Running back close up

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07,601, Michigan Stadium. 106,572, Beaver Stadium. 104,944, Ohio Stadium. 102,733, Kyle Field. None of these stadiums belong to professional teams. None of the players who compete in them are paid. But each Saturday during the season they are packed to the brim with diehard fans. There is no room to move. You can’t hear anything over the noise of the crowd and the marching band. There is a sense of passion. A sense of belonging. A sense of diehard lust for your team to win. There is nothing else quite like College Football.

I am sure we all have a reasonable idea about the sport of ‘American’ Football. The point of confusion comes with how it all works. Firstly, there is the National Football League (NFL), which is the professional competition, then there is College/University Football, then below that is High School Football. It is a simple, progressive, divisional system that shares parallels with the rest of the world. However, college sport is a premise found very rarely outside of the country. Other sports have a precinct for using tiered divisions not associated with educational institutes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) controls college football. There are four divisions of football. The one of great note is the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), in which the best teams across the country play in. There are 124 teams spread across 11 conferences. These conferences determine the regional league play for each of the teams and serve as their yearly competition. The best of these teams are in the ‘Power 5’ conferences. These conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference, Big Ten Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference.

Throughout the season, all the teams are vying for qualification in the National Championship playoffs. The playoffs consist of the best 4 teams, decided by human polls and computational rankings. The teams compete in semi-finals and a final. The playoffs determine who is awarded one of the most prestigious titles in the countries sport.

The season occurs from late August to early January concluding with the National Championship. For the duration of its season, it is one of the most talked about and popular topics. But where does this all come from?

Running back makes a break

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ollege Football is undoubtedly one of America’s favourite sporting pastimes. An average of 43,106 fans attend per game, and many of the teams have the stadia to house much more than this. It is very rare that you see a college football stadium not packed to the rafters. The crowds are loud. There is an undoubted passion that these fans have for their respective team. But why? What makes College Football so popular?

There are several reasons that work together to create this recipe for success. College football strongly contrasts the professional variant, being the National Football League. The NFL consists of only 32 teams. This means a limited number of teams to be spread across the population. However, this results in one professional football team for every 10,000,000 people. The math just doesn’t add up. Considerable amounts of people are deprived of pro-football. The NFL is soulless and has a monetary lust. It is driven by operating in the areas that provide the greatest market opportunity to fulfil their money-making needs, with little regard to elsewhere. One powerful example of this is the recent relocation of two teams, the Rams and Chargers, to Los Angeles.

Multitudes of people are ‘resorting’ to supporting a college team instead. They are in a comparatively closer vicinity and is much easier to support than a distant professional team, which they feel little connection to.

College Football has advantages with being an amateur sport. The players are young students and not getting paid. They cannot make any financial gain off their football through the mandate and restrictions placed on them by the NCAA (this covers the entirety of sports under the governing body). However, this is a positive for the popularity of the football. For fans, it is considerably easier to support a team in which you can relate to. The players are students trying to make their way in life. They are playing for and shaping their future without the security of multi-million-dollar contracts. They are much like everyone else in their lives.

The players have a passion and scrappiness that isn’t seen in the professional arena. It is an endearing feature that you just cannot help but support and get behind. This player’s dedication is relayed to the fans and is shown through the mass popularity.

The allegiance people feel towards their respective college also assists in creating this popularity. Fans form their allegiances through the college they attend. They are also passed on through the generations. It creates a real, personal aspect that is rarely found elsewhere. How successful their team is having a greater impact on their emotions. Everyone has a tie to a college in one way or another, and with that, it is easy to form a strong allegiance, spurred on by your peers around you, that you very seldom want to let go.

Another large part of these collegiate allegiances are the rivalries. Alabama vs Auburn. Army vs Navy. Michigan vs Ohio State. Oklahoma vs Texas. They are endless. Yes, professional teams do also have theirs, but they do not have the same personal level as the college counterparts. They don’t share the same raw passion and emotion. I dare you to try and wear anything Ohio into Michigan. What state you end up making it home in will make you perfectly understand this.

The colleges are intelligent in the days in which they play. College games are played on Saturdays, with NFL games are played on Sundays, for the most part. This leaves the opportunity for fans, even in the professional markets, to support teams in both. How could any self-professed football-loving American pass up the opportunity to support two teams on the Weekend? The best analogy to describe this is that feeling you get when you are eating your main course, knowing that dessert is just around the corner. It is indescribable. There is nothing else quite like it.

The popularity culminates with the gameday experience. It is truly special attending a football game and experiencing the atmosphere in a pristine college ground. It is self-explanatory that open parks and gardens beat out concrete jungles. Partner together the tailgate tradition with barbecues and beer and it is a lethal cocktail for a good time.

There is a strong basis as to why College Football can garner such widespread popularity, and often outdo the professional variant. But you must remember that these are still all colleges and education is their first priority. So how is this football able to exist?

Alabama make their way onto the field

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or those who are uninitiated, it is hard to fathom the massive scope of College Football. The money and funds that pass through the football programs is something quite astonishing. Clemson has laser tag and a bowling alley. Auburn has a $14 million big-screen in their stadium. Ohio State has a waterfall in their locker room. The teams have reached the point of no concern when it comes to their spending. But they have also earned themselves the right to do so.

College Football wouldn’t be as collectively successful without the wealth that it has. It is what helps to draw in the players and to continue to evolve the sport. Although, the real question occurs when you ask where exactly all this money comes from?

The key to their funding is that many programs have become compartmentalized away from the college itself. They aren’t subject to the normal monetary constraints placed on other areas. This has also allowed them to open new sources of funding. With the vast amount of people wanting to watch, but only a limited amount able to attend, there is a large market for television contracts. Conferences have their own networks and sell their rights to sporting channels, such as ESPN, for exuberant prices.

It is also imperative to remember that college football programs do not pay their players outside of scholarships. This leads to an immense amount of funds becoming available for other areas.

Brands, such as Nike or Adidas, use college teams as an opportunity for sponsorship and have branding deals with them; also commonly seen in professional sports. UCLA has a deal with Adidas worth $18.67 million annually. Ohio State has a deal with Nike for $16.8 million annually. It is a billion-dollar market with all teams benefiting.

College Football, in its essence, has moulded itself around the professional counterpart, and it is a large component of their success. They wouldn’t be able to create the passionate spectacle that they do without it.

Opposition player caught up in the celebration

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ou’ve probably come to realise by now that College Football has a large impact on things. It has both led to success and a cause for concern internally at the Colleges. Managerial staff share a grave worry that their college is becoming a football brand rather than an education brand. The programs must be managed carefully within these constraints to not lose the importance of life outside football. However, there is far too much investment and gain that those involved in the football receive for it to ever be completely reverted.

Another area that has created a cause for concern is the amount that the football programs are spending. With the multiple millions that pass in and out every year, there is little regard towards the actual sustainability. There is an incentive for those in control to spend all the money received on facilities to attract the best players and drive their program towards success. But with this constant pursuit, there needs to be a consistent eye on the future. If history has taught us anything, it is that it won’t be long until everything drastically changes again.

College Football is powerful with the passion and comradery that is rarely seen anywhere else. In our world with such dire monstrosities taking place, there is always room for something like this, even when factoring in the negative externalities.

Defender awaiting the snap

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ollege Football is without a doubt one of America’s most prestigious sports. 124 teams, across 11 difference conferences, vying for the right to become National Champion. They have the support behind them that is unlike anything else. Spurred on through the passion and scrappiness of the amateur players, fans feel more emotion towards the college teams. Culminating in the gameday experience to tie everything off.

It has an extreme wealth that helps to keep it alive. Television contracts and branding deal are the key exponent that allows the teams to execute their exuberant purchases, but it wouldn’t be the same without it. This has created an impact on the universities themselves, however. There is a concern that they are getting to caught up in football and losing the education soul; it needs to be managed with great care.

Overall, for those who have already been initiated, continue your love of college football, and let it prosper. But for those who are only just becoming initiated, welcome to one of the greatest sporting competitions you will ever experience.

  • I make a lot of jokes. Most of the time they are bad, but sometimes I rip out some absolute pearlers.

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