It’s that time of year again. South of the Mason-Dixon line, grown men stuck in a prolonged testosterone infused adolescence will now spend hours every Saturday chanting “SEC” as if it is a magical incantation that can keep the 21st century at bay. Farther north, brisk fall afternoons will be filled with the sound of cracking pads, Brent Musberger, and the smell of tailgate food. There’s a certain nostalgia that comes with college football season that stirs something in even the most fervent non-supporters. At the very least, college football ushers in the fall and the best weather of the year.
But it still doesn’t compare to college basketball. All of the overhyping, ESPN travelling, and constant media bombardment can’t cover over one simple fact: college basketball is a better product than college football.
The average college basketball game lasts two hours and 12 minutes from opening tip to the final buzzer. In that time, you are guaranteed at least 40 minutes of something happening, not to mention the clock stoppages in which scoring still happens. Somewhere around 50 minutes ends up being either full court action or scoring plays.
College football games, on the other hand, average three hours and 24 minutes. How much action is packed into that time? Around 11 minutes. That means that over three hours of the average football game is dead. A marathon four hour and four minute Alabama game last year managed to rack up just 16 minutes of actual action. If you tune into a football broadcast, you’re spending nearly three times as much time watching commercials as you are watching play.*
We were all emotionally impacted on some level when Edmond Sumner slammed to the floor against Villanova. That play changed the course of an entire season and remains vivid in the memory of anyone who saw it. The same can be said of Kevin Ware’s horrific leg injury in the NCAA tournament. Part of the reason these stick in the mind is the relative paucity of truly devastating injuries in college basketball.
In the latest five year study from the NCAA, 11 college football players died. 23 more suffered “non-fatal direct catastrophic injuries.” Three of those were catastrophic spinal cord injuries. In the last three years, college football teams have reported 501 concussions. That’s a lot, but it doesn’t account for the fact that sixty teams have failed to publicly disclose even one concussion in that time span. Based on that data, that tells us that over 1,000 concussions have been caused by college football in the last three years. That’s just in NCAA DI.**
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that football players aren’t incredible athletes. If you’ve seen the Odell Beckham Jr catch, you would know that claim is absurd. Consider for a moment though, that the athleticism on display in football is very focused. Offensive linemen are incredibly strong, but they aren’t about to hurdle anyone or run a 4.5 40 yard dash. Receivers aren’t about to body someone up unless they absolutely must.
In basketball, everyone does everything. RaShid Gaston may have to toss a 270 behemoth to the side for a rebound before racing the length of the floor to catch a pass above the rim and dunk it. His reward for this? Another 94 foot sprint to get back in defensive position. Quentin Goodin has to have the speed to outrun anyone else on the floor but also be able to propel himself a shocking 44 inches off the ground from a standstill. No one walks onto a college basketball floor that isn’t a premier and incredibly well rounded athlete.
If you love college football, I’m not going to talk you out of it. Even I, not a football man, turn on the games to listen at work at night. The college football playoff pales in comparison to March Madness, but it’s an exciting event nonetheless. So, by all means, enjoy the games. Cheer against the SEC at all times, and hope for the Buckeyes to lose in every way possibly imaginable. (Greg Oden, #neverforget). Just remember as you watch college football that you are dining on hamburger, the steak is waiting when the calendar flips fully into November.
*Data from the Wall Street Journal and Sports Observer
**Data from the NCAA and Al Jazeera