If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably heard the claim that College Football is more exciting to watch than the NFL at some point. Whether you agree or not, this statement has a ton of validity to it–in this article, we are going to look at why this is statistically the case. \

First and foremost, we can check out the average WPA/play for each league–this will give us an idea of average ‘excitement’ as plays with higher WPAs implies greater game implications, hence making more thrilling plays. The results are quite telling; the WPA/play for the NCAAF is more than double the NFL at 13%.

When we look at average WPA/play trends since 2015, we see that in recent years, things have evened out. With the NFL shifting towards a pass-first league, games have been more exciting as offenses have been more explosive. Increasing the average WPA/play from below 2% to just over 10% in 6 years is quite impressive–It seems as if there might be a ceiling near 15%, but it will be interesting to see if the NFL can stay at this same level in the coming years.

Next, let’s take a look at breakout plays–I am defining these as plays where more than 25 yards were gained. When we look at the percentage of breakout plays since 2015 for each league, the NCAAF trounces the NFL. Near double the percent of the NFL each season, there is no questioning that college football is a more explosive game–whether this is due (which is likely) to the lower skill levels of college defenses or not, there is a clear dichotomy between the two here.

My next step was to create a ‘Game Score’ metric that rated each game on a number of metrics that would gauge how exciting it was.

For my Game Score I used the following statistics:

*The multiplier next to each metric is the number of “Game Points” that one occurrence adds to a total Game Score.

  • Average turnovers per game (x2.5)
  • Average scoring plays per game (x5)
  • Average breakout plays per game (plays where over 25 yards were gained) (x7)
  • Average big plays per game (plays with WPA over 10%) (x10)
  • Average game-changing plays per game (plays where the team expected to win changed) (x20)

See below the plotted Game Scores for each league for the past 6 seasons–both leagues have quite similar spreads.

When we look at the breakdown of the Game Scores, the NCAAF averages a score 41 points higher than the NFL. This is attributed to more scoring (9 scoring plays over 5) and the larger number of breakout plays per game (11 over 4). It makes sense that there are more game-changing plays in the NFL on average as well, as games are generally closer as the talent gap is much less. This is the greatest fuel for the argument of the NFL being more exciting–closer games. Does this outweigh constant breakout plays and high-scoring affairs? The Game Scores say no, but I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide.