College Football needs a makeover (or not)

26 Nov

For virtually all of my life, I have vastly preferred the NFL to College Football. At age five, my almost singular reason was the superior quality of the teams. By age ten, I added the reason that there wasn’t really a championship game. A little over a decade ago, the BCS added a de facto Championship Game (it is actually not an NCAA Championship game), but that makes my complaint that the Playoff system needs more than two participants. While my preference for the NFL never wavered, I do have friends who, for reasons I don’t completely understand, prefer college football. As they explain to me the preference, the main arguments I hear are the “pageantry”, the “tradition”, and the purity of the game.

Now, Marc Ryan is a former band geek and I expect people like him to continue to tout the “pageantry”. Pageantry is defined as pomp, splendor, and magnificence. I guess it is possible that College Football does have this down, my only rebuttal to that would be that if it were really that important and good, NFL teams would pay for halftime shows that would be superior, a la the Super Bowl. I think it is self evident that while College Football pushers will plug the superior pageantry, the reality is that it plays little role in their enjoyment other than in their fertile minds. On the other hand, tradition and purity are legitimate reasons that could cause one to enjoy the game more.

Tradition is a tremendous reason to like college football, especially when juxtaposed with the fact that the college football season has traditionally meant something. When Team A beats Team B in a college football game, they generally will not need to beat that team again to win a national championship. Imagine the New York Jets and the New York Giants in the same division, where they played exactly once every year and you had bragging rights at work with the people who cheered for the other team. Except that is one thing that is awesome about college football also—people actually have a legitimate connection to the teams. Most of these longtime rivalries are from geographically close institutions, where co-workers actually have a reason to cheer for one team (like they actually graduated from the institution), and these traditional rivalries give you bragging rights for an entire year. With this being a big rivalry week, this is especially true right now.

Rivalries take on all forms. The first is the basically even rivalries. This is where home field may have a big bearing and the feel is that neither team has the overall upper hand. North Carolina and Virginia (or Army-Navy) may work for this. The second variety would be even, except one team got an early start (like Florida State and Florida, where after Florida won 16 of the first 19, the series is 18-17-1). Both of these tend to have a year to year feel. You also find that many people at work rely on the recent results when talking to their co-workers. The third type of rivalry is the largely one-sided affairs. Texas against Texas A&M is an example of this. These one-sided rivalries are also great, because the typically losing team’s alumni get a chance to talk all year about how it “might” happen.

For those of you who pay attention to those sorts of things, the Texas against Texas A&M rivalry has come to an end. This is where I begin to get irritated. If one of the major selling points for the greatness of college football is tradition, we are experiencing an erosion of that greatness. One of the great rivalries was lost when the Big 12 formed and Oklahoma-Nebraska became a not every year event. More are falling apart with the most recent realignment (Missouri-Kansas and Illinois-Northwestern, for example).

Another factor often not considered is the larger conferences don’t allow for as many out of conference games. For example, when the Bowl Coalition began in the 1993 season, most of the major conferences (the Southwest, the Big 8, the Big East, the ACC, for example) had fewer than ten teams and most conferences had 7 conference games at most. Now, most conferences are looking at scheduling nine conference games. This hurts the ability to continue rivalries out of conference. In addition, the current system that rewards wins against Division 2 teams more than competitive games has led to the elimination of rivalries, such as Miami-Florida or Pitt-Penn State.

The final plug for college football’s greatness as the purity of the game seems to be the easiest to debunk. When Boise State and BYU considered joining the Big EAST (and TCU did join, despite never playing a game) for the bigger payday, clearly the colleges are after the money. While the players may not be getting paid (recent discoveries seem to suggest many are being paid under the table), clearly the event itself is not done for completely altruistic reasons. So, the reasons I currently hear for college football are not really true anymore, at least in my mind.

Now, I think change is an inescapable part of the human condition, but it isn’t as simple as saying that new traditions will be formed. Tessa Altman recently stated, “Traditions aren’t new—that’s what makes them traditions.” New traditions can happen and in ten years, we may talk about the greatness of these super conferences, but if traditions are clearly being ignored in this new college football way of life, and if that is one of the calling cards of college football, it is losing some of its current allure.

Now, if this eventually leads us to a more precise playoff system where all teams actually have a chance at the beginning of the season while still making the regular season mean something, that could be awesome. If every beginning is actually some other beginning’s end, then could it be that this is the beginning of something where we all look back as the tipping point where college football achieved greatness? Alternatively, could it just look at this as the time College Football threw away everything that made it cool? Only time will tell, and I am cautiously optimistic about the changes, but the current college football apologists must really be nervous!

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One Response to “College Football needs a makeover (or not)”

  1. Jenni December 30, 2011 at 4:46 am #

    You should consider doing a sports podcast. It would be a definite hit, especially if you found someone controversial to do it with you – like, say… a potty mouthed pastor or something.

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