The NFL’s steep drop in ratings this season may come as a surprise to some who have seen the league as the pinnacle for revenue generating in professional sports; however, when you sit down and watch a game on any given Sunday this season, your shock will surely fade. Missed kicks, ties and a vast majority of mediocrity have been the benchmarks of this underwhelming football season.
However, there has been one area of football that has still brought its viewership excitement and entertainment this fall: college. This season — maybe now more than ever with the apparent decline of the NFL — college football has featured some of the most dramatic and shocking contests that we’ve seen in recent memory.
College football has long been the little brother of the NFL, especially since professional football partnered up with ESPN. This season though, the NCAA’s on-the-field product has been far superior to that of its professional counterparts. And while pundits may cite a number of reasons why the NFL is down — ranging from too many penalties to concussion studies leading to a decline in Pop Warner enrollment — the fact of the matter is the NCAA is the main benefactor from its fall.
Now why is college football rivaling the NFL — if not surpassing it — when the same players are going on to the big leagues only to be a part of the dip in ratings. The biggest reason is pride.
While people come out and support their teams in the NFL, it can never rival the amount of passion that is poured into the game by students and alumni alike. Despite select fans in Oakland and Kansas City, the overwhelming explosion of euphoria when your team runs out of the tunnel is strictly reserved for the college game. At places like the University of Alabama, football is king. Many students even plan out their classes so they’re able to stay one extra semester — ensuring that they get to see a fifth season of Crimson Tide football.
We see it every Saturday morning on ESPN’s College GameDay. People come out in droves from all across the country and wake up at the crack of dawn for a chance to celebrate and see their team play. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fans like the “12th man” in Seattle or the deafening sound in Arrowhead Stadium, but there is absolutely no comparison to a place like Auburn or Michigan or Florida, where it seems the entire stadium is standing and screaming their lungs out while covered head to toe in body paint.
This season has also seen a tremendous series of primetime college football games — ones that easily best that of the NFL. On Saturday nights we are treated to contests like Texas vs. Notre Dame, where we saw the Longhorns storm back to upset the Fighting Irish in Austin. Earlier in the season we were treated to an overtime thriller where Clemson emerged victorious after outlasting a North Carolina State team that almost toppled the Tigers.
Compare those games to last week’s Thursday night matchup between the Titans and the Jaguars, or two of the past four primetime NFL games that have ended in ties, and it’s clear to see that the NCAA has the advantage.
Parody in college football is also unparalleled. There are currently only a handful of premier teams in the NFL — the Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys are the few that come to mind. But in the NCAA, the pressure to stay undefeated in order to qualify for the College Football Playoff forces every team to chase perfection, with many often doing so. And with all these teams vying for a chance at the title, we as viewers are given the pleasure of viewing instant classics like Penn State’s upset of then No. 2 Ohio State. With a plethora of good teams battling it out every week, it seems competitive college football games always have the intensity of the NFL playoffs.
While the NCAA cannot compete with the NFL in terms of fantasy sports — one of the few things that keeps the NFL afloat — they easily best the pros with their overtime policy. We’ve seen two ties in the NFL in the past two weeks for the first time since 1997. After Roger Goodell and company adopted new overtime rules, the focus in the extra frame has shifted to kicking. Kickers have been abysmal this season as demonstrated by potential game-winning field goals widely missing their targets in overtime.
Both organizations have their issues — the NFL with their moronic handling of domestic violence cases and the NCAA with their prioritizing of greed over student-athletes. And while both are revenue-generating giants, their futures are trending in opposite directions. If the NFL continues its downward spiral of bad games with sloppy play and bone-headed officiating, the hogs will be slaughtered, as Mark Cuban so eloquently put it in 2014. Emerging from their diminishing shadow is the NCAA, which is seeing its on-the-field product skyrocket, threatening to surpass that of the professionals.