Our country has seen some legendary debates. Lincoln vs. Douglas. Baldwin vs. Buckley. Pepsi vs. Coke (always choose Mr. Pibb).
Yes, people, get ready for a patented “pass the time until first kickoff” column!
Whereas Benoit comes across as William H. Macy in Pleasantville, emphasizing order, Staples makes the obvious point that college football is the wilder, more communal — and most importantly, more entertaining — experience.
Benoit’s presumed reaction should the NFL ever change its hashmark rule.
It’s clear where I fall on the debate. It’s not just that I’m writing for a SB Nation college site. I have a bucket list of more than 50 college stadiums I want to visit, just to witness the unique traditions, songs or game day shenanigans. College football fans are my tribe.
Before arguing my side, I think it’s fair to explain where the NFL exceeds.
1. BETTER EXECUTION OF SIMPLE CONCEPTS
I once asked ESPN NBA writer Kevin Arnovitz why he liked the NBA better than college basketball. He responded, “It’s frustrating watching a game in college where players can’t execute everything.”
Benoit expands on this idea in his piece defending the NFL game. “The NFL is comprised of the top 2 percent of FBS players,” he wrote. That means most players exhibit the best technique and athleticism you can watch. Most players don’t botch basic things.
To Michigan fans, wouldn’t it have been nice if the offensive line could’ve executed a simple blitz pick-up? Like once?
2. ALMOST EVERY GAME IS A CHALLENGE
Unless you play in the AFC North against the Browns, NFL teams get few freebies.
It’s possible I only have this perspective as a Lions fan, since they don’t make anything easy. However, just looking at the schedule, the Lions play seven 2018 playoff teams, the surging 49ers, the uber-talented Cowboys and the Packers twice. The other five games are against recent playoffs teams or the rival Bears.
No gimmes on that list. Meanwhile, defending national champion Alabama plays Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and the Citadel in non-conference play.
Something has to be said for the fact the NFL provides challenges every week.
As Staples wrote about NFL fans, “I would absolutely hire them to build a bridge. Their love of precision and order would come in handy.”
About college fans? “That’s who I’m inviting to the cookout.”
The college football experience is built to entertain millions of partisans behind a product that, although inferior in talent, has way more fun idiosyncrasies.
YOU EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE OF VARIOUS STADIUMS AND CAMPUSES
One of the schools on my bucket list was the University of Georgia. Including Michigan, it is still my No. 1 game day experience.
It starts with the town of Athens. By 6 a.m., the townsfolk start to set up the entire downtown for the day’s festivities. Unlike in Ann Arbor, where there are clearly people who resent the massive traffic and blockages that come Saturdays in the fall, the whole town is invested in Georgia football.
Once you start walking to Sanford Stadium, you follow a red brick road that takes you through white Greek revival campus buildings and droves of red, white and black fans. The road eventually leads you to the front gate and between the hedges.
The rest you get to watch on CBS or ESPN. There’s the bulldog. There’s the green shrubbery. There’s the band blaring Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones.
At the end of the day, you get to walk by and look inside the stadium once more.
Each campus has their unique thing. You could explore those, or just go to any generic NFL stadium sponsored by Preparation H.
WHERE DO YOU SEE BETTER STORIES?
The NFL isn’t bereft of fun narratives. There’s undrafted Malcolm Butler saving the Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl with a game-clinching interception. There’s Tony Dungy winning his first game back to the sideline in 2005 after his eldest son’s suicide.
There’s sixth round draft pick Tom Brady flourishing into the greatest quarterback of all-time.
In the NFL, though, those are side narratives. Stories from the goofy to the inspiring inundate every week of the college game.
Staples points out the Florida walk-on holder who moonlighted as a Publix bagger in 2014. For Michigan, there’s Jordan Kovacs, who went from failing a tryout his freshman year to leading highly-ranked defenses under Greg Mattison to having a cup of coffee in the pros.
This past year alone, as documented in the Amazon series, you have Karan Higdon balancing football with fatherhood, Rashan Gary’s relationship with his mother and Chase Winovich raising money for the ChadTough Foundation by dying his hair orange for the Outback Bowl.
Take those stories and multiply them by the 129 other FBS teams and the math is clear. There’s just more to latch on to in college football.
THE PRO GAME NOW REALIZES THE COLLEGE GAME IS MORE INNOVATIVE
For years, watching an NFL game was an exercise in two nearly identical teams trying to out-execute the other. It was a Mike Debord wet dream.
Thankfully, this is changing. From Jim Harbaugh’s usage of Colin Kaepernick — another reason to roll your eyes at the NFL — to the Philadelphia Eagles’ adoption of spread concepts, the pro game is trying to catch up to the college game, not the other way around.
The Eagles did this a month after Oklahoma did. There are countless examples, but NFL coaches are starting to realize the tactical superiority of many collegiate programs.
Subjectivity plays a role in which side of the debate you support. If you want a game with better players and a reliable product, choose the NFL.
If you cherish unique experiences, beautiful locations, riveting stories and innovation, go with college football.
It’s basically the difference between a Wendy’s and a Mr. Spots burger. One tastes fine, and is perfectly square and organized.
The other tastes way better.