Is College Football More Popular than the NFL?
NFL vs. NCAAF: Economic Influence
It’s no secret that the NCAA selection committees leans towards programs with illustrious histories and powerful fanbases. Sometimes this is validated in top programs that have proven they’re worthy of the title. Other times, it can keep struggling big time programs in the top ranks at the expense of less influential programs with undefeated records. The argument that strength of schedule plays a big role in the decision process has validity, but it seems to be selectively applied based a team's economic influence.
With college football, these markets are the most stable in states and areas where NFL franchises wield little influence and vise versa. “But if the NFL and NCAAF air on different days, how would that affect viewership?” Well Mr. Football McFootball Face, contrary to what you might think, most people don’t spend their entire weekend watching football. Which is why there are NFL strongholds, college football strongholds, and battleground states, where viewership and influence fluctuate between NFL franchises and college football programs. Looking at the bigger picture, sure, there could be an equal number of college football and NFL fans out there, but the more an NFL franchise or college football program dominates in an area the more pervasive it becomes in the culture and social lives of the people who live there. This is economic influence and it's what the NCAA is trying to gain more of. Economic influence comes from viewership, ticket sales, merchandise sales and general fan engagement with a franchise or institution. The more people that watch a game in particular area, the more social engagement with the team goes on amongst the people of that area. Social engagement with the traditions of franchise/institution and news about the season contribute to rises in ticket sales and in turn merchandise sales. The more fans in a city or neighborhood wearing jerseys and socially engaging with related content on game day, the more viewers are drawn to the franchise/institution and the cycle repeats. Psychologically speaking, humans create a sense of belonging and will often conform to feel like a part of a community. The NFL and the NCAA earn the most revenue from places where buying fan merchandise and engaging with the local team is an easy way to fit in and get that sense of belonging.
How the AP Poll is Really Decided
Below are two maps from separate collections of data showing where the NFL and the NCAA wield the most commercial influence and where commercial domination is contested. The first map is from an ESPN fan survey taken in 2012, and the second is from an analysis conducted August 2017 by Ben Koos from the Comeback. In both cases, the NFL won but college football has clearly minimized the gap.
(above, courtesy of Ben Koo from The Comeback; below, courtesy of ESPN)
SEC Country and the rest of College Football Land
States where college football holds a football fan monopoly are shown in a deep red. These states have two defining qualities, the lack of a (satisfactory) NFL franchise and a deep-seated sense of nostalgia, sentimentality, and tradition associated with their college football teams. The deep-seated influence college football teams have in these areas is compounded by the fact that many alumni of these institutions remain in-state and raise the next generation of college football fans with a sense of sentimentality associated with their team. If you’re from one of these states, you probably already know the faux pas of planning your wedding or any big family event on a Saturday in the Fall. It is completely socially acceptable however to have Nick Saban riding an elephant hoisting the Coaches Trophy as your wedding cake that your bride will fill with Auburn colors as prank I assume is a part of some SEC marital ritual.
Why is Alabama Always Number 1?
While the college football programs in these states don’t need to compete with an NFL franchise, they almost always have intense, long-standing rivalries with neighboring college football programs that can get at times get unnecessarily heated. These rivalries appeal heavily to the football fans’ competitive nature and further compounds their personal identity with their home team. Because the personal significance of these teams run so deeply in these states, college football programs don’t even necessarily have to win to maintain their commercial value. The Tennessee Volunteers have won more than 10 games in a season since 2001 and are continually blown out by their SEC rivals, but that won’t stop a Vols fan from claiming superiority over another team for titles they won in the 90’s. Though college football's economic stronghold in these states remains stable even through losing slumps, there is a powerful incentive to rank them favorably and bring them to the BCS. It is much more financially advantageous for selection committees to push these teams into the forefront of the national CFB playoff conversation. When making BCS selections, a selection committee will usually ask the question, "will this fanbase buy expensive memorabilia and continue to engage in college football content through the off-season if they win the national championship?" With fans like these, the answer is always yes.
Best Rivalries in Football
NFL Territory: the rest of the country
On the other end of the spectrum, in metropolitan areas such as New York, DC, Denver, Chicago, Seattle, etc, NFL franchises dominate football fan markets and can take away significant viewership from any college football program that exists in the greater metropolitan area. The states where the NFL dominates are shown in a deep blue. Not unlike the deeply red states, football is a pervasive part of life for fans, and no matter how successful the local college football team is doing, local news coverage, sports bars, and football fans will always favor their beloved NFL team. If you look closely at the electoral map, you'll see that long-time rivalries make for deep-seated influence. Whereas, Ohio and Michigan are strong college football states with their intense rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, who share a long-standing rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, lean towards the NFL.
I have always lived in NFL cities. I grew up in DC where there was one Maryland fan for every 100 Redskins fans, despite the fact that Maryland was actually closer to DC than FedEx stadium in Landover, MD. Now I live in Fort Collins, CO and despite being miles and miles from Denver in the same city as a D1 FBS team with a brand new multi-million dollar stadium, more people wear blue and orange on Sundays than green on Saturdays. Being a college football fan in areas like this is difficult, because nobody plans their weekend around watching college football, so it's near impossible to catch every game of the season and still maintain a social life. Much like how college football programs conflate support and team spirit with a sense of identity and belonging through unique chants/catchphrases and sometimes odd traditions like petting a rock before a game, NFL franchise create this connection literally through their names. The New England Patriots is a reference to the area's celebrated history as the birthplace of the American Revolution, the Pittsburgh Steelers is a reference to the city's steel and mining industry, the 49ers is a reference to the California gold rush, etc, etc.. As such, there is little economic incentive in giving college football programs in California or Pennsylvania serious coverage in the national CFB playoff conversation. Sure, Penn State, USC, Pitt, UCLA, or Cal fans might rally together for a playoff run, but the NCAA is fighting a losing battle trying to compete in NFL strongholds, when they could be catering to places where people will buy a college football merchandise just to fit in.
The Battleground States
The states where domination of the fan market is contested between the NFL and the NCAA are shown in either light blue or light red. In these states, there are prevalent NFL franchises and college football programs whose popularity can fluctuate if they experience a losing slump. In the cases of Wisconsin and Indiana, the NCAA risks losing reliable sources of fan-based revenue to NFL franchises with more flash and overall stronger economic influence in the area despite its influence weakening in recent years. Thus, there is economic incentive to keep Wisconsin and Notre Dame in the national CFB playoff conversation. Yes, both teams have strong core fanbases and consume Notre Dame and Wisconsin Badgers content year round, but in order to redirect the attention of more casual fans from the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, there has to be something to invest in, which is why the NCAA risks lost profits by cutting down or discounting these programs, even if they did struggle against Ball State or lose to unranked BYU. More than anything, the economic potential of Notre Dame's exclusive television contract with NBC is a cash cow that needs to be milked. Unlike NFL dominated states, the state of Indiana is no stranger to college football culture and can be tapped for a lot of profit if Notre Dame can at least appear consistent year after year.
Of all the NFL vs. NCAA "swing states" shown here, Texas and Florida are by far the biggest battlegrounds, as they are also two of the most highly recruited states in the country. Both states have multiple NFL franchises as well as a considerable number of big time college football programs. In these states is where you'll find those rare fans like Mr. Football McFootball Face who spend their entire weekend watching football, including their local high school football team as well. In cities like Miami, there is considerable fluctuation between the Dolphins and the Hurricanes. Both teams have celebrated pasts, like the Dolphins' perfect season in 1972 and Miami's multiple national titles during the Jimmy Johnson-era in the 80's, so they share an associated sense of nostalgia and sentimentality by the football fans of South Florida. For this reason, there is a big economic incentive to keep U of Miami nationally ranked, especially with the profitability of those gold chains.
NFL vs College Football
As more and more self-proclaimed "football purists" are rejecting the NFL, the NCAA has been given a new market of viewers who want more straightforward football but are accustomed to a certain level of production quality. Pandering to alienated NFL fans through cross-promotion and boosting the standings of previously well liked programs is effective in getting more casual football fans to engage with their favorite team. However, in doing so, the NCAA employs a lot of the profit-driven production gimmicks that actual football purists feel not only dilute the game of football but is unabashedly money-grubbing considering the student-athletes at the center of it all don't receive a dime of the profits. It's one thing for the NFL to sign players solely for public attention and have a corporate sponsor for every conceivable facet of the game because at least the athletes are being paid while they irreversibly damage their bodies. For the NCAA to adopt an identical business model is callously unfair to the student-athletes. Fans have been drawn to FCS and lower levels of college football as less diluted alternatives where student-athletes are just that, student-athletes.
Why am I writing about an NFL story on College Football Today?
Recently, I wrote a couple articles about the Urban Meyer scandal. Inmy first article, I referenced the issue of how domestic violence is treated in football and in the criminal justice system. Today, (coincidentally the first day of the 2018 regular season) the Milton, GA police have no incriminating evidence against LeSean McCoy for involvement in the home invasion, robbery and aggravated assault of his ex Delicia De Cordon whose friend had accused McCoy of brutal domestic violence back in July in a graphic Instagram post. Ultimately, the Bills nor the NFL will take any disciplinary action against McCoy.
To many, this may exonerate McCoy, but regardless of the lack of punishment or formal criminal charge, there is still reasonable doubt that the NFL running back is innocent. Law enforcement is still investigating the attack, and the Bills and the NFL are both investigating the incident and allegations as well. Meanwhile, McCoy has hired well-known defense attorney, Don Samuels, who also represented Ray Lewis in the double homicide case in 2000 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 when he was accused of rape.
The majority of domestic violence cases in the NCAA and NFL are swept under the rug by first the respective administration and then press who take whatever excuse they are given at face value and completely disregard the victim’s side of the story. There are detailed allegations of McCoy brutally beating his son and his dog, as well as Cordon herself, but as the NFL running back returns to work without any penalty, they are omitted from the popular narrative.
So here's the story...
How mainstream sports media is helping the NFL sweep this under the rug.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported about the “insufficient evidence” in McCoy’s case, and there is one line that feels almost laughably naive, given what we know about football coaches’ tolerance for domestic violence allegations:
“If Bills coaches and officials were alarmed about what the investigation would yield — and they have been in contact with people involved in the case — they would not have allowed McCoy’s selection as a captain to stand."
The bigger picture
Though McCoy, 29, has never been suspended in his NFL career, he was accused in 2016 of being involved in a bar fight which resulted in two men hospitalized. No criminal charges were filed against McCoy due to “insufficient evidence” and the NFL opted not to penalize the running back.
In 2013, a woman sued McCoy for assault, alleging he or his bodyguard struck her and shoved her off a party bus in New Jersey. McCoy was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles at the time and wasn’t suspended for the incident.
Police records show there were multiple calls for domestic disturbances to the home of Cordon and McCoy. None of which resulted in charges. The fact that law enforcement rarely make arrests on domestic abuse calls is something we should have learned from the Smith case, and it should not be cause to dismiss a domestic violence allegation. Of course, I am not definitively saying McCoy is guilty, but to say that there is no evidence that he ever physically assaulted Cordon or was involved in the violent robbery of the jewelry he wanted back from her is nonsense and offensive to victims of domestic abuse.
It is not just these administrations that aid in protecting those accused of domestic violence, it is also the responsibility of the press to hold those accused and those who protect the accused accountable. While it's easier to go along with what NFL and NCAAF administrations say and relieve the fear amongst fans, it is an injustice to the victims not to tell their story and not allow abusers and enablers to remain unchecked.
Today, 44 active NFL players have records of domestic violence, and 12 were invited to join NFL teams even as they were facing outstanding court cases based on alleged physical or sexual assaults, many committed against intimate partners. So congratulations to Adam Schefter, Ian Rapaport, and many other sports reporters for once again validating the NFL for protecting players accused of violent crimes.
A History of Football Rule Changes & Penalties
New NFL Tackling Rules Explained
There have been a lot of controversial rule changes this year in both the NFL and NCAA. Critics of these new rules see them as cursory attempts at minimizing injuries on the field, while simultaneously interrupting the game with constant penalties. At first I saw these criticisms as merely old-timers complaining about reform and change. However, as I looked more into the history and evolution of the NFL and NCAA rules, I found some striking irony in how rule changes and penalties made in the 1970s change the game forever.
In 1970, there was only one player in the NFL over 300 lbs, and there was only 3 in 1980. Compare this to a whopping 523 players over 300 lbs at the start of the 2010 NFL season. It’s not just weight either, in fact prior to the 1980s, most offensive linemen fell below 6’4.
So What Happened?
First off, in 1974 the NFL made blocking below the waist illegal when not against the ball carrier. The rule states:
Prior to his rule change the most common blocks occurred below the waist, which would have made being tall and top-heavy a huge disadvantage as you were vulnerable to getting their knees knocked out. What we know today as "chop blocking" or "cut blocking" below the knee was common practice in 1960s and before. I found some Big Ten footage from 1960 and if you watch the line of scrimmage it looks like a mess with 6-foot, 200-pound offensive linemen scurrying around and diving for their opponents' knees. Defensive linemen also did a lot more running, whereas today a defensive tackle's strategic responsibilities revolve around the QB and stay localized near the line of scrimmage.
The irony of it all...
A government study in 1994 found that NFL linemen had 52% higher risk of dying from heart disease than other football players. Herein lies the irony: in an attempt to minimize injuries through new rules and penalties, the NFL, NCAA and even high school football have created strategic system that prioritizes the physical size of a player over their health and well-being in the long run. Like the penalizing of below-the-knee cut/chop blocking, the NFL's new helmet rule, which prohibits players from lowering their helmet to initiate contact, has good intentions to try and minimize brain damage endured during a game. However, as we've seen before, win-driven football coaches will adapt and find alternative strategies and systems regardless of the potential harm it could inflict on their players.
By no means, am I bringing this up to fat shame or criticize linemen for their size. Many large players in the NCAA and NFL are in great shape, despite our preconceived, superficial notions of what health looks like. In fact, one of my favorite moments in football is when one of these larger players gets the chance to make an interception or recover a fumble for a touchdown. Linemen are often the unsung heroes of the game of football, and I think we all get a little inspired when we see a 250-300 lb man excitedly job into the endzone for probably the first time in his career. Pressuring players as young as high school to gain or lose mass amounts of weight at a time is incredibly dangerous as it leads to unhealthy diets and the overuse of supplements. I’m not saying any of these new rules for the 2018 will ultimately lead to a similar unhealthy trend, but reflecting on the history of football can reveal that rule changes and penalties may not be the effective way to minimize on-field injuries. This doesn’t mean there is no solution to the high frequency of injuries during games, it just means we need to think more critically and outside the box to find it.
Colin Cowherd Baker Mayfield
The Perfect Sized Football Player
When it comes to what size you are suppose to be at a certain position on the football field, it is often thought in society that players in football are much bigger than they really are. This may be how the game used to be 10-15 years ago, but football has actual gotten smaller at positions we think only the tallest or heaviest players are dominating at. The best defensive player in the NFL Aaron Donald according to Todd Gurley is "the perfect size", as he has the quickest "get off" in the NFL and is built like a destructive cannon ball. Much like James Harrison, who is listed at 6'0, I am not sure he is 6'1 as every network seems to "round up" for every athlete. Doug Flutie proved that the Baker Mayfield's of the world can play at a pro bowl level and lead teams at the highest level of football to victories. Rob Johnson replaced Doug Flutie in the playoffs after a pro bowl season from Flutie and found himself very stagnant in the pocket and was sacked time and time again. This was the same case with the overrated Brock Osweiler and many other highly touted taller, but less mobile quarterbacks. Antonio Brown is on the cover of Madden 2019 this season and he is listed at 5'10,186lbs, which again he is probably more like 5'9. Over the past three years in assisting some of the top collegiate athletes in America, I have found similar players like Aaron Donald, who were told they were to short to play at the D1 level. Players like Ramsey Sites out of Oak Hill High School in Ohio were able to dominate much larger opponents using their massive strength, but also utilizing a leverage advantage to get lower than their opponents. I was always told in football that the "lower man wins", well if that is the case, than I guess Todd Gurley is correct when he states Aaron Donald is "The perfect size". I have watched players who were very tall and also very awkward get blown off the football time and time again. I then see the same player with offers from power five programs and either never see that player on the field and/or see them get blown off the football by a high octane machine coming off of the line of scrimmage. Than if the Quarterback is highly immobile, which most guys over 6'4 tend to be, it becomes a royal feast for players built for mass destruction like Donald.
It is said "Football is a game of inches", when in reality it is a game of tenth's of a second.
What makes guys like Russel Wilson, Drew Brees, Fran Tarkenton, Michael Vick and Doug Flutie extremely hard to sack? Well, they all have or had extremely quick releases when they decide to let go of the football and all of them were known for being great athletes, while improvising with uncanny results. If you ask any defensive linemen, they would rather tee off on a 6'7 Osweiler, rather than a very mobile Baker Mayfield. I really think ESPN decided to leave all the boisterous clowns on board and got rid of guys who reported the facts like Brent McMurphy. Baker Mayfield actually looked extremely good if you know quarterback play and was able to deliver darts downfield accurately, even when having to get to his 2nd or 3rd reads. Most of his passes that were not caught were a timing issue with his receiver and or just through their hands, as seen on the wide receiver screen pass in his first preseason contest against the New York Giants. When watching Baker escape the collapsing pocket to pick up critical first downs, I am reminded of the great escape artist Doug Flutie. When I witness Baker Mayfield deal the ball quickly out of the pocket, I am reminded of Drew Brees. He has great athletics at the QB position, but is not a run first QB, as we seen in the game against the Giants. He will let the play develop and has a outstanding football IQ when it comes to play concepts and where, when and how to deliver the football to his targets. Baker was coached under one of the best QB coaches in all of college football in Lincoln Riley and can complete passes based off of reading the defensive coverage or manipulate you with one on one match-ups. This is why the Browns made an outstanding first round draft pick and for once, have two outstanding quarterbacks heading into the 2018 NFL season.
The fraction of a second timed in the 40 yard dash is crucial to where a prospect lands in the draft. Avoiding pressure comes at the same cost when evaluating QB's. A Fraction to late, the ball is intercepted, a split second early and it is 6 points.
Part Two Will Feature The Top College Players At D1 FBS Level Who Are Under 5'10
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