NCAA vs. NFL Football: New Playoff Puts College On Top

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Ever since college football went from the mess that was the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to the greatness of the College Football Playoff this year (and in years to come), it has turned itself around and has become even more fun to watch than the superstar freak-of-nature studs who play in the NFL every Sunday.

Professional football is considered America’s most popular sport, according to the Harris Poll. Yes, it is a great spectacle to watch every week with some of the best athletes in the world, but it just does not compare to the raw emotion of the athletes who play for the love of the game rather than a multi-million dollar paycheck.

With an abundance of college football teams, there are many televised games each week. (Photo courtesy of West Point - The United States Military Academy)

With an abundance of college football teams, there are many televised games each week. (Photo courtesy of West Point – The United States Military Academy)

While college athletes, college football players in particular, are paid tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, they have a lot to play for.

According to a report released by the National College Players Association, 86 percent of college athletes “live below the poverty line.” These student athletes, who would not have had much other opportunity to significantly help their families out, were given a chance to do something great with their lives.

In addition to the free college education they receive, performing well on the field can lead to a very bright future as a professional athlete. While the chance of this happening is slim, the sliver of hope is still there for these young men. For a lot of them, football is the only opportunity they have.

The opportunity that student athletes are given inspires the emotions fans witness on Saturday afternoons. A knee injury or other significant setback can mean the end of a dream.

The tears that are shed when one of these injuries occurs are genuine. All that player has worked for is lost before it has even really begun. There aren’t n amount of years left on a contract allowing for a comeback, like in the NFL. Each player gets four years of eligibility and then it’s over (except for the select few).

Another reason for college football’s unrecognized superiority over the NFL is the newly installed four-team College Football Playoff. While it has not yet taken place, the anticipation and the week-by-week rankings have already proved to be a great improvement over the BCS, and are significantly more entertaining to follow than the NFL playoff picture.

In order to be included in the top four teams that are invited to the College Football Playoff, a team must be perfect, or near-perfect, throughout the season. Only one loss is acceptable, if that. An undefeated record is the most preferable resume for the spectacle. These high expectations ensure that the nation’s four best teams are included in the playoff.

According to the official College Football Playoff website, “The new playoff preserves the excitement and significance of college football’s unique regular season, where every game counts.”

This contrasts with the NFL playoffs, where all a team has to do is win their division. While this is still no easy task, some of the league’s best teams will be excluded from the postseason because they’re in a competitive division, whereas a team from a lowly division will be included in the big show.

The multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals in the National Football League take away from the game itself. (Photo courtesy of Barry Schwartz)

The multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals in the National Football League take away from the game itself. (Photo courtesy of Barry Schwartz)

This exact scenario is playing out this NFL season with the underachieving NFC South and the overachieving AFC North. Every team in the NFC South division has a losing record, yet one of them will participate in the playoffs. In contrast, only three teams from the AFC North division will even be eligible for a playoff spot because of the two wild card places. As of now, only the division leader is in a playoff position.

The NFL playoff system is outdated and this is as evident as ever. The classic AFC vs. NFC Super Bowl does not always include the two top teams in the league. With the college football system, fans and teams know they will be watching the four best teams in the country.

Another factor that sets college football apart from the pro game is the loyalty of the fans. There are 128 teams in FBS Division 1 college football (the highest level of competition). There are only 32 teams in the NFL.

Most fans root for a school because it is their alma mater, or they grew up down the street from the university. It is awfully hard to change your allegiance to the team that represented the school you graduated from.

In contrast, most NFL teams (with the exception of Green Bay) represent a major U.S. city. Unless you live in the city that a team is from, there is not always as much holding you to that team, especially if that team is underachieving.

The number of teams that are in the FBS also allows there to be more televised games. Turn on the TV on a Sunday and there will be (at most) two NFL games on. Turn on the TV on a Saturday and every ESPN network, as well as FOX, CBS, ABC and sometimes NBC, will be broadcasting a college game. More football to watch means happier fans.

College football will never surpass the National Football League as America’s favorite sport, or even America’s football league. It cannot compete with the exposure the NFL gets due to endorsements and all the big money.

However, the college game should get more recognition for the passion of its players and fans because they bring back what sport is all about: playing for the love of the game.

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