Goldsmith: College football doesn’t inspire like the NFL

The mighty drizzle of Hurricane Earl has finally restored some normalcy to our beloved climate here in New Haven. And with the cooler weather comes even more important news — football season is upon us.

After an obscene weekend of scoring in the college game, capped off with yet another dramatic Boise State performance Monday night, it would seem logical that this column would be devoted to my excitement at the return of college football. Yet here I am on the Tuesday evening after what I know was a thrilling start to the NCAA football season, and I have nothing to say about it.

Fandom is a curious phenomenon. Some of us owe allegiance to sports or cities; others to specific leagues; others yet to certain teams, players, coaches, mascots, ballgirls and waterboys. Despite the variance in our reason for support, one would expect a fan of the NFL to naturally be a fan of the college game.

So why is it that year after year, as I become more obsessed with the NFL, I am still dispassionate about college football? They play the same sport — and for the most part, the rules are the same — but I cannot seem to enjoy kids my age playing a game of football with the same level of interest that I give to ego-inflated mockeries like Brett Favre and Chad Ochocinco.

I admit there must be something perverse about my preferences, but I refuse to believe that I am alone in holding them. In an attempt to rationalize this disparity, I offer some clues that may indicate that I am not so different after all:

Primarily, I believe, the flaw lies with the BCS ranking system and the bowl season that results from it. I know how much debate has been devoted to this subject, and I do not pretend to have read any of it.

That said, the concept of ranking teams before the start of the season based on their coaching staff, returning personnel, key additions, schedule difficulty, school colors, the type of eggs served in the school cafeteria — it all seems so arbitrary, especially now that we come to expect huge upsets and the underperformance of top-rated programs.

Ironically, it is this inability to predict a team’s success that makes the NCAA basketball tournament exciting. That formula works for a single-elimination tournament, but to base an entire season’s success or failure on a bowl game subjectively decided on by a group of number-crunchers in an office fails to give our college athletes the proper respect they deserve. I agree that it is important the best teams play each other, so why not allow for rivalry games throughout the season, and hope they meet late in a MarchMadness-style tournament?

The BCS creates a season in which week-to-week successes help determine a team’s ranking, but a loss early in the season can prevent a team from even being considered for the BCS title. Throughout the close conclusion to the Boise State game Monday, we were constantly reminded that a loss would prevent the Broncos from contending for a national title. What kind of system is that? Applying that logic, Spain should have been ineligible to play in the World Cup finals. It makes about that much sense.

I can moan and complain about the BCS all day, but it does not fully address my failure as a college football fan.

The remainder of this failure, though, I do not bear alone. No, I was not alone as I ran between U-Hauls for the first two quarters while our football team battled for our bragging rights at last fall’s Harvard-Yale game. Is that all the respect that we as a student body can show our athletic teams? When tailgates take precedent over competitions to which our friends and classmates devote themselves to for months, it is clear that we as a fan base need to shift our priorities.

While I wish College Gameday could bring me as much joy as I know it brings many of you, I will address my shortcomings as a college football fan at the Yale Bowl this fall. I hope you join me.

Comments

  • JackJ

    A suggestion. Why not try football at your current schools of enrollment rather than looking to the big programs for inspiration. Washington U. St. Louis has an illustrious history of football as does Yale University. Go to some games where the players are playing because they love the game not because someone is paying for their education in exchange for performance on the athletic field. Since the Ivy plays at 1AA level but gives no scholarships and WU plays Div III the competition is much purer but the football is no less exciting and both divisions have playoffs like the NFL (although the Ivy doesn’t participate in post-season play.)

    Try it, you’ll find it much more satisfying than worrying about Boise State, Texas or Ohio State. Plus you’ll be able to get tickets and actually interact with the football players. There’s so much more out there than the big college programs. Pick some Div III teams and follow them. It’s how football started and should have remained but alas, money and television.