There is no question that football is America’s most beloved sport, quickly replacing baseball as America’s favorite pastime (if it hasn’t already). The television ratings as well as the merchandise and ticket sales for the entire sport dwarf those of any other sport in our country.
A closer look at football, however, reveals a distinct separation within itself in terms of overall quality of the college game as opposed to the professional (NFL) game.
It has taken me a few years and some help from my peers to convince me of it, but I have come to the conclusion the the National Football League is just flat out a better game than college football and it’s really not even close. In fact, college football is broken.
Those words are sure to anger and fire up people in places like Tuscaloosa, AL, Lincoln, NE and Norman, OK. That’s just it, though. Who outside of those places and their surrounding areas really, truly cares about the teams that play in those towns?
The answer, quite simply, is hardly anyone. College football is localized by nature in most places to a point where most fans don’t care about teams that aren’t on their team’s schedule and thus don’t pay attention to them unless the media is shoving a team down our throat.
College Football, at the BCS or D-1A level, has 126 teams supposedly battling it out for one championship. The truth is, less than half of those teams, regardless of what their record is at the end of their season, have a realistic chance of playing for the game’s biggest prize.
The reason for this is college football’s unreasonable and ridiculous attachment and loyalty to its history. Because of how certain teams in certain conferences have traditionally performed, only those select few teams garner any respect or attention from media or fans. A team like Michigan, who hasn’t won a championship in its conference in a decade, is held in higher national regard among the media and fans than a team like Texas Christian, who has four conference championships during the same timeframe.
The reason for this goes back to that ridiculous notion of history and tradition. Because thousands of 18-22 year old kids won more football games at the University of Michigan than the same number of kids won at Texas Christian in the 20th Century, college football fans have been brainwashed into thinking that at the start of each new season, Michigan is the better team until we see how things play out on the field.
Preseason rankings only reinforce that notion. Teams like Nebraska, Michigan and Notre Dame are often the recipients of a higher preseason ranking than they deserve based solely on their name. Common sense would say “big deal, rankings are just opinions of writers and coaches and everything gets settled on the field anyway.” Unfortunately, that’s not true.
The only thing in college football that actually gets settled on the field are conference championships. Winning your conference has nothing to do with your ranking, nor can anyone provide any historical evidence that it helps you in your quest to win a national championship. Since the BCS’ inception in 1997, six teams have played in the BCS national championship game without winning an outright conference title. Two of those teams played in the last two BCS title games. The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide qualified for and won the 2012 BCS Title game without even playing in their conference championship game. The 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish qualified for the BCS title game despite not having played in any conference.
What this does is skews the recruiting process. Top-flight high school kids wanting to play college football for a team with national championship aspirations are only going to consider teams that have historically had success or received respect and attention from the media and fans. These kids are often recruited based on who else is recruiting them as opposed to the caliber of player they actually are. It’s not uncommon for a kid with a 2-star grade who is only getting offers from MAC or CUSA schools to get an offer from a B1G or SEC school and see an upgrade in his star-grade after the fact. Everything is about perception, despite the fact that all 126 teams are subject to the same rules and scholarship limits.
Preseason polls, basically baseless projections based on results of completely different teams with different rosters, are the groundwork for every new college football season. Nobody is given a chance to proves themselves in a new year with a new roster before these rankings come out. It’s just “this is who you are and this is what you shall be” and the season evolves from there. These rankings also drive the television markets, as a game between a No. 6 and No. 11 ranked team in Week 1 of the college season is going to get more national attention than a game between two teams that could be better but don’t have the backing of specific media or coaches to rank them higher.
This cycle continues over and over again, leading to only the same handful of teams out of 126 having a legit chance to win a championship despite what should be a level playing field. The one thing that matters the most in college football — winning a national title — has everything to do with the opinion of those who have nothing to do with what happens on the field and very little to do with the teams who play the games.
The NFL couldn’t be any more different. Everything is earned in the NFL. Every division matters. Every one of the 32 teams has a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl. They are not handicapped or aided in any way by the historical performance of the franchise. The players that used to be on their rosters have nothing to do with how the teams start the season. Everyone starts 0-0 and no poll or rankings system has any impact on who comes out on top.
College football has the ability to do this, they just refuse to for some reason. They have the ability to settle a championship in Division 1-A football on the field just as Division 1AA, II, III, JUCO and NAIA do. They can reward conference champions with berths into a postseason playoff tournament and save the “voting” for filling in the remaining at large teams to round out a perfect 16 team bracket that could play out in four weeks. College basketball does exactly this. Why is big-time college football so resistant to this idea?
When you add up the idiocy of how college football decides its champion (even in next year’s four team playoff) with the inconsistency in the enforcement of rules and regulations by the NCAA and the flaws in the recruiting process, it’s no wonder more and more football fans every day are paying less real attention to college football other than as background noise and focusing on the NFL.
Right now, the NFL is a better game with a better structure than what college football has. The NFL satisfies the everyday football fan’s need for a black and white game — a game with a clear cut winner and loser. A game where the rules are the rules and if you do what you are supposed to do, if you follow the rules and win the games on your schedule, you will earn the right to prove that you are the best team out there without any intervention or preconceived notions by sports writers detached from what actually happens on the field.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2013
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