Is College Football Bigger Than NFL? A Quick Guide

27 December 2021

Football is one of America’s greatest pastimes, with millions tuning in to watch their favorite teams encounter others each week. Whether at the collegiate or professional level, you will find that teams have massive followings of loyal fans. While both the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Association’s (NCAA) College football ostensibly play the same sport, various factors and peculiarities set them apart.

Due to their inherent differences, making direct comparisons between the two might be a somewhat clumsy endeavor, but there are certain metrics we can use to get a sense of things. Let’s try and find out which game is more prominent – the NFL or College Football. We’ll do this by comparing the two on various statistics, hoping they will combine to reveal the answer we seek.

Let’s get right into it.

Coaching Salaries

Here’s an interesting little fact for your enjoyment – in 31 of 50 states, the highest-paid state employees are College football coaches. Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach, takes home $11.1 million each year as his salary, roughly 92 times what the state’s governor makes. Over in the NFL, you will find a handful of elite players ranking in over $20 million each year. In short, the highest-paid NFL coach earns less than any college coach and sometimes even less than some of the players they train.

League Age

It might come as a surprise to learn, but College football started significantly earlier than the National Football League. The first college game was held between New Jersey and Rutgers on Nov. 6, 1869. On the other hand, the first NFL game didn’t take place until 1920.

Game Attendance

Stadium sizes aside, the College football scene draws a significantly higher number of live attendees rooting for College teams across the country. In 2016, College games saw numbers above 49 million while the NFL barely managed to bring in 18 million. While this discrepancy might well be explained by stating the difference in the number of teams, the numbers still stand.

Game Viewership

The Superbowl is the most viewed annual television event, drawing in over 100 million viewers each year. Sewer departments across the United States live in fearful anticipation of the annual `Big Flush’ with its accompanying strain on drainage systems. This is when millions of people who’ve been watching the Superbowl game get up and go to the bathroom all at once.

The BCS championship, in comparison, barely manages to gather 30 million. Still, it’s important to note that the overwhelmingly higher number of College football games taking place means that considering all games, you’ll find that College football has cumulatively higher viewership numbers.

Stadium Sizes and Attendance

When it comes to mega-stadiums, you can’t beat college football. There are teams in the NCAA such as LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Penn State, Texas, and Ohio State that will regularly see over 100,000 people coming in to watch them play during home games. The NFL fails to come cLose to this, as the only teams that even approach these attendance levels are the New York Jets and the New York Giants. They share the largest NFL stadium, the Metlife stadium, with a capacity of 82,500 people.

Roster Sizes

Roster size refers to the number of players a team can have eligible for active gameplay on gameday. These are the people you will see emerging out of the tunnels fully kitted out at the start of the game. The NFL only allows for 53 such players, while College football makes allowance for up to 105 players.

League Size

The NFL has significantly fewer teams participating in it than the college football league. The NFL has 32 franchises in competition, while college football teams number over 100.

Game Frequency

Because the College football league has so many more teams in contention, the number of games that need to be played is much higher. While the NFL might see 15 or so games in a week, Division 1 College football might have over 55 games played within the same duration. In terms of the sheer number of games, the NFL doesn’t come close to College football.

Skill Levels

When it comes to sheer athleticism and skill, the NFL has College football beat all the way through. The NFL recruits the cream of the college game and sharpens their talents through rigorous training against other elite players. There are no College teams with more than a couple of players that would make it onto an NFL team roster. The best College team will not overcome the lowest-standing NFL team in open competition.

Player Compensation

Since the players participating in College football are students, at the end of the day, they are not eligible for monetary compensation at the level of the NFL. NCAA regulations

State that as amateurs, they are not allowed to receive any gifts or rewards of greater value than the cost of their college education. This means that a college player can have the entire cost of their tuition and their travel and accommodation costs covered. This was all detailed in September 2015 in a judgment passed by the US Court of Appeals.

On the other hand, the NFL is famous for the massive contracts awarded to star players and promising draft picks. Aside from their contracted salaries, they also make money from endorsements, advertising, appearances, and so on.

Final Thoughts

When faced with the choice between the NFL and College football, I’ll quote Phil Savage, Senior Bowl director, who said, “It’s the same sport, but it’s two different games.” Even with that being so, it’s clear that the College game has a lot going for it on multiple fronts once you break the statistics down.

The verdict? Let’s say that the answer to this question might vary depending on how one chooses to define ‘bigger,’ but College Football seems to have the edge over the NFL in many of the most relevant categories. College Football wins this one for me. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.