It’s one of the biggest events of the next few days in sports, one football fans are relishing: the College Football Playoff National Championship between the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. This year, even President Donald Trump will reportedly be in attendance.
In order to make it to this stage, the Georgia and Alabama football teams had to beat Auburn and Clemson, respectively. Georgia won its game in double overtime — while Alabama avenged last year’s championship game loss to Clemson. Now, the two Southeastern Conference powerhouses will go head-to-head to prove which team is best (they didn’t play each other during the regular season).
There is, of course, a distinct pattern to the schedule of football games every fall weekend in this country. Friday nights are reserved for high school games, college football games are played on Saturdays, and the NFL teams play on Sundays — in addition to Mondays and Thursdays.
Today, the NFL’s TV ratings are down 15 percent over the past two seasons — so the league’s popularity with Americans is clearly on the decline. While there are many alternatives to the NFL, watching college football seems to be the most popular option for those looking to shut off the NFL but still keep their football fandom going.
With all this in mind, here are 10 reasons college football — specifically Division 1 — is superior to the NFL.
1.) Every game matters. Unlike in the NFL, teams cannot win a championship or have a shot at winning it just by having a winning record. While an NFL team could go 9-7 and still earn a playoff spot — which could lead to a Super Bowl appearance — it requires near perfection to earn a shot at the championship in college.
One regular season loss could alter a team’s season and cost it a chance at contention for the National Championship; no team that has lost two games has won a championship this decade.
2.) The players and staff respect the flag. Over the past two years, it’s been a trend for many NFL players to kneel for the national anthem — and even President Trump has criticized the kneelers. Kneeling is rare and far less tolerated in college football. Albright College (Division 3) even cut its backup quarterback Gyree Durante this past October because he disrespected the flag by kneeling.
3.) Teams run different offenses. Although it once was different, the NFL has developed into a pass-first game for every single team over the last three decades. Nowadays, most NFL teams attempt more passes than they do runs and rely heavily on a spread offense.
While many NFL teams go for short passes more often than not (to move the ball down the field), there is a great deal of variety to the offenses college teams employ.
Schools such as New Mexico State, Western Kentucky, and Washington State threw at rates that would translate to over 600 attempts in a 16-game season. While they raid the air, some schools rely heavily on their ground game. For example, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Georgia Tech threw less than 25 percent of the time this season, according to TeamRankings.com. Instead, they relied on a strong running game and read-option plays.
One of the biggest complaints about the NFL is its lousy overtime rules.
In general, college football teams tend to run more than their NFL counterparts — which can make for a much more tense and action-packed game.
4.) It’s about passion, not money. The biggest difference between pro football and college football is the money.
The men of the NFL are playing football as their full-time jobs and can sometimes make millions doing so. In 2017, when former Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron retired from the NFL, he told ESPN that many players in the league “don’t really love” football and are playing the game for money.
No college football players are paid — and the overwhelming majority do not end up playing in the NFL. They are there because they want to play football at the highest level possible.
5.) The overtime rules are better. One of the biggest complaints about the NFL is its lousy overtime rules. Overtime starts with a coin toss — and if the receiving team scores a touchdown on its first drive, that team wins the game and the opposing team does not receive a chance to play offense. In college, however, both teams are guaranteed possession and start their drives 25 yards away from the end zone. If one team scores first, the other team still receives an offensive possession; if it scores, then this process is repeated until one side makes a stop and the other scores.
This rule led to a thriller of a game in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s, when Georgia beat Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime. In the second overtime period, Lorenzo Carter of Georgia blocked a field goal to keep the game tied at 48 apiece.
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After that, Georgia got the ball again and running back Sony Michel received excellent blocking as he ran for a 27-yard touchdown.
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6.) Military schools cannot be dismissed. Sure, the NFL has veterans such as Joe Cardona, the New England Patriots long snapper, and Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But college football has entire teams of men who are in the U.S. armed forces. At the Division 1 level, Army, Navy and Air Force all compete and the students sometimes thrive before they’re ready to serve their country.
During the 2017 season, two of the three schools enjoyed great success. Navy shellacked Virginia in the Military Bowl, 49-7, and Army won the U.S. Armed Forces Bowl in a tense game against San Diego State University, 42-35. Army took a 1-point lead with 18 seconds remaining on a 2-point conversion.
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Plus, the annual Army-Navy game is one of the most-watched college football games of the season every year.
7.) The rivalries are intense. While a handful of NFL teams may have bad blood with some of their league opponents, those rivalries are not as intense as the ones at the NCAA level.
There are dozens of heated match-ups in college football, in which teams have met over 100 times dating back to the 1800s. At the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level, Minnesota and Wisconsin have played one another 127 times dating back to 1890 — and the winner every year receives a “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” as its trophy. This is not to be confused with the Paul Bunyan Trophy, an award given to the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State game annually. Since 1898, those two sides have competed 110 times.
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8.) The fan experience rocks. Attending a college football game is something that can’t be replicated. After all, there are nine Division 1 stadiums that hold over 100,000 fans. In 2013, Michigan-Notre Dame set the record for the most-attended football game — with 115,109 fans making the trip, according to the Associated Press. This is about 50,000 more fans than the roughly 65,000 people that Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) can hold.
Fans often feel a stronger connection to the team they root for because they attended the school or they know someone who did (and possibly someone who played for the team). This is why Wisconsin, for example, can get tens of thousands of people all wearing red to jump out of their seats between plays.
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9.) Bowl games play a role. There were 40 bowl games in the 2017 season, all of which aired on television, according to the NCAA’s official website.
These games feature top teams from various conferences around the country. The various teams, all of which have proven themselves to be the best in the country, are given the opportunity to play each other for something meaningful — even if they’re not qualified to play for the championship. In the NFL, there is no equivalent.
10.) The divisions are tough. The skill level is higher in the NFL than it is in college football, of course, but the regular season scheduling for the best teams is not as competitive.
In the NFL, divisions such as the AFC East are dominated by the New England Patriots, as the AFC North is dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In college, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Pac-12, Big 10, and Big 12 schools play in conferences where they must face multiple teams that are ranked in the Associated Press’ top-25 national rankings (out of 130 Division-1 FBS teams). There are more blowouts in college football — but there is probably not an NFL conference with multiple championship contenders as the SEC had this season with Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia, all of which were ranked in the top-five teams in the nation at various points by the Associated Press.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.