College football has its scoundrels and its cheats. You think I'm saying it doesn't? I'm not. College football is infested. The game needs to be tented, fumigated, emptied, then refilled with something that at least looks collegiate.
But still it beats the NFL. It beats professional football so badly that I can't believe this even needs to be written. I feel like Drew Rosenhaus, staring smugly not at a stupid little sportswriter, but at my computer screen as I consider the age-old debate between fans of American football.
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Which version is better, college or pro?
Next question -- because this one has been answered, and is still being answered.
At this point, with minicamps canceled and training camps about to be postponed and the first games of the 2011 season at risk, the NFL is piling on in reverse -- down five touchdowns in the last two minutes and still fumbling the ball, throwing pick-sixes, sending too many lawyers onto the field. It's over. College football wins, and I'll tell you why:
Because in college football, nobody is bigger than the game.
In the NFL, the game isn't bigger than anybody.
In the NFL, the game isn't as big as Roger Goodell. The NFL commissioner rules his sport from on high, issuing ridiculous decrees about celebrations and uniforms, banning excessive high-fives and headbands as if that crap really matters. And when the going in his own offices gets tough, when his golden goose stops laying eggs by the dozen and starts producing only 11 bricks of gold per batch, Goodell rallies his owners and they lock out the players.
Because, you see, it's not about the game in the NFL. It's about the money. Your money -- and how the owners are going to divvy it up with the players.
In college football, there are no such concerns. The game goes on every Saturday, every fall, every year. Jim Tressel was the coach at one of the top-five football factories in the country, a national champion and a book-selling phenom. But he's also a liar and a cheater-by-omission, so when he goes down, he goes down alone. College football rolls on. Ohio State rolls on. Someone named Luke Fickell is the Buckeyes' new coach, and he could be a dud or he could be great. We'll see. Until Urban Meyer got his first head coaching job, he was just another guy with a whistle.
Speaking of ...
Meyer also coached at a top-five football factory, quite possibly the best football job in the country (though I'd hear an argument for Texas). In just a few years his players at Florida got arrested by the dozen, then by the score, then by whatever word represents "more than 30." He retired, then he came back. Then he retired again. He won two national championships in three years, but he's gone and college football rolls on. Florida rolls on.
There will be games this fall at the Horseshoe and at The Swamp. There will be games at Auburn, regardless of what Cam Newton did or didn't know. There will be games at Oregon, no matter how much money Chip Kelly paid for the worst film since Bad Teacher.
The game goes on in college football, because the game's the thing. Which is why, by the way, college football players don't need to get paid beyond their scholarships and so forth. At this time last year, bleeding hearts would have argued that Terrelle Pryor deserved a salary for what he brought to Ohio State. Well guess what? You know those 100,000 people that attend home games at Ohio State? Pryor didn't bring them, because Pryor is gone ... and those people will be back this fall. No Tressel, no Pryor, but they'll be back. Because in college football, the game's the thing. The game is bigger than everybody.
In the NFL, as I said, the game is bigger than nobody. A handful of owners, even an owner as ineffective as Mike Brown of the Bengals, can hold up an entire league. They decide their piece of the pie isn't big enough -- they're obese with cash, but whatever, they want to be fatter -- so they shut down the entire league to come up with a new recipe. Because the game isn't bigger than Mike Brown or Jerry Jones or Bob Kraft. No idea why kids today grow up with posters of Peyton Manning and Darrelle Revis on their wall. They should hang pictures of Jim Irsay and Woody Johnson.
The players aren't the game in the NFL. Nor are they innocent, so let's not take this owner-ripping to naïve levels. Players in the past have been as game-crushingly greedy as owners in the present, unless you've forgotten the strikes of 1982 and 1987. This time it's the owners, but that's just this time. Next time it could be the players, though it could be the owners again. No idea what will happen next time, other than this: There will be a next time. There's always a next time, a next labor stoppage -- because in the NFL, unlike college football, the game isn't the focus.
The game is just the excuse to take your money.