In the United States we love our sports. That’s a fact. Whether it be a Sunday Night Football matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, a College Gameday between rivals Duke and UNC or an October series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, we’re there and we’re watching.
But there is something special about watching, and following, college sports. As much as we love both, professional sports and college sports, the latter are simply better. I’d like to stress the fact that better does not necessarily mean more talented. Professional players are by the far the most talented, which may be a reason why college players are more fun to watch. So what is it exactly that makes college sports better? There are several reasons:
Unfortunately, many of the players we watch on college fields or courts will not have a professional career. For most, this is the highest level they will compete in, and they are well aware of it. The season is also much shorter than the NBA’s 82 games and NFL’s 16, with only 31 and 12 games for college basketball and football respectively. The short schedule means each and every one of those games counts and can change a school’s postseason fate. Which is why college players give it their all, they leave their blood, sweat and tears on the field or court every single time they step on to it.
Players know that a single game can change their fate. It can bring their school closer to a championship or gain an individual player national recognition and the opportunity to play at the next level. Professional athletes just don’t play with the same passion and intensity as college players.
Players are loyal to their universities from the moment they commit to the school. There are no blockbuster transfers, no moving to win a ring, no Kevin Durant coming back to Oklahoma City on a rival team after deciding to sign with the Warriors. It is rare for a college player to transfer to a different university, and if one does, it’s usually for personal reasons or more playing time on a team with less talented players. But again, it’s rare. Most college players declare for the draft or stick with their university until graduation.
But loyalty goes beyond the draft and diplomas. Players remain loyal to their universities and often return for big games, events or even just to give back to the community in which they flourished. There is a lifelong bond between a player, the college and the fans.
From fight songs, to marching bands to Touchdown Jesus, NCAA traditions are unmatchable. Certain college cheers still send chills down my spine and Tommy Trojan’s field stabbing is still exciting. Some of the traditions were started by players, some by the schools and many by the students and fans. But they’re what makes every program unique, and why it’s increasingly hard for universities to win in foreign territory.
Is there anything better than the NCAA tournament? Four days full of basketball to kick it off, with some of the most exciting minutes of play all year, building up to the Final Four. Small town colleges find ways to the big stage and knock off the top contenders. Individual players have a chance to shine and build their draft stock. There is no sporting event as exciting or entertaining as the NCAA (and yes, I’m counting the Olympics and World Cup in this too).
Duke vs UNC, Louisville vs Kentucky, Michigan vs Ohio State, Army vs Navy, Michigan vs Michigan State, Syracuse vs Georgetown, Duke vs Maryland, Purdue vs Indiana, Alabama vs Auburn, Oklahoma vs Texas, Harvard vs Yale, Florida vs Georgia, Syracuse vs UConn, Texas vs Texas A&M, Notre Dame vs USC, Kansas vs Kansas State, Georgia vs Georgia Tech, Florida vs Florida State.
The number of college rivalries in basketball and football is insane, and the animosity between the schools is unbelievable. Fans mark their calendars every year for the biggest game of the season, the one against the biggest rival, and it never disappoints. Hey, as a Syracuse alum I cringe at the thought of anyone in my family attending Georgetown. Syracuse and Georgetown don’t even play in the same conference anymore, but still, I’ll never let a family member study there. The hatred is real.
One of the top reasons college sports are better than professional is the fans. Most are students or former students who live and breathe their college teams. Professional teams are located in certain cities around the country, limiting fandom to those areas. But college students come from all over the country, and when the four years are done, they bring their fandom back home. Even more than that, students and alumni become a sort of family that stays with the team and supports it for the rest of their lives.
Plus, have you seen the student sections at the biggest football stadiums or the cozier courts? They are frightening and exhilarating.