I don’t watch much football.

Frankly, the NFL product is universally horrible — endless commercial breaks, far too many replays and the feeling that “anything can happen” is largely absent in a creatively devoid and increasingly copycat league. Certainly, as a casual fan, I don’t have a large enough rooting interest to slog my way through three hours of mundane.

Since my days working with NASCAR in a previous life, I spent a lot of time in the southeastern part of the country and in the Atlanta area, in particular, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Georgia. Punishing midsummer heat and humidity aside, it’s a place I always liked. Even before my traveling days, I’d been a fan of the old coach-quarterback partnership of Mark Richt and Matt Stafford at the University of Georgia. When Georgia football is good, I tend to pay attention to the sport more than normal.

I watched every snap of the New Year’s Day national semifinal between Georgia and Oklahoma, the first start-to-finish football game I’ve watched on television all year. It was impossible to turn it off — energy, playmaking, determination, adversity, challenges answered and, in the end, a necessarily miraculous string of plays that shaped the final outcome.

Once you got past ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit’s man-crush on Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback, it was a nearly-perfect sports television broadcast.

Except that I noticed a few things missing from my big screen:

• Replay after replay after replay. (There was one, late in the game, that took less than 30 seconds.);

• A commercial after every score;

• A commercial after every change in possession;

• A commercial after every kick-off;

• Endless on-air debate about what constitutes a “catch,” a “catching motion,” a “football move” or “completion of a play”;

• Random penalties for pass interference at or near the goal line;

• Zero discussion of “breaking planes,” positioning of “body parts,” or “intention.”

A catch was a catch. A big play was a big play. Silly, counterintuitive rules — put in place by the very NFL coaches looking for every way to circumvent those same rules — weren’t there to interrupt what was obvious to everybody watching.

In the biggest college football game of the season (at least to date), the referees on the field called the game and did so expertly. They weren’t officiating as if they were simply on the field as supervisors waiting for a replay to make every important call along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly egregious NFL Sunday that began with the New England Patriots somehow winning a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and ended with a Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders game ending in mind-numbing confusion, I was disgusted at how easily football fans accepted a day like that.

A day that should have been an advertisement for all that is good in the NFL — cornerstone franchises, playoff atmospheres, huge postseason implications — instead became a day (and three days after) devoted only to Twitter fights and on-air debates about the rules of the game, what they imply and how they are enforced. What happened on the field ran a distant second to what’s in the fine print.

I mentioned to a colleague of mine that replay is an issue in all sports, but nowhere is it more of an unwelcome guest than it is in football. He suggested that all leagues — even Major League Baseball — are the same in this arena. I countered with this: In an MLB playoff game, if replay is needed to decide whether or not a runner was safe at home plate with the winning run, we look at the replay, we decide if the runner touched the plate before or after he was tagged, and we move on.

In the NFL, we watch the replay 6,138 times and then we dissect every intention, body positioning and even what constitutes the act of physically making a catch before we come to a conclusion that only 38 percent of the public can even agree to. Even if it looked like a catch to every person with a pair of eyeballs, that doesn’t mean it’s true in the NFL’s version of events.

College football has a lot of things wrong with it. Namely, the playoff needs to be expanded to eight teams, lopsided regular-season scheduling produces too many four-touchdown blowouts, and there is far too much emphasis placed on programs competing in the SEC.

But the game itself? The actual on-field product? It’s hardly new ground to suggest that it’s far superior to what we are bombarded with on Sundays. Less governance is certainly more.

What was new, at least to me, was the desire to watch it from the opening kick-off straight through the second overtime when Georgia tailback Sony Michel ran 27 yards for the game-winning touchdown — leaving me already looking forward to Monday night’s national championship game.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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