The Difference Between NCAA Football and the NFL

As we’re all aware now, in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, college football is a really big deal at some schools.

This might seem odd to people who went to smaller schools, where college athletics are about as important as Model United Nations or the literary magazine, but Division I football, argue Joedy McCreary and David Brandt in the Sacramento Bee, sort of looks like the National Football League:

Fall football Saturdays look an awful lot like NFL Sundays, and not everyone is on board with the growing transformation.

College football has taken on a power structure similar to the NFL – which is king of the sports world with its on-field product and popularity across the country.

Or, more specifically,

College presidents and chancellors have roles similar to NFL owners, while their athletic directors resemble general managers – in charge of making the key hires that keep interest high and dollars flowing.

When it comes to season tickets, colleges frequently make buyers pay for the right to purchase their seats in the form of donations to booster clubs – much like those ubiquitous personal-seat licenses in the NFL.

Inside mammoth stadiums you’ll likely spot a towering set of suites. One of them probably belongs to the school president or chancellor, who’s entertaining rich and famous VIPs much like what goes on in the owner’s boxes at NFL stadiums.

The Presidnet of the University of Texas system, Bill Powers, however, explained to the journalists that the two entities were very different.

“I think we have to guard against going to an NFL kind of structure, but I think there’s a commitment to the collegiate student-athlete structure,” Powers said. “And from what I see – I spent a lot of time around it – it’s a different experience for fans and for the student-athletes than NFL football, in the same way that college basketball is different from the NBA.”

That’s pretty vague, but he’s got a point, there are big differences between professional and college sports. The most important is that Division I sports are generally money losers.

That’s not something college athletics administrators like to discuss a lot. The reality is that most colleges are propping up their athletic teams with pretty serious cash contributions. In a particularly egregious example, Rutgers subsidized some 42 percent of the school’s athletic department budget in 2010, while at the same time hiking tuition and refusing to honor employee salary contracts due to an “extreme fiscal crisis.”

Given that, we better hope that football teams can do a great job encouraging alumni contributions and improving the school’s reputation. Otherwise it’s just a huge waste of money.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer