College football is a far different game now than it was when I watched my first game in 1957. In most ways, it is better. In some ways it isn't.
Here are some of the more important changes I've seen:
Diversity. Not until the early 1970s did African-American players have opportunities to play for Auburn or Alabama. What a shame that so many deserving people in all walks of life were cheated over the years by hate and ignorance.
Legalized holding. Call it what you want, but that's what it is. When the rules were changed in the mid-1970s to allow offensive linemen to use their hands, the game changed dramatically. It became more like the NFL, leading eventually to the wide-open game of today.
Two-platoon football. Until the mid-1960s, substitution rules mandated that many players play both ways. Those who played the game that way are justifiably proud, but it's a much better game now.
Coaches' salaries. I was talking to Doug Barfield not long ago, and he told me his last salary at Auburn was $48,000 per year. That was a lot more, of course, in 1980 than it is now, but it still wasn't in the same world with what coaches make these days. Both Shug Jordan and Bear Bryant coached for 25 years at their alma maters. That's not likely to happen again after Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno retire. Why would it? Why would a coach subject himself to the immense pressure that goes with the job after he has already made more money than he can ever spend?
Weight-lifting/nutrition programs: I wrote here earlier about how much larger players are now than they were 15 years ago. Go back further and the difference is even more striking. The heaviest player on Auburn's 1957 national championship team was listed at 235 pounds. Alabama's 1978 national championship team didn't have a single offensive lineman who weighed as much as 260 pounds.
Television. Before cable and before Georgia and Oklahoma went to court and wrested control of football television from the NCAA, you could watch one game on Saturday. Being chosen to play on television was a big deal. Now it's unusual when a game isn't televised. A fan can sit on the sofa from 11 a.m. until midnight and watch football nonstop. Many said that would kill attendance. Instead, it has increased interest in the game and, as a result, increased attendance.
Five changes I'd make if I was in charge:
Do away with that silly celebration rule. Taunting should be penalized. Celebrating should never be penalized. Alabama lost to Arkansas last year because of a celebration penalty called in overtime. That's ridiculous.
Define holding. There is holding on every play, of course, but there needs to be a national consensus on what is going to be called and what isn't. Come to an agreement, and then call it every time it happens. Players will learn what will be called and they will adjust.
Five to play five. Football and basketball coaches are pushing hard for legislation that would give athletes five years of eligibility and do away with redshirt seasons. That change is long overdue. Under the current rules, a football player can play in three games and still be redshirted if he's injured, which leads to lots of players getting invisible injuries as freshmen. Why not just say everybody has five years and be done with it. Graduation rates would improve. It would have no impact on the great players. Few of them would stay five years before going to the NFL.
Change the pass interference rule. I liked it better when it resulted in the ball being placed at the point of the foul. Years ago, pass interference was a 15-yard penalty in the NFL and a spot foul in college. Now it's the opposite.
In truth, the game is as healthy overall as it ever has been. Players arrive better prepared and perform better in the classroom. Athletically, they are far superior to those who paved the way for them.