Sports Business

SPORTS: My apologies to the commish; college football rules

October 24, 2005

In that span, I viewed Indiana-Iowa, Purdue-Northwestern, Ohio State-Michigan State, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Notre Dame-USC, Michigan-Penn State and UCLAWashington State.

Sometimes simultaneously. That's because I also have picture-in-picture, which I also believe to be one of the great inventions of all time.

Anyway, by the time day turned into night, I again was reminded why college football-with all due respect to the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL-remains far and above the superior form of the game.

Allow me to clarify.

There is no question the pro game has the superior athletes and greater sophistication in its approach.

But when it comes to the game as an entertainment package, college football is the bomb, and I'm not talking about long passes.

Here are just a few reasons why:

Overtime-In the pros, games that go into overtime often are decided by the coin flip that decides possession. In college, both teams have an equal shot. Now, the college system is not perfect. What I would prefer is that, instead of at the 25-yard line, each team gets its initial possession at the 50. Then, if the teams are still tied, at the 40, then the 30 and so on. That said, college overtime still is infinitely better than the pro game.

Gambling-No, I'm not talking about point spreads. Consider this: Had USC's Pete Carroll still been coaching in the NFL, would he have eschewed a virtually certain game-tying field goal that would have forced an overtime instead of an all-or-nothing quarterback sneak for the win? And would he have left that decision to his quarterback? Even though the stakes are high in the pros, you routinely see far more risktaking in the college game.

Instant replay-College football's new system is working like a charm, with a replay official in the press box instantly able to access multiple replays and render decisions relatively quickly. For all the NFL's previously stated sophistication, there remain few more ludicrous sites in sports than the referee sticking his head into that peep-show tent.

Venues-Name one distinctive pro stadium, and I define "distinctive" by saying that the experience of seeing a game in that stadium is equal to or surpasses the game itself. OK, Green Bay's Lambeau Field. College football has the Big House (Michigan), The Horseshoe (Ohio State), the Rose Bowl (UCLA) and so many more charmed venues I don't have space to name them all.

Rules-One foot in bounds for a catch is good enough for me.

Mascots-College football has 'em. Pro football doesn't. Enough said.

Bands-College football has 'em. Pro football blares rock music. Enough heard.

Memorable games - Is it just me, or does college football churn out about five "instant classics" a week? The NFL does maybe one or two a season.

Traditions-OK, it's a "new" tradition, but it makes my point. Coach Terry Hoeppner has started "The Walk" at IU, where he leads his team through the crowd (and yes, there have been crowds at Indiana) two hours before game time. Think you'd ever see Peyton Manning and the boys strolling through the Blue Crew's tailgate two hours before kickoff?

Showboats-I'm admittedly (very) old school on this, but the look-at-me mentality of the pros demeans the game. The college game is trying to keep a lid on the histrionics, but it isn't easy.

Regular season-A pro team can lose a game, or several, and still play in the Super Bowl. For a college team with national championship aspirations, one-and-done can start with the season-opener.

Playoffs-Sure, the pro game leads to the perfect conclusion through the playoffs. But the imperfection of college football's postseason is its wonderful uniqueness in sport. And what's the lasting harm if perhaps two teams are able to proclaim themselves champions at season's end?

Sophistication-Yep, there's that word again. The NFL is so sophisticated it smothers innovation. Offenses all seem poured from the same bottle; talent is the true differential. In the college game, you can see the spread, the veer, the triple option, and sometimes the uniqueness of the system will make up for the lack of talent.

Fun-Pro football is serious business. Without denying its business side, college football remains serious fun.



Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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