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Commentary: College football deserves an improvement on BCS

By Patrick McAnaney     1/29/09 6:00pm

College football should be better than the NFL. I know most of you probably think that is ridiculous to suggest, especially as we're reaching the culmination of the NFL playoff season. Prof e s s iona l football is the highest-grossing sport in the country, and it attracts bigger television audiences than any college coach could imagine.

Fantasy football has become a national pastime, with even casual fans learning the depth charts of mediocre teams like my beloved Washington Redskins.

Given its immense popularity, it should seem obvious that the NFL is the better sport, right?



Wrong.

College football may not be the money-making machine professional football is. It may not have its own cable television network, but it's still more exciting.

First, there are the rivalries. College football takes the term "rivalry" to a whole new level. You don't just dislike the other team - you hate them. Think Bears-Packers is exciting? Look at Michigan-Ohio State. Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State University coach, used to refer to Michigan as "that state up north" because he couldn't even bring himself to say its name. How's that for intense? The best part is that in college football you only get to play once a year, which means no split record. That's a whole year to sit and stew (or gloat) and prepare for the next battle.

Second, the fans are far more enthusiastic. Don't get me wrong, the atmosphere at NFL games is great. But it doesn't compare to the intense excitement of a college game. The stadiums are louder, the endless barrage of fight songs pumps up the crowds and the student sections are always going crazy. With school pride on the line, people take the games seriously.

Third, the players show a higher caliber of emotion. College football players don't get paid, which means that they don't treat the game like a job. They're passionate in a way that professional football players rarely are. It's about love for the game. You don't take plays off. You don't quit on your team.

Fourth, players are recruited by the coaches. This creates a special bond between player and staff that you just don't find that often in the NFL. It makes the team that much more cohesive.

Fifth, the regular season matters. NFL games are great and all, but frankly they don't matter all that much when your team loses. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers for example. They went 12-4 this season and are now one win away from winning the Super Bowl. They lost four times, but none of those losses really meant anything.

In college football there are 118 other teams waiting to take your spot, which means you don't get the luxury of playing terribly at the end of the season once you've already clinched your division, like the Arizona Cardinals.

You come to play every week with everything on the line. That's what makes the games so much more intense. Wins mean total victory. Losses mean the end of the world.

This year, the University of Southern California lost just once - once! - and instantly dropped out of national championship discussion for the rest of the season.

So given all these factors, why do I say that college football "should" be better rather than saying it "is" better?

Well, there's a big problem holding college football back: The postseason is awful. Two teams are arbitrarily chosen to be the best teams in the country by a mix of computers and sportswriters, and those teams get to play for the national championship while every other team plays in some random matchup of almost no significance. Simply put, the Bowl Championship System makes no sense. The bowl games are still fun to watch, but they don't compare to the excitement of NFL playoff games.

So, until college football installs a playoff system, it will never be better than the NFL.

Of course, it's important to balance a playoff with maintaining the importance of the regular season, as well as giving smaller schools like Rice something significant for which to play. What we need is a 12-team playoff made up of all the conference champions (there are 11 conferences) and one single at-large bid. That way every school, big or small, has something for which to play - a chance to win your conference and go to the playoffs - and every regular season game still matters because a single loss can derail a team's conference championship track. The sole at-large bid gives one exceptional team that just barely missed winning its conference, such as Michigian in 2006 and Texas in 2008, a chance to make the playoffs based on its overall profile.

Really, this system shouldn't be that hard to put together. College basketball already does it, and we all know how incredible March Madness is.

So the real question is, what are we still waiting on? Stewart Mandel, the lead college football writer for Sports Illustrated, has made it very clear that there won't be a playoff anytime soon due to opposition from university presidents, conference commissioners and bowl game executives. So as much as I would like to say I'm excited about the prospects of a new system sometime in the near future, I don't think it's coming anyway.

This is an unfortunate truth, because it means that the untapped entertainment potential of college football - the rivalries, the unceasing fight in the players, the do-or-die attitude with which college players perform every week - will never be able to reveal itself in true and fair rivalry with the NFL.

Patrick McAnaney is a Brown College junior.



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