The return of college football is always electrifying, but this year feels different, bigger -- scrutinized and celebrated at the same time like pro sports. Aside from the aforementioned controversies, the sport of football in general had a dark cloud hovering over it for most of the summer (thanks in large part to the uncertainty surrounding the pending NFL lockout). Now that the full business of football is finally back, it seems as though all is normal; total fan delirium.
College football has evolved to gain the same "bulletproof" tag as the NFL. While schools continue to find themselves under investigation for rules violations and PR spin, college football has blown past the notion of student athletics. Ticket prices alone have risen 30% in the past three years, according to a report on OregonLive.com. Sponsorships are exploding.
How do they compare?
College football certainly isn't alone in having issues with players' behavior, the National Football League has had its share of troublemakers over recent years (Pacman Jones, Mike Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Lewis, Marshawn Lynch and Braylon Edward, to name a few). The issues that arise in professional football are mostly player-based, and the organization is cast as the oblivious employer. Not to say that the NFL doesn't take action when players are out of line, but for the most part the public associates the blame with that individual instead of the team.
College works in the opposite way. If a college player is in a bar fight, or if a college player is trading autographed memorabilia for free tattoos, the school is also to blame. After all, the university is providing more than just a football team. The university is responsible for that athlete. The university is providing him education, housing and food, and because of this the university is held responsible.
And so, universities with skeletons in their closets continue to pile up, in turn making Charles Robinson the most terrifying sports reporter in America. The NCAA will continue investigations, taking away wins and banning teams from bowl games. But the general public consensus, and for that matter, brands' consensus seems to be more impartial than one might expect.
The behavior of certain university athletes, not to mention the violent nature of the sport, has been gaining attention in past years; this certainly doesn't seem to be encouraging the brands to flee college football. Nor is there any flight from NFL sponsorships -- they are among the most costly and sought after of any sport.
The college sponsorship trend follows in the wake of the NFL, which produces more money for the league and the teams than any other sport. Should the colleges be held to a different standard in this area due to their assumed responsibility for athletes? Are the colleges capitalizing financially on the excitement of the sport at any cost to their athletes or their school's reputation? Do their fans care? Would it be the same in other sports?
The blame doesn't rest solely with the brands, the schools or even the fans. For as much as the media reports on the dangers of football and the scandals involved, does that stop anyone from watching it? The sport has evolved to a point where athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, bringing the danger of the game to a new level and increasing the excitement of the game. The system is broken, athletes are either getting hurt or getting in trouble and then are tossed away to be forgotten. The system needs to be fixed; unfortunately there aren't many clear cut answers on how to do that just yet. And who is ultimately responsible for the "when to say when"-- the schools, the NCAA, the NFL, the brands or even the fans? What will happen to the thrill of the sport?
Until then, we still have the anticipation and excitement of football; another season of tailgates, game days, rivalries, Heisman talk, Super Bowl predictions, complaining about the BCS and those creative alcohol sponsors' marketing campaigns. Hopefully, this year we can avoid the scandal and be able to call it an exhilarating and successful season for the schools, the teams, the fans, the brands, the media, and even the athletes. They're all responsible for football being "larger than life" in America.