I'm not a big football fan, but like almost everyone from the United States, I have my particular favorites—the West Virginia University Mountaineers and the Pittsburgh Steelers--that I want to watch. Unfortunately, while watching even their most obscure games has gotten easier on cable or satellite TV thanks to ESPN, the NFL Network, and DirectTV, it's not to easy to watch them on the Internet.
There is some coverage available though. Here's what I've found so far:
First, on the college side, ESPN3 used to be the go-to place on the Internet to watch live college football. While it still has some live sports—Canadian Football League (CFL) anyone?--Division 1 college football coverage is no longer a given. Some games are available, while others are blacked out.
An ESPN GamePlan subscription, available through DirecTV, Dish, Verizon, and some digital cable operators, will give you access to some, but not all, games.
Big Ten games are available via BTN2GO, but you have to have a subscription to the Big Ten Network from your cable or satellite provider. Even if you haven't cut the cord, the Big Ten Network is not offered on all major providers. Dish Network, for example, still doesn't have an agreement set in stone with the network. If you can and do subscribe to it, there are apps for both the iPhone and iPad and Android.
For Southeastern Conference (SEC) games, you need CBS, but they're very little coverage available online. Curiously, you actually get better live coverage from the CBS Sports Mobile iPhone app. The Android app., however, has real problems. It also won't run at all on such popular tablets as the popular and outstanding Nexus 7.
The National Football League (NFL) is, as you might guess, very hard to watch online for free. However, if you're willing to watch the games after the fact, the NFL Network has a nice Intenet-only package called Game Rewind. Prices range from $34.99 to watch all your favorite teams to $69.99 with all the trimmings for all the games. It's not live, but it's not bad either.
Unfortunately, for the audience who'd probably like this service the most - the U.S. NFL fan outside the country - NFL Game Rewind is only available to users within the United States, Bermuda, Antigua, the Bahamas, and any U.S. territories, possessions and commonwealths.
This application is also available for the iPad, but it doesn't support AirPlay, so you can forget about throwing the game from your iPad to your Apple-TV equipped TV. It's also available for Android tablets running Android 3.0 or higher. Neither the Apple nor the Android version are available on smartphones.
NBC also has some live Web NFL broadcasts. This coverage is only available in the U.S. I'm happy to report that, unlike the Olympics, you won't need a cable or satellite subscription to MSNBC or CNBC to see the games. The other major networks don't offer any live Internet NFL coverage.
Oddly enough, if you can't get DirecTV, DirecTV will let you buy an Internet only subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket for $250 for the full season. This is actually the best deal, but chances are you won't qualify for the offer. Of course, you could just fib about not being able to get it... Last year DirecTV didn't check too closely on its Internet-only customers.
There's also versions of this for the iPad and Android. NFL Sunday Ticket is also available for the Sony PS3. It is not, I'm sorry to say, available for either the Apple TV or Roku.
You can also try to watch either college or NFL games via Web or peer-to-peer (P2P) streaming. This skates the various leagues' legal restrictions so I leave it to you if you want to try these or not. Because each broadcast relies on individuals streaming their own broadcasts, the quality varies widely from game to game and sometimes from minute to minute.
If you still want to give it a try, the Web streams are available to anyone with a Web browser and a Flash player. The P2P streams require you to use a P2P viewing program. The most popular of these is Steam Torrent. Unfortunately, Steam Torrent is Windows only. A more open alternative is SopCast, which is available for Android, Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows.
The final score on Internet football is that there's no good way to watch even close to all the college games live online. For now, if you really want to watch college ball, you're really stuck in front of your TV with cable or satellite. Easily the best way to watch live NFL action is to bite the bullet and pay DirecTV for NFL Sunday Ticket. If you can deal with a delay, and you want to pay a lot less, Game Rewind is a good deal as well.
Football play image: Some rights reserved by Ed Yourdon.