Column Dedicated to Football Fans: NFL vs. College Football


Josh Armstrong, Student of Journalism

In the United States, year after year football continues to be the most popular sport to watch. In fact, according to the professional football hall of fame, which is where all American football statistics and records are kept, 37 percent of American adults picked football as their favorite sport to watch. 

American football features many different leagues and organizations. But, the two most popular by far are the NFL (National Football League) and NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college football. Both leagues have different rules, playoffs and traditions that make them unique.

Ultimately the question still remains, which league is better?

Between these two leagues, one of the main differences is the unique rules. For example, in college football the receiver only has to have one foot in-bounds while in the NFL the receiver has to have two feet in-bounds for the catch to count. 

Another set of rules that are different between the two leagues are the overtime rules. In the NFL, a coin toss determines, which team will get the ball first in the 10 minute overtime and if that team scores a touchdown the game is over. If they kick a field goal or do not score at all then the other team can win with any score. If neither team scores the game ends in a tie unless it is the playoffs and then an additional 10-minute overtime will be played.

NFL analyst Mathew Gilmartin notes in a Bleacher Report article that there has been controversy over the overtime rules because 61 percent of the time in the past five years the team that won the coin flip in overtime won the game. This means that if the game goes into overtime it turns into the luck of a coin flip. 

Whereas in college football overtime, both teams get a chance to possess the ball no matter who scores first, there is no time period because the possessions start at the 20 yard line, so it does not take long to score, and there are no tie endings. 

Clearly, college football wins the rules battle because they allow for the game to be more entertaining as they focus on giving the offense an advantage and having a faster pace of play, which is what the typical viewer wants to see.

The next contrast between the two leagues is the playoffs. The NFL has a 14 team format where the top seven teams from each conference battle to win the Superbowl. While college football has a four-team playoff to determine the top team in the country and 42 other bowl games where qualified teams with a winning record get one last chance to show off their skill.

One item that makes college football better in this category is that they plan to expand their playoff to a 12-team format starting in the 2024-’25 season according to CNN, which is a worldwide leader in online news. This along with the 42 other bowl games is what gives college football the edge in this section.

Lastly, both the NFL and college football have traditions that make each team special in its own way and keeps fans coming back year after year. For example, the Green Bay Packers have the Lambeau leap where when one of their players scores a touchdown they jump into the crowd and the Seattle Seahawks have the famous 12th man where the fans try and break previous noise decibel records every week.

Although the NFL has great traditions, the traditions of college football teams just seem to be better. Examples include Wisconsin’s jump around, Tennessee’s singing of the song “Rocky Top” and Penn State’s white out. These few examples prove that these teams represent the whole college and the fans take pride in that. As can be seen, the excitement of the hundreds of college towns in America tops the traditions of the 32 NFL organizations.

Ultimately, the main categories of what makes American football the most popular sport in the country seem to give the advantage to college football over the NFL. Furthermore, there are many items that the NFL can take from the college game to make their league more successful. Even though making it to the NFL is what college players are working toward, the passion, intensity and spirit of college football give football fans plenty of reasons to prefer it over the NFL.