UP   |  September 01, 2013

College football's big appeal

Selena Roberts of Roopstigo.com, Mike Pesca from NPR, NBC Sports' Rob Simmelkjaer, and author Evan Weiner discuss the importance of college football as the season begins, as well as the controversies surrounding safety in the sport and the recent NFL settlement on concussion-related injuries.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> football is back. i'm going to keep the sweatshirt on because i'm too lazy to get changed again. we're going to talk about it with selena roberts, the founder and ceo of rupstigo. rob simmelkjaer is a former anchor and correspondent for espn. i talked about some of the issues that football is grappling with. i thought i'd start at a more basic level and try to understand why these two weekends of the year tens of millions of americans spend months of their lives just waiting for these weekends. baseball used to be the national past time. i think football has supplanted it. i wonder, why? what is it about football that has this appeal?

>> i think everybody wants to identify with a winner. you have this hope that every time this year you've got the winner in the game. i think with college, there's an identity. people who didn't go to alabama, you know, will drive down five days before the game and hang out in tuscaloosa to be part of the atmosphere, to be part of that identity. i think that really does drive the passion. it's certainly a sport you can wrap your head around once a week, too. you don't have to follow it on a single daily basis. that really does sort of gin up the stakes a little bit. that one day a week where you can wrap yourself in your team. even if you didn't go to the school, you can wrap yourself in that identity and feel good about it.

>> i grew up in massachusetts, which is not exactly a college spor sports place. but i look at alabama. i look at kansas state . i look at the big-time programs in these states that are not pro sports states. it is like this is the event for anybody in the state. it binds them together culturally. it gives them something to look forward to. i get jealous.

>> steve, i did a talk at ithaca university. i said, why do you go to football games ? they said, we can drink beer, be in the parking lot , bet on the game, and watch the cheerleaders and have a good time for four, five, six hours and get away from everything. i think a lot of people look at it that way, saying, hey, we can have a good time, maybe make a couple bucks on the game.

>> that's an interesting -- i wonder how much, you know, it's a once a week game. everybody is paying attention to the same game. how much gambling is a part -- the nfl would never want to admit this. i don't know if i want to go this direction, but how much does gambling have to do with it?

>> listen, i don't think gambling is irrelevant at all, but i think when you look at the nfl in particular, even more so it's been fantasy football . every single fan out there, whether they're a casual fan or a hard core football fan, has their fantasy team. all over america right now people are drafting. they're drafting their nfl fantasy teams. some people play college. fantasy is a big part of it. let's face it. football is a great product. it is a great television product. the nfl did so many things right over the years that major league baseball did wrong in terms of competitive balance.

>> the salary cap .

>> salary caps and revenue sharing. every city out there thinks they have a chance to make the playoffs and compete when the season starts. that's not the case in baseball. it hasn't been for a long time. so those are some of the reasons that over the course of time football has just surpassed baseball.

>> football is well managed. football also got lucky by circumstances. i'll give you the reasons. what you said, tribalism. that's huge in the northeast, in massachusetts, where we don't really care about college football . we love the red sox . we love the yankees. that's our identity. because of the violence of the game, they can't play it more than once a week. if you inundate us with product, we get bored. that's what you've been saying. we love to look at things that are violent that don't affect us. that's part of the human nature . four, i've interviewed people who make slot machines . it struck me that the way the brain works when dealing with a slot machine is exactly the way the brain works when you're watching football . small actions punctuated by huge payoffs. you either win, you either lose, but you're into it the whole time and something huge explodes. the pace of the game is perfectly suited for television. some of these things are well-managed, that the nfl tried to do. some of them are luck. but here we are. the nfl is the number one sport. they say college football is number two. i think college football is really the number two sport in america. everything else has faded away.

>> you know, i took a shot at baseball. i don't mean to disrespect all the baseball fans, but the pace of the game is just glacial.

>> the thing is, i did a tv show many years ago with frank duford, who's brilliant. frank said 1950 was baseball, boxing, and horse racing . tv took over, and the 1958 game between the colts and giants, that overtime game changed the whole paradigm of sports. people said, hey, this is exciting. of course, you did have a good ga game. but at that point, that's when football exploded. then in 1960 was that violent world of sam huff on cbs with walter cronkite . that solidified it. people said, we're going to watch it. by '65, it was the number one sport in the country.

>> something that always strikes me here in new york -- i wouldn't think of new york city as a great college sports town. this is true of the nfl , too. different neighborhoods in manhattan on a saturday or sunday in the fall, and there are bars just designated, you know, this is the cleveland browns bar, this is the university of minnesota golden gophers bar. people just, you know, from around the country who live here show up at that bar on saturday, on sunday just to watch their team. i don't see it in any other sport.

>> i went to auburn university deep in the south. it's everything. you grow up in that kind of culture. you realize when you leave that culture, you're also looking for, where can i get it back? where can i get that feeling back? that's why you go that local bar in new york city and watch your team perform. you feel good because you're around your people, so to speak. what we're looking at is socially accepted barbarism. i think, you know, overall you're looking at the socially accepted is world we love and that we take a part of and when something goes wrong or something goes bad, we rail against it, but we still watch.

>> and that's those big hits . i know in the last couple years when i see those big hits now, i have a different reaction than i did three or four years ago. i want to make it up in the next segment, what we've learned about concussions, about amateurism and what that means. we'll pick