. I’m not here to tout the pageantry and purity of college football either — the sport isn’t without its flaws — what I am here to do is confess that, as a lifelong NFL Stan, college football is now more entertaining than the NFL.
Last week, I detailed a few of the many ways Roger Goodell has ruined the NFL. Meanwhile, as NFL TV ratings are falling for the first time in recent memory, NCAA football ratings continue to rise. People aren’t sick of football, so why has the NFL suffered while the NCAA has thrived? Miraculously, I was blessed with a weekend of blissful solitude recently. During that time, I watched approximately nine hours of football on Saturday and Sunday. After mainlining the collegiate and professional versions of football on back-to-back days, here are the 10 reasons I now find college football more entertaining than the NFL.
1. Pregame Shows — College GameDay has been on the air since 1987. Aside from some new shtick here and there, the format of the show hasn’t changed. It’s broadcast live from a different college campus each week, and people actually want to be involved with the show — dopes line up by the thousands for a chance to get in front of the camera. Hosts predict all of the day’s biggest games and they talk openly about the betting lines. Off the field stories are rarely mentioned. I am entertained.
Meanwhile, the NFL has about 12 different pregame shows and they are all unwatchable. The Fox, CBS, ESPN and NFL Network versions all attempt to outdo each other by paying some brain-damaged NFL alumni to give his hot take on a sport he played 40 years earlier. Every host regurgitates the same headlines that have been beaten to death all week. By the time Sunday rolls around, I don’t want to hear if the Patriots should have tried to run the ball on 4th and goal, or if this is the week Jerry Jones finally craps himself. The hosts then try to build the drama with injury reports like they are breaking news. Any “news” you hear on a pregame show could have been found on Twitter two hours earlier, but that involves reading, which eliminates the NFL’s target demographic. NFL pregame shows don’t talk about gambling, but they do talk about …
2. Fantasy Football — When will the world learn that no one wants to hear about your fantasy team? NFL Networks pay for fantasy experts. If you need to listen to a fantasy expert, then you’re the mark of your league. If you’re taking fantasy advice from Frank Caliendo, you deserve all of the suffering that life will bring you. The trials and tribulations of your fantasy team concern no one. You’ll never hear about anyone’s college football fantasy team — they exist, but anyone who plays is much too ashamed to admit it.
3. Manufactured Drama — The NFL spends too much time debating minutia. The clowns that cover the league are a distraction from how terrible the league has become. Instead of discussing how inconsistent the league’s rules are applied, or how the quality of play has deteriorated, the number one media topic around the league this week is
Cam Newton’s TD dance, Kaepernick not standing for the National Anthem, referees’ ineptitude, Belichick writing a note to Trump, how locker rooms are reacting to the election. Real life is difficult enough. People watch sports to escape the pains of reality. Now when they tune in to watch their teams on Sunday they get an extension of CNN, Fox News, TMZ, et al.
The biggest story in college football each week is the BCS standings.
4. The Refs — Dear God, the NFL refs. How did things get this bad? It may sound contradictory to my point, but NFL referees are more skilled than collegiate refs. The problem lies in the rules, and more importantly, the application of the rules in each sport.
The reason NFL referees have made games nearly unwatchable is because the rules change every year and the mandates they receive from the Commissioner change every week. One week they are emphasizing illegal contact, the next week they are ignoring it entirely. One week a crew gets reamed out for calling too many penalties, the next week they swallow their whistles. One week a player insults the league, the next week he gets four hands-to-the-face penalties. NFL refs receive so many mixed messages that it’s surprising they don’t botch heads and tails more often.
The refs in college are far from perfect, but they have a few things working in their favor. The first being a more efficient replay system for which nearly every call is subject to replay and is viewed and decided upon by a full-time replay ref rather than a ref on the field who is caught up in the game. College refs seem apologetic about interrupting the flow of a game; meanwhile, by the end of an NFL game, the face of the lead official is tattooed onto your retina. I don’t enjoy seeing Jeff Triplette more than the Papa John’s guy.
The second advantage for college refs is that the rules are easier to interpret and more difficult to bungle. For instance, pass interference is a 15-yard penalty and not a spot foul like it is in the NFL, so it is less of a game-changing call. Additionally, an Oxford dictionary is not required to define a catch in college football.
5. QB Play — As much as you would love to believe otherwise, only about six teams have a chance at an NFL title each season. Those happen to be the six teams with the best quarterback play. With the exception of Trent Dilfer, you simply cannot win a Super Bowl with a terrible quarterback and the NFL is full of them.
Watching an NFL team with a bad quarterback is painful. In college, even bad QB play is fun to watch. Have a QB who can’t throw the ball? How about the triple-option? Scrawny O-line? Spread out the defense and throw 60 quick passes like your name was Kliff Kingsbury. QB who can run a 4.3 40? Mr. Jackson, here’s your Heisman.
There are approximately a dozen styles of quarterbacking that can succeed in college football. There is approximately one in the NFL.
6. Coaches — This is not a fair comparison because college football coaches are all-controlling gods of their programs, while NFL coaches are essentially project managers with the shelf life of a jar of Nutella. There are about ten coaches in the NFL with some measure of job security, and 22 others who are a five-game skid from returning to the Pac-12. Accordingly, innovation and risk-taking are still alive and well in college football, while NFL coaches make their decisions on a “Will I get canned for this?” basis.
Every few seasons, an NFL coach gets the bright idea to repackage a college concept and it takes the league by storm for a few weeks (e.g. The Wildcat, RG3 circa 2012). Then defensive coordinators review some game film, adjust their approach and completely dismantle something that once looked unstoppable. That offensive strategy then gets cast aside before resurfacing 20 years later. It’s a vicious cycle that deters creativity.
College coaches are more dynamic and unpredictable and therefore so are their teams.
7. Parity — Parity sucks. There are about three quality NFL teams and the rest of the league operates at varying levels of suck. Look at these Power Rankings and marvel at the mediocrity. A few bounces, or, more precisely, calls this way or that and every team on that list, except for the Patriots and Browns, is headed for 8-7-1. There are no real upsets in the NFL. Ranking NFL teams feels like comparing 30 shades of beige in the Home Depot paint aisle.
In college football, not only can every game make or break your team’s season, but the BCS rewards lopsided victories so that even blowouts are fun to watch. Can Alabama hang 100 on Chattanooga? I don’t know, but we’ll find out this weekend.
8. Jerseys — How about a little variety, NFL? The NFL has rules in place to prevent teams from changing jerseys too often because they believe this helps them sell jerseys. The NFL also has a rule in place, under the guise of concussion protection, which prevents teams from having alternate helmets. Hence the ridiculous looking Skins throwback uniforms this weekend, paired with our modern helmet (sans stripe) rather than those badass leather helmets they should have worn.
9. Stadiums and crowds — College stadiums have designated visitors’ sections. The upper level of most NFL stadiums feels like a prison yard turf war.
The crowds that fill college stadiums care much more about the game than the concessions. Home-field advantage is real in college football and largely a myth in the NFL. Tune in on Saturdays and you will see that the crowd that attends college games is young and excited, while the crowd at NFL games is about as sexy as Guy Fieri filming a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial. College fans show up to tailgate early (as in Thursday for most Power Five schools). NFL fans show up late and leave early to beat the traffic.
10. Thursday Night Football — All Thursdays except for Thanksgiving will forever belong to college football. Goodell just couldn’t resist the money grab of another primetime slot for his precious league. The players hate playing Thursdays, the fans barely tolerate it, but it rages on each season despite all logic.
Think of a Thursday night football game in Blacksburg, Va., where fans are drinking bathtub gin at noon and jumping up and down to Enter Sandman by kickoff. No one is going to class on Friday.
Now think of a Thursday night football game between the Titans and the Jaguars, in beautiful Jacksonville, Fla. Really makes you want to run through a wall, doesn’t it?
Bonus reason: Overtime — NFL overtime rules are a disaster, exemplified by two ties this season. College football overtime is thrilling, and someone actually has to win the game. Perhaps if Goodell is promised a commercial break between every overtime possession he would consider.
If you’re like me and still coming to grips with the fact that college football has surpassed the NFL, I recommend checking out Dual Threat Saturdays at 9am ET on 106.7 hosted by @drabtshirt & @Bode1067. Two college football gurus who have been beating the BCS drum for years.
Follow Patrick’s satire on Twitter @RubGun and email your tips, takes, and topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.