An interesting thing has been happening recently in the national media: broadcasters and talking heads not typically associated with college football are proclaiming the superior enjoyment of college football to the professional game.
For many of us, we respond with an eye roll. This is what we’ve been saying for years, dude.
Take ESPN’s Mike Greenberg. In between complaining about how terrible it is to watch the New York Jets play football, he’s been praising the college game recently.
Taking any rooting interest out of it, yesterday in college football lived up to the hype. Felt the way big NFL Sundays used to feel.
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) November 12, 2017
Inescapable conclusion of a full day spent on the couch: College football presents a far more compelling product than the NFL right now. It just does.
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) November 11, 2017
On Monday, Stugotz gave an unexpected proclamation of how great college football is compared to the NFL while at his usual post on ESPN’s Dan Le Batard Show. During his “Weekend Observations,” he mentioned that the NFL should learn how college football essentially has a season long playoff.
He’s right. College does have a season long playoff.
But he’s wrong in that the NFL has much to learn from this. This dynamic of the college game doesn’t exist by accident. It exists simply because of its postseason structure.
The limited postseason pushes urgency and enormous stakes into many weeks of college football. Contrast that with the NFL game where six teams from each conference make the playoffs. That’s 12 teams out of the 32 teams in the league. Or, 37.5 percent of the total teams. Nearly 40 percent of the teams make the playoffs. No wonder the regular season is crap.
Last year the Detroit Lions made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. It’s impossible to have any urgency or high stakes in regular season matchups outside of a couple games late in the season for bubble playoff teams. Or, in other words, there’s no reason to watch until December?
The NFL has a lot of problems. Turn on ESPN for one second, and you’ll hear endless hours of nonsense about these problems. Concussions, protests, Roger Goodell, domestic violence, etc. Are these problems hurting the league? Yeah, probably. But they are minor problems.
The biggest problem with the NFL is that the vast majority of the games just suck.
I submit that NFL’s popularity has been inflated in recent years, buoyed by mass interest in fantasy football, and to a lesser degree, gambling. Now that fantasy football is steadily on the decline, so is viewership. Ever consider why the NFL Red Zone channel became popular? It’s 100 percent fantasy driven. Also notice how there’s no Red Zone channel for college football? It’s not needed. People like the actual games. You know … the actual product.
So it brings us back to college football. The worst thing — the absolute worst thing — for this amazing sport would be to increase the playoff field to eight teams. Keep the postseason field very, very exclusive and you maintain a sport that has stakes, urgency, excitement all season long.
In an eight-team playoff, Auburn-Georgia, Notre Dame-Miami and TCU-Oklahoma this past Saturday all take a hit in terms of urgency. For many of these teams, losing on Saturday meant they’re out of the Playoff. With eight teams, that’s not the case.
Hell, you could say that the Auburn-Georgia game lost significance simply by having a four-team Playoff. Imagine if we still had the BCS. That game would have been elimination game. Instead, with our current format, both teams still control their own fate.
So let’s sum it up. The NFL is not nearly as enjoyable as college football not because of the things that dominate the headlines such as Colin Kaepernick, protests and Roger Goodell. The NFL is struggling because of its actual product. It’s product just isn’t that entertaining. And the entertainment level is strictly a function of the postseason structure in place.
Please let’s keep college football like college football. Stop the push toward a more NFL-like postseason. It will ruin the game we all love and can’t get enough of on Saturdays.