While it is clear that The Federalist’s senior contributor Helen Raleigh is passionate about her love of college football, I must protest her conclusion. While many people enjoy college football, the idea that it is better than professional football is preposterous. Just like Annie Oakley, the National Football League, can do everything college ball does, but better.
So, while she it is correct that some NFL teams may underperform some years (the Browns are a great example), I disagree that this makes it less meaningful than college football. She seems to focus on the outcome of the games themselves conferring meaning, but seems to say that meaningfulness comes from an emotional connection to the game, not from a team’s seasonal performance. If no one ever felt anything about the game itself, however, the outcome wouldn’t matter.
There’s More to Life Than College
The key difference, then, is that connection. And your peak connection to college football happens while you are at that college. When you’re still at that school, you might get to participate in events all week leading up to the games. As soon as you are done classes Friday, you can start tailgating until Sunday.
Maybe in the moment, for that brief amount of time when you have no cares about the world outside those “hallowed grounds,” the tailgates are better than NFL tailgates. Being one with that community in that moment as a college student means something.
But that ends. You graduate. For most of us, real life hits harder than a 300-pound linebacker. Working in an office surrounded by Penn State fans, I have watched many of them return for tailgates and home games. I’m sure they are fun, but I would put good money on the fact that a large part of why they enjoy those games comes from the memories of when they were at the school.
For a moment, they are trying to relive those four, or possibly five, years. But that memory comes with the sadness of knowing they can never have those moments back. They know that, come Monday, they need to be at a job somewhere. It’s the Keynesian version of football.
Pro football Is for Everyone
But pro football doesn’t need to follow that rule. People can feel at home and passionate about the game regardless of where they live, who they are, or even how old they are. Pro ball doesn’t have that barrier to entry that college football does.
If I were to go to a Penn State game with my co-workers, I would never be able to enjoy that game in the way they are. But for the NFL, the barrier to entry is just a love of football. You can be a Steelers fan living in Ireland and still enjoy the game as much as a Pittsburgh fan in San Francisco or Pennsylvania. You can be a Broncos fan from Miami. Fans don’t need some blood connection to a team to support them.
Now, technically Raleigh is correct: Unless your last name is Kraft and you know a guy who has a collection of obnoxiously oversized hoodies, the Pats aren’t really “yours.” But then again, what college team follows that rule? The only team that actually does belong to the fans is (surprise, surprise) an NFL team.
Sure, you might get the occasional fan who moans about how you can’t be a fan because you’re not from the city the team is from, but at this point, how many teams are actually even from city where they started? Heck, two of the “New York” teams don’t even play in New York!
Endless Reasons to Adopt a Team
So the reason to support an NFL team doesn’t have to revolve around collegiate day drinking on Saturdays and excuses not to do homework. It can be because a person’s dad used to take him to the games, and now he’s doing the same for his own son.
It can be because she was never a sports person, but she moved to a new city where she didn’t know anyone and found a family that took her in. Maybe it’s because they just like the color of the team’s jerseys or because Disney made a really good movie about the team. Who knows? But all of these are valid reasons people adopt NFL teams. The connection doesn’t have to rest on where a person went to school
Maybe I’m biased. I didn’t go to a big sports school. I went to The Catholic University of America, and the most memorable point of the last homecoming football game I went to was when security had to shut down the tailgate an hour after the game ended because no one was actually watching the game. Many schools don’t have the money to run big programs. Sure, the games can be fun, but not in the way a Big 10 or Pac-12 game might be. And there are a lot more Division III schools than Division I schools out there.
Some schools may be so small, they don’t even have a football program. What then? Are those students and alumni without a football family for the rest of their lives unless they get lucky and marry into one? No. Because pro ball doesn’t require that you do all the right steps to be a fan. It just asks for you to enjoy the game.