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Wednesday, August 29, 2012
College football can't hold a candle to NFL

By Sarah Spain

Fall is fast approaching, which means shorter days, longer sleeves and the start of another school year and another football season. In a little more than a week, the NFL will be back, consuming my every Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Three days a week of glorious, wondrous, marvelous football!

What's that? Oh, Saturdays? Yes, I suppose there will be football on Saturdays, too. College football, though. And I have a confession to make: I've never been a fan.

If my parents had been big Michigan State fans, slapping a Spartans onesie on me at a young age, I would have been grandfathered into a family tradition of cheering. If I'd grown up in South Bend, I might have spent my Saturdays gazing at "Touchdown Jesus," living and dying by the Irish. If I'd gone to a school like Nebraska with a storied tradition of football excellence, I'm certain I would have developed a lifelong attachment to the game.

But my parents aren't big sports fans, I grew up near Chicago, a major city with no major college football team (my apologies to Northwestern), and I went to Cornell University, in the Ivy League, where football is the only sport that doesn't participate in postseason play. The Big Red could have gone undefeated every year I was there, beating every team by 40-plus points, and the season would still end with the last regular-season game on the schedule.

For a while I tried to get into the college game, randomly selecting teams to root for. USC when I lived in Los Angeles for a few years after college. Northwestern when I moved back to Chicago. But despite my best efforts, I've never been able to get into it. The college game just doesn't excite me like the pro game does.

First of all, it's amateur talent without the amateur heart. We've heard of too many players in the past who have played not for love of the game, but for the fat wad of cash in their wallets, the illegally gifted SUVs parked in their driveways and the chance to get to the NFL, where more money and cars await.

College football programs are corrupt. Continuing to pretend otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of sports fans everywhere. Vacating wins and taking away Heisman Trophies isn't going to change that. Just ask preseason No. 1 USC and filthy-rich NFL running back Reggie Bush how they're doing post-sanctions.

At least when I watch the NFL I know players are getting buckets full of cash via a legitimate contract and buying their fleets of luxury cars with money that has a paper trail (a few rare exceptions notwithstanding).

Second, a single loss can cost a team a chance at a national title. Forget the kind of late-season push that sent the Packers to the playoffs and an eventual Super Bowl win in 2010-11, or the improbable turnaround that preceded the Giants claiming the Lombardi trophy last year.

Neither of those teams would've had a chance to play for the title in the college system of years past, nor would it be selected to participate in the new four-team playoff set to debut in 2014-15. The college versions of the Packers and Giants probably would have faced off in some absurd, meaningless KONG Stuff 'N' Paste Liver-Flavored Dog Treat Bowl, presented by Petco, simply because it took them one too many games to jell.

Both teams would probably have to wait a month or more before playing in that meaningless bowl game, and it might as well be a different season by then. And do we really need 70 teams (14 of which are .500 on the year) playing in some stupid bowl game each season? The Beef O'Brady's Bowl? The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl? The Skechers Shape-Ups, "How I Met Your Mother," Trojan Minis Bowl presented by "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold"? OK, that one's from an SNL skit, but it's just absurd enough to sound real.

Speaking of absurd, let's talk about the dominance of the SEC. Winners of six straight national championships, the teams down in Dixie straight-up own the rest of college football. Every other conference is the Karl Malone or Charles Barkley to the SEC's Michael Jordan -- if the SEC is around, they're never getting a title. Enough already. College football would be more fun for everyone if the top honors bounced around between different conferences and regions each year.

As you can see, I've thought a lot about college football's many flaws.

Maybe I've thought too much about it. Maybe if I jumped on a team's bandwagon and really soaked up the pageantry and passion, I might forget all about the corruption and the pathetic playoff system and the darned Beef O'Brady's Bowl.

I decided to give it a shot. With a new season starting Thursday, I asked a few friends and colleagues to convince me, in three sentences or less, that being a fan of their team would make me love college football. Some had trouble keeping it short, all had trouble convincing me.

Jeff Dickerson, ESPNChicago.com Bears beat reporter and proud University of Illinois alum: First off, the tailgate/bar scene in Champaign is second to none in the Midwest. As long as you can withstand the stench from the South Farms, tailgating before the game is a great way to numb all the painful losses the Illini have endured over the years. Second, Illinois has turned over several NFL first- and second-round draft choices over the last decade, even though the program itself has been stuck in the middle or bottom end of the Big Ten for the majority of that time. Finally, did I mention the tailgating?

The stench of a nearby farm? No thanks. I'll stick to tailgating by the lake at Soldier Field.

Matt Wood, Chicago Tribune online entertainment producer and University of Michigan maniac: Some of my earliest memories are of my dad taking me into Michigan football games on his shoulders, thinking that sharing the game with 100,000 other people was the most amazing thing in the world. Even with the corporatization of all sporting events these days, there's something different and special about college football games, especially in The Big House. All of the pageantry makes it so special (I used to try to memorize all of the band's drum cadences and specific songs for particular plays) and like no other sporting event in the world.

It's hard to take advice from a man who has repeatedly duct taped a cracked piece of University of Michigan Tupperware, refusing to toss it because of the now-fading U of M logo splashed across the lid. That being said, I've heard great things about The Big House. You're in the running, Wolverines.

Billy Parisi, Chicago chef and Mizzou grad: Because being a Missouri Tiger is more awesome than being a Badger, a Golden Gopher, a Wolverine, a Wildcat, a Nittany Lion, a Buckeye, a Hawkeye, a Boilermaker, a Cornhusker (Bug Eater), a Fighting Illini, a Hoosier, a Spartan, or a Fighting Irish person, we've now made our move to the SEC, where the Tigers of Ole Mizzou will soar to greater heights than ever before. Who wouldn't want to be part of that?!

Oh, man, how could I have forgotten realignment?! Missouri and Texas A&M are now a part of the SEC? Boise State and San Diego State will be in the Big East? Boise. San Diego. The EAST!? Storied rivalries and geographical rationality sacrificed for cold, hard cash. Just another example of how backward college football is.

Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com columnist and USC Trojan for life: The beauty of being a USC football fan in Los Angeles is you don't need to have a degree from the school to rep them. My guess is many of the 93,000 who will pack the Coliseum this fall never went there. They're L.A.'s NFL team but as you will see, college football Saturdays are far more fun than NFL Sundays. From tailgating on campus and walking across the street to the Coliseum to watching Traveler gallop up and down the sideline after a USC touchdown while the Song Girls dance to the Trojan Marching Band, it's easily one of the best traditions in all of sports, not just college football.

The Coliseum may be special, but I can get cheerleaders in Dallas, a horse in Denver and the spirit of a marching band from the Chicago Bears Drumline. Plus, the way L.A. folks are clamoring for a pro team, it's clear college football isn't big enough to fill the NFL's shoes.

Jon Dokken, GM Straight Line Landscape and president of the Phoenix chapter of Colorado State Alumni Association: The best way to become a college football fan is to EASE your way into it. The Rams only have two nationally televised games this season. Watch both games and you're a Rams superfan. Boom.

Just two games, you say? That sounds like the team for me. GO RAMS! Beat those Buffs!