DeMaurice Smith is executive director of the NFL Players Association.
With the threat of the lockout putting this year’s NFL season in jeopardy, hardcore football fans are going to have to look elsewhere for their fix.
While many NFL boosters do watch college games, they’re probably doing so with an eye toward next year’s draft.
It’s time to surrender to the college game and realize that the unpaid student-athletes offer a more exciting brand of football that inspires fierce loyalties and ignites rivalries that tear families apart.
That said, here are several reasons why the college game beats the NFL hands down.
Overtime seems far more equitable in the college game.
The NFL plays a sudden death rule during the regular season and then switches gears to allow each team a possession or the opportunity to possess the football, unless the receiving team scores a touchdown on its first possession. Basically, all they’ve done here is ask their QBs to try to win the game instead of their kickers.
In college, both teams have a guaranteed possession. They can either score a TD or kick a field goal. If things are all even after the first possession, a second OT period is played. If the teams are still tied after that, they must go for a two-point conversion on a TD.
I’m not certain either setup is perfect, but you can’t deny that the college system is more equitable.
In the college game, once a ball-carrier's knee hits the ground the play is over.
There are some significant differences between the college and pro games. One of the biggest is the absence of the two-minute warning in college games.
Others include the fact that a college player need only get one foot inbounds for a competed pass, while an NFL receiver must get both feet down.
Also, in college games, once a ball carrier’s knee hits the ground, the play is dead. In the NFL, a ball carrier can touch a knee to the ground, and as long as he hasn’t been touched by a member of the other team, play continues.
While there are advantages to both sides, I think the college games are more wide open, and college coaches seem to favor a bit more “trickeration” than do pro coaches.
One of the greatest rivalries in college football is the annual Army-Navy game.
The biggest rivalries in the NFL are between teams in the same division. The New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys are bitter rivals, as are the Giants and the Washington Redskins and the Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Geography is also a factor, as teams located near each other tend to despise rather than embrace their neighbors. Consider the relationship between the Jets and Patriots, the Vikings and the Packers and the Steelers and the Ravens.
College rivalries generally break down along similar lines in terms of conferences and geography, but the dislike is far more palpable. Consider the “Red River Shootout” between Texas and Oklahoma, played in Dallas, exactly midway between the schools.
In the Big Ten, there’s no hotter ticket than Michigan-Ohio State, and many websites tell you exactly how many days it’s been since the Wolverines bested the Buckeyes.
Other great rivalries include Army-Navy, Florida-Georgia, Alabama-Auburn and Notre Dame-USC.
Taking a photo of "Touchdown Jesus" is a must if you visit the Notre Dame campus.
You get to an NFL stadium a few hours before kickoff, tailgate, throw a ball around, watch the game and go home.
You get to the university the day before the game, visit the bookstore, attend the pep rally and then celebrate.
On game day, you tour the campus, meet late-arriving friends and tailgate and then go out for dinner.
There’s a lot more to be said for the attractions of a college campus with all the hoopla and student activities than there is for a stadium parking lot.
One of the greatest sights in college football is watching the Ohio State Band form the script Ohio.
In the NFL you have the Thanksgiving Day games, the cheeseheads and the Lambeau Leap in Green Bay, the Terrible Towels in Pittsburgh, the Hogs in Washington and Black Hole in Oakland.
In college, you have the script Ohio and dotting the “i” at Ohio State and Auburn’s war eagle taking flight above the crowd before the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
At USC, you have Traveler, the equine mascot of the Trojans, charging up and down the sidelines and circling the Coliseum field on the track that runs around it.
At Notre Dame, you have the team touching the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, the Victory March and the student section performing during the “1812 Overture.” At Clemson, the players rub “Howard’s Rock” and charge down “The Hill” into “Death Valley.”
Add in such mascots as Uga at Georgia, Ralphie at Colorado and Bevo at Texas and you can see the NFL has nothing like it.
Combine all those things with the great fight songs, and it’s no wonder that college fans are so much more passionate about their teams than their NFL counterparts.
With the college game you get a national champion and the chance to debate how worthy the selection is.
While the NFL has perfected the “personal seat license” scam and provided more protection for its marquee players—think QBs—it does have one thing the college game doesn’t: a definite champion at the end of the year.
With the BCS firmly in place and conferences tied to bowl games, the college game sparks debates any time two or more teams finish the season with identical records. A playoff system would be a giant step forward, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. Actually, I enjoy the debates.
Finally, we come to the question of loyalty. Because they are tied to a campus, I can’t think of any college team that has ever left for greener pastures. You can’t say the same for the NFL, where the Houston Oilers morphed into the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens—only to see a new Cleveland Browns franchise created three years later.
I like the idea of knowing that my favorite college team is staying put. I wonder if any Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raider fans feel the same way.