Football vs. Football: Pro or College?

To me, there’s no question that the college game is superior to the pro game in the basketball world. Even though I enjoy the NBA and believe that, pound for pound, its players are the best athletes in the world, it doesn’t hold a candle to the passion associated with college basketball from the first game of the regular season up until the Final Four.

Comparing college football with pro football, on the other hand, is a much tougher task for me. is currently running a debate on which style of football is better, with Ivan Maisel supporting the college game and Len Pasquerelli championing the NFL. Choosing one over the other is kind of like asking a mother which child is her favorite or whether it was more shocking to find out that Liberace was gay versus Lance Bass – if there’s any answer at all, we’re definitely splitting hairs here. From my personal perspective, the fact that the earliest concrete sports memories that I have are of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl season means that the NFL has the oldest roots of my sports fandom (as well as creating a lifetime of unreasonable expectations for the Bears). On the other hand, as I’ve mentioned previously, since I’ve gone to college, there is now no team that I care about more in any sport at any level than the Illinois Fighting Illini (which has been great for basketball, but not so hot lately for football), meaning that the college game has deeper roots for me.

Obviously, the quality of play is going to be higher in the NFL since the players re paid professionals as opposed to amatuer students, so that’s a given. However, there are a whole host of other factors that are in play here in a best-of-seven format:

1) Watching Teams That You Care About – I don’t care that the Packers are owned by the citizens of Green Bay. If you went to a BCS school, the allegiance to your college program runs deeper than anyone could ever have with a pro team.  As of yesterday on, the least expensive tickets (where you can buy at least a pair) for the New Year’s Eve game between the Bears and Packers, which is the NFL matchup with the highest demand in one of the most expensive scalping markets in the country, are $175 apiece.  In contrast, the cheapest tickets for the September 9th game between Notre Dame and Penn State in South Bend (and these are among the worst seats in a stadium with nearly 20,000 more seats than Soldier Field) are currently $725 each.  When a regular season college football game can command higher ticket prices than the Super Bowl, you can see who has the most obsessive fans.

EDGE: College Football

2) Watching Teams That You Don’t Care About – While I program the Illini and Bears schedules into my electronic calendar every year, I’m also the type of guy that will end up watching a whole lot more football games that don’t involve my teams at all. On the college side, there are the superior rivalries (see #3 below), where the classic games end up getting names like the “Game of the Century” and are are talked about years later in the manner of the great heavyweight boxing matches involving Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis. However, NFL football has the fantasy football component, which means I suddenly end up having a vested interest in nearly every game on the docket. As Adam Smith would say…

EDGE: NFL Football

3) Rivalries – I’m saying this as someone that prays at the alter of the rivalry between the Bears and the Packers: the NFL has nothing on Michigan vs. Ohio State, Army vs. Navy, Florida vs. Florida State, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Alabama vs. Auburn, and a host of other college rivalries.

EDGE: College Football

4) Postseason – I’m hoping that one of these days, the BCS college presidents will accept my modest proposal for a playoff system that uses the bowls. Until then…


5) Television Pregame Shows – On the college side, ESPN has an immensely entertaining pregame show hosted by Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso that is on location as part of the tailgate scene at one of the top games of the week.  For the NFL, there is a choice of an extra hour of Joe Buck, the unstoppable yapping of Chris “YWML” Berman, or an Isotoner gloves spokesman.

MONSTER EDGE: College Football

6) Offseason Activities – When the season is over, pro football has the NFL Draft, which I believe is usually more entertaining than the Super Bowl itself.  As for college, there are spring football practices and middle-aged guys with receding hairlines complaining on internet message boards about the school choices of pimply-faced 17-year kids.

EDGE: NFL Football

7) Miscellaneous – College football has great marching bands, fight songs ingrained in your brain, extreme tailgating, the way Keith Jackson pronounces “A-LA-BAM-A!!!”, drunk student cheering sections, perky cheerleaders, real mascots, and school pride.  Meanwhile, NFL Football has booze at the game that you don’t have to smuggle into the stadium in a flask, Madden NFL for the PS2 or Xbox 360, cheerleaders that were trained at the Admiral Theatre, a plethora of teaser bets, and the gift that keeps on giving with the Super Bowl Shuffle.  It’s a tight one here, but this has got to go this way…

EDGE: College Football

So there you have it.  College Football slightly edges out NFL Football 4-3 on the preference scale for Frank the Tank.  It would be even more preferable if Illinois could win a Big Ten conference game or two each season.  Regardless, I’ll be a happy man in September when the Bears and Illini are both back on the gridiron for real again.


4 thoughts on “Football vs. Football: Pro or College?

  1. I’m still tryin to come up with the reason why it’s easier to claim a “we” with a college team versus a pro team. They both come down to stupid amounts of money and drinking at their base levels, don’t they?


  2. Minneapolis Red Sox,

    That’s a no brainer. I still feel a little funny using “we” for my pro teams (although I do), but there’s definitely no hesitation in using “we” for Illinois. The “we” for a college team comes from an alum or student having a strong sense of ownership with his or her school. You can swear off a pro team, but where you went to college stays with you for the rest of your life and beyond – your obituary is probably going to say where you went to school. By the same token, anyone can wake up one day and say that he’s a Bears fan, but there are only a finite number of people in the world that went to the University of Illinois. When I see Illinois on television, it’s a representation of where I spent the four most crucial and fun years of my life. For all the differences that I have with the great athletes, whether it’s money or skill level, I have one huge thing in common with Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Dick Butkus (Jeff George? I’ve never heard of him) – we’re all Illini. As much as I love pro sports, they can’t match that school bond.

    That being said, I’m sure it’s a lot different feeling going to a Big Ten school, where the football and basketball games are an integral part of the social life on campus, versus a smaller liberal arts college that doesn’t have a huge athletic program. Of course, I don’t know if the Illini would be able to beat the Green Knights in football.


  3. I think we’re sending the same number of kids to the pros these days.

    I think it’s a blurred line between team and school sometimes. It’s a bit of a pet peeve with the “we” when discussing any team, pro or college, but it makes a bit more sense on the college level.

    Plus, it’s the last time that the player has complete control over his playing career, so it’s probably easier to draw into that.


  4. James DeHaan

    its easy to pick which one you like and then come up with the right amount of reasons to outdo the other, as was done in this case. the writer obviously likes college better so he only puts enough down to give victory to the college. the truth is: nfl is a more perfected version of football. athletes are full time. the hits are harder and the plays are more beautiful. isn’t football about hits and great plays? i dont give a crap about marching bands and pregame shows! what do they have to do with football anyway? and dont give me this “college has more passion.” where do the athletes in the nfl come form? you tellin me they lose their passion when they enter the nfl? come on now.


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