I awoke on Monday morning with the strangest vision. A world of vibrant colors and real history surrounded me. There were these things called “traditions” and “idiosyncrasies” that made each and every football team unique. A field of blue. It was a world of pigskin that didn’t know anything about replacement referees or bounty scandals or beer sponsors. It was a simpler place. And it was played on Saturdays.
The collegiate level is simply the most entertaining and pure platform for American football.
“No!” You might scream. “The NFL rocks my socks! I can’t draft Clemson QB Tajh Boyd to my fake team on the internet and bet money that he, compounded with many other unrelated players, will win me glory and cash!”
This is true. Fantasy football is the NFL’s monopoly, and it’s often the argument fans use when defending the league. Because of the nature of NFL contracts and naming rights, both fantasy football and NFL video games have created closer connection with fans. NCAA ‘13 would be a whole lot better with some last names.
I can admit that I love fantasy sports, and in particular, fantasy football. But lately, I’ve come to a couple of sobering realizations. 1. As a sports journalist, fantasy sports are bad. Sports betting is bad. Bias and vested interest are bad. 2. Teams and rivalries don’t really matter to me anymore. 3. College football, without this faux-personal relationship with players, makes me happier.
This past weekend, I took in three live football games. I covered a high school game on Friday night filled with mistakes and complete with an hour-long weather delay. On Saturday night, I headed to the USF vs. FSU game and on Sunday, I experienced RGIII’s first fourth quarter NFL comeback.
The NFL and NCAA atmospheres couldn’t have been more different. Thanks to the reasonable price that tickets were set at for students of both schools early in the year, the college crowd was younger and more chipper.
Both marching bands were in attendance, belting out fight song after fight song. I’ve got to admit that the tubas were a bit more enjoyable than listening to “Welcome to the Jungle” six times via the loudspeakers on Sunday.
During the NFL match-up, I couldn’t help but glance at scoreboards around the stadium. I fantasized that Seattle was destroying St. Louis, in hopes that Sam Bradford threw seven picks against my Seahawks’ defense. I face-palmed hard when I noticed that Brian Hartline garnered 253 receiving yards whilst warming my fantasy bench. I missed whole plays while discussing possible trades with friends next to me.
On Saturday night though, my eyes were stapled to the field. Every time FSU called another failed option play, I mashed my leg with my fist. The game was close enough for some banter between sections, and some horn and tomahawk hand-signals to be tossed around. There was some extra-curricular activity at the Bucs’ game as well though; we watched a shirtless Redskins fan drunkenly assault a Bucs fan in our section. No punches were thrown but Mr. Redskin also added some symbolic hand signals of his own as he was escorted by Tampa Police out of the stadium.
Aside from Steelers vs. Ravens and the NFC East, no rivalries even come close to NCAA standards. I can literally rattle off 10 college games I’d pick to watch before Cincinnati against Cleveland. Has there been a game with the energy of USC-Stanford in the NFL yet? I realize it’s early but isn’t that another plus for the college level? Every single game matters. I can’t wait to see the playoffs in the NCAA, so detractors will have one less knock on the BCS.
Pride in each conference exists; when was the last time you heard a Jaguars fan (yes, Jaguars’ fans do exist) brag about the AFC South the way an LSU fan brags about the SEC?
Finally, it comes down to the money. College football economics are an odd thing and truly the sport’s biggest flaw. To sell merchandise, but again, not rights to a player’s name, is still to make money on a student’s performance without giving that student a direct portion of that profit. An education, in the form of a scholarship, is a valuable tool, but I’m not sure it’s equal to the money a star athlete can bring to his school in the ways of recruiting, fundraising, ticket sales, and name recognition. Though it smells funny to an outsider, you have to wonder if players and their families are really concerned about it. Wouldn’t they have said something themselves by now, after so many years within the same system?
The NFL is a money-making monster while the NCAA is mostly comprised of student-athletes working toward everyday professions. I’ve got to root for the veterinarian-in-training over the $60 million running back.
When it comes down to it, college football brings together the traditions and integrity of century-old institutions, and gives fans opportunity in more than just 32 huge regions. Lee Corso is better than Chris Berman and Michigan vs. Notre Dame is better than Philadelphia vs. New York. Yell and scream all you want, but if fantasy sports are your strongest argument, then you’re probably wrong.
Miles Parks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org