Stephen Rodrick thinks that college football is awful:

On Saturday, millions wasted a perfectly good fall afternoon watching Miami and Florida State struggle for football-factory supremacy. In the end, the game wasn’t decided by a brilliant run or catch, but by Seminole kicker Xavier Beitia hooking a 43-yard field goal in perfect conditions. No one was surprised, particularly since Florida State’s earlier loss to Louisville was predicated on quarterback Chris Rix’s dying quail interception in overtime. After Saturday’s Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas, few were talking about the Sooners’ defensive prowess. Instead, sports radio was packed with Longhorn fans bemoaning that Heisman-hyped Chris Simms has never ever thrown a touchdown pass against a Top-10 team. He threw three interceptions against OU, only to be outdone by Sooner quarterback Nate Hybl, who threw four.

Things were hopping at the other end of the food chain, too. Temple, a team so woeful that if it was a horse it would be shot and its remains deemed unsafe for dogs or glue-eating kids, scored a 17-16 victory over Syracuse when the Orangemen’s kicker missed an extra point in the final minutes. The conversion, a mere formality in the NFL, has plagued America’s top amateurs all year. Last week, USC lost to Washington State after missing an extra point, and two weeks ago, Texas A&M fell to Texas Tech after their kicker botched two extra points, one in regulation and one in overtime. Both losing teams were ranked in the Top 25.

College football is really the only sport that I am a real fan of. What’s funny, to me, is that the very things that other people hate about college football are what I love about it.

Complaint #1: The players aren’t good. It’s all relative, really. Sure, the players aren’t as good as those in the NFL or even the Arena League, but then again if you contracted the NFL to only two teams you’d have even better play. That wouldn’t make it more entertaining, though, because what matters more are how teams are stacked up against one another and despite what Rodrick says better players don’t necessarily make for a better game. My main problem with the NFL is that the players are too good, or too consistently good anyway. Specifically, the defenses are too good. The talent is more uniform so there’s a ruthless efficiency to it all.

This is especially true when it comes to defense and special teams. In the NFL, kicks returned for touchdowns seem considerably less frequent because a superstar returner is less likely to breakaway from 11 superstar defenders. It doesn’t matter, though, because the kickers are better at the NFL level so there are more touchbacks and fewer actual returns to begin with (even before the NCAA changed the rules to force more returns and fewer touchbacks). The running game is almost relegated to supporting the passing game because it’s so hard for a superstar running back to dodge 11 superstar defenders.

In my experience high school football is often too run-heavy. The quarterbacks often aren’t good enough for the long passes. At the professional level, the games are too pass-heavy. College football, on the other hand, has it about right with quarterbacks that can really throw but defenses that aren’t too strong to stuff the running game. Further, because of the uneven distribution of talent, there is a lot more variety in styles of offense as coaches are constantly trying to figure out ways to throw the defense off-balance. That’s a lot harder to do with defenses as good as the NFL offers. The NFL tried variety and for a while the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Oilers, and Phoenix Cardinals were running gimmick offenses… but in the longer run they didn’t bring home national championships and at that talent level you didn’t need to pull off the trickery.

At the college level, on the other hand, there are a lot of schools that are at such a systemic disadvantage (more on this later) that they have to pull every rabbit out of a hat that they can find. Hawaii, whose offensive coordinator till this year used to coach the Oilers and Falcons) spreads out its offense greatly and they’re a blast to watch. They’ll never be able to bring in the recruits because of their non-BCS status, so they try to compensate for it in other ways. Texas Tech does play in a BCS conference, but it has trouble competing for recruits with the other Texas schools so they spread out their offense too and try to hang on by their chinny-chin-chin.

Rodrick is right that players make a lot more dumb mistakes. Extra points are not a formality. Fumbles are far more frequent. That, too, is part of its charm because fumbles are exciting and nothing in sports that can be described as a “formality” is at all interesting.

Complaint #2: There is no playoff system. This is a can of worms that would have been #1 were I not launching from an article about the level-of-play complaint. In any case, it’s something that a lot of people really, really hate. That of course means that I think it’s awesome. A college system with a playoff would interest me far less. Right now every single game matters. The entire season is a playoff in a way. If you lose a game… any game… your chances at the national championship are seriously diminished. If you lose two, you’re not going to be a champion. Doesn’t matter if you win a tournament at the end of the season or not. With a playoff system you’re playing to make the playoffs or get better seeding, which just isn’t nearly as interesting to me. I can avoid paying attention to the entire NFL regular season and I haven’t missed much of great importance.

Not only is each game of each team important in itself, but it’s important to every other team. I spent part of the day tracking the Oregon-ASU game. Not because I care about either of those teams, I don’t. But if Arizona State remained undefeated, that meant that LSU, a team I do care about, wouldn’t get to play in the national championship. In short, the current system forces me to care about a lot more games than I would if I knew that LSU was going to make the playoffs anyhow. Each week I sort through games in several conferences for the repercussions about how they affect my favored teams. To me, the primary function of a playoff system would be to abet laziness.

Complain #3: College football lacks parity. To me this is also great because it means that you never know what to expect. Is there any NFL equivalent to Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State (which, to go back to #2, singlehandedly dashed their national championship hopes)? Or when Troy beat Oklahoma State? Or even Boise State and Oklahoma last year? Sure, most of the time Big State School beats East Jesus Tech by the expected forty points, but sometimes it surprises you and when it does it is either euphoric or humiliating in a way that no other sport really provides.


None of this is to say that I think that college football is perfect in every way. There is a lot that I would do differently. I just find it interesting that some of the things that I point to that make college football unique and special are the things that other either want to change or cite as their reason for not caring about it.

Category: Theater

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3 Responses to Why College Football Is So Awesome

  1. Peter says:

    With a playoff system you’re playing to make the playoffs or get better seeding, which just isn’t nearly as interesting to me. I can avoid paying attention to the entire NFL regular season and I haven’t missed much of great importance.

    And of course the NBA’s even worse. Sixteen out of 30 teams make the playoffs, which then drag on just about forever.

  2. trumwill says:

    I’ve heard some talk the other day about changing the NBA playoffs… for the worse! Basically shorten the regular season and then let every team play in the playoffs. The regular season would only determine seeding and byes. I’d have thought that they were joking and I can’t imagine them actually doing it, but they were saying that its novelty alone might make it worth it.

    Then again, since I’ve been watching sports increasing playoffs has been the standard. It used to be baseball playoffs included all of four teams. Since winning the division was the only way into the playoffs it was a BIG DEAL to win our division. Then they split into three divisions and had a wildcard, which I could forgive if they hadn’t added more than one wildcard (the first wildcard being necessary for a tournament… the second just so that they could add more teams into the playoffs).

    Then there’s the NFL, which now has four divisions in each league making a wildcard unnecessary, but they decided to hold on to it anyway. It seeems that leagues are bound and determined to make getting into the playoffs not be an achievement in itself. One can expect if they implement a college football playoff that it’ll be up to 64 teams before too long.

  3. Peter says:

    Heck, I’m old enough to (just barely) remember when there were no divisions and no playoffs in MLB, just the first -place teams from each league meeting in the World Series.

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