Last night, the NFL season kicked off. Greatest news ever, right? Well great, yes, obviously, but I’ve got a strange feeling these days when it comes to football. One I can’t say I’ve ever felt before. Fine, out with it.
For the first football season ever, I think I am more excited for the college season than that of the NFL.
I realize that the NFL is king, particularly in the Northeast. The lack of prominent college programs up this way, combined with the Patriots extended run of success, tilt the regional interest of the two sports grossly in favor of the pro game. I also realize that for many fans, their wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, or general life realities tend to prevent them couch-potato-ing for double digit hours on BOTH days each weekend. If a “one or the other” decision needs to be made, most pigskin fans above the Bible Belt choose Sunday as the day to dedicate to football.
But personally, my interest in the college game over the years has caught up, and finally passed, the professional game for the first time ever.
What factors have combined to create this change?
First, the negatives, which no doubt begin with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. I’d say I can’t stand the man, but such an opinion is hardly noteworthy. I don’t remember one single conversation with a football fan that thinks favorably of Goodell. Since taking over as commissioner, Goodell has smeared his power-hungry palms over the game, taking the NFL towards a non-contact, all offense, no defense game that struggles to resemble the NFL of 15-20 years ago. Part of it is the unavoidable changes to the game as concussion research increases exponentially. But so much of Goodell’s hypocritical garbage has nothing to do with that:
- The rule changes Goodell has implemented that have nothing to do with player safety, such as the elimination of defensive hand checks and the increase in defensive holding calls. This change does nothing to decrease concussions, it only leads to more stoppages, more game altering calls based on minimal contact, and more points. Why does Goodell feel a 40-37 game is more interesting than a well played 20-17 contest? The most recent statistics I read from the preseason were as follows: Through two preseason weeks in 2014, there were 110 defensive holding calls. Through three preseason weeks in 2013, there were 27 such calls. Only a 600% increase in calls per game. Nice!
- The inadequacies of the NFL’s player suspensions have been beaten into the ground by both media and fans in recent weeks. While I struggle to pity a repeat offender like Josh Gordon, there is no denying that Goodell horribly struck out with his lenient Ray Rice ruling.
- While out of one side of his mouth, Goodell will preach player safety and concussion awareness, while out of the other, he is pushing for an 18 game regular season, and an expansion of playoffs to 16 teams. Commissioner, if you actually care about the player’s safety, why would you increase the amount of games played in an already grueling regular season? 16 games is plenty!
Secondly, it could just be the sheer volume of action that has drawn me to college. Where the NFL has a dozen or so games on a Sunday afternoon, college football has five times that. Naysayers may argue that the quality of football isn’t the same, and they would be right. But tell me a better feeling that noon EST on a Saturday, with the entire weekend (and 12 hours) in front of you to sit in your cave and perfect the Wagering Arts. Impossible.
The third logical reason I could come up with is the complete reversal of a statement that has rang true regarding the NFL for a number of years. That is, that the parity and unpredictability of the 2014 college season runs laps around that of the NFL.
The NFL seems to have always prided itself on its parity; that teams go from worst to first in their division with regularity; that there are always 5 or 6 new playoff teams each season; that the salary cap prevents big markets from ruling the show like they do in sports like baseball. Yet this year seems different. You could argue that the NFC has a few teams (San Francisco, New Orleans, Green Bay) who could knock the champs from their roost. But if last night was any indication, Seattle, what with their total invincibility at home, will be tough to knock off. Meanwhile, the AFC has zero doubt who will be standing come championship weekend. Unless a shocking injury takes place, the 2014 season will amount to a rerun of last year, with the Broncos and Patriots meeting up in the title game. Now don’t get me wrong, once that weekend shows up, the product will be fantastic, but such a level of formality is the same reason I don’t care for the NBA. When the season tipped off in October, a final four of Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, and OKC was pretty likely. What do you know, it happened.
Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the BCS is no more, and there will be a Final 4 in college ball instead of the computer generated championship game that sports fan have come to loathe. While I personally would have preferred an eight team playoff, I appreciate the NCAA capping it at four, as most teams will still need to run the table to get in, or at very worst, one not so terrible loss. The beauty of the college game is that each team with national title aspirations puts it all on the line every week, and that doesn’t change now that the Final 4 is in place.
NFL, I still love you. Don’t take this the wrong way. There is just someone else now. If NCAA is a 10, you’re a 9.9. Sometimes, the truth hurts.