College Sports

I don’t get college sports. I don’t like they’re as interesting as pro sports, and I don’t understand the fanaticism.

College sports is hard to follow. Let’s pick basketball as an example. Whereas the NBA has 25 or 30 teams, there are literally thousands of college teams. Thousands. And the turnover is huge. You only see a given player for 4 years, and if they’re any good, they will try and jump to the pros early. The players that are worth following are only the team for one or two years. So how can you follow a team? How can you be a casual fan? You probably don’t know any of the players, and if you do, you probably don’t know many on the other team. Contrast this to the pros, where most players stay on a team for at least 5 years, and many of the big names will be on the same team their whole career. If you add the front-office career factor, it can be decades. (Consider Larry Bird, Jerry West, Red Aurebach, Phil Jackson, Doug Collins, etc..) I just don’t know how you can follow college sports. I realized only a few years after I graduated that nobody who was part of the program was still there. Of course all the players were long gone, but the coaches, assistants, and athletic director had also departed. Who exactly was I rooting for, where was my connection? (True, the connection in the pros is also tenuous, but the stability of the league makes it much less so.)

And finally, the quality of play just isn’t as good. It’s self-evident that the pros are better players, I’m amazed I even need to argue the point. Sometimes I hear the rebuttal that college sports is more fun to watch because the players aren’t as good. OK, fair point, but why stop at college then? Why not watch high school sports? Junior High? Hey, I spent an hour with my 2-year old today watching him try to dribble, that doesn’t make for entertainment. (For more on this idea, read The Sports Guy’s definitive analysis of why the WNBA sucks.)

Now let’s talk about the fans. Whatever connection I have to my Alma Mater’s team is because, I in fact, went there and spent four years being part of the school. That’s the connection, however weak or strong that is 15 years later. It may not do it for me, but I guess I understand those who were into their college enough to want to keep feeling part of that world forever. At a recent wedding, the final event of the night was the playing of my Alma Mater’s fight song, which was shouted by the entire extended family of the groom, who had several generations go there. I thought it was a little weird to make that the climax of the wedding, but it was nice that their family had something they could share across the generations. If they felt that bond between them, good for them.

But. But, but, but. What about people who didn’t even go there? My next door neighbor is an enormous Auburn fan. (I think it’s Auburn. Maybe it’s Georgia Tech. See how much I care?) And he never went there! He just picked it at random. That’s not right! I mean, what the hell! And he didn’t even pick one of the great teams, if you’re going to just choose to be a fan of a team, at least pick a good one fercrisakes. I have another friend who coincidentally is a huge fan of my own school. Lives and breathes blue and maize (for my one reader who doesn’t know where I went, that’s a clue). And she didn’t go there. Again, what the hell!?

6 thoughts on “College Sports”

  1. College vs. Pro sports. A classic debate. Here’s a couple of points in the college sports favor. One, you have to be somewhat of a hypocrite to be a pro sports fan of a particular team, because of all of the player movement. Roger Clemens is the prime example. When he was with the Red Sox, he was Public Enemy #1 for Yankees fans. He was a head-hunting thug. Then, of course, he was traded to the Yankees, and the next thing you know they’re giving him standing ovations and hoping he wears a Yankee cap into the Hall of Fame after winning his 300th in the pinstripes. It’s easy to pinpoint Yankees fans as a bunch of hypocrites, but all fans of all teams do it. Do they just have a convenient bout with amnesia and forget about anything from the past? In college, at least you don’t have this problem. Besides the occasional transfer, players play for your team and none other.

    Second, it’s easier to relate to the joy of winning for the college player than the pro player. To broadly stereotype, the pro player is a spoiled millionaire who’s in the biz for endorsements, fame, women, Sportscenter moments, and, of course, money. Most of the college players are like you and I were in college — no hopes of turning professional, and happy to be part of a competitive team. It’s a hell of a lot easier rooting for these guys than the pros. I still go back to several infamous instances where pro teams sustained crushing defeats, worthy of their die-hard fans jumping off of the nearest ledges, and within two minutes of the final whistle, the pros from both teams are yukking it up at mid-field, arranging dinner plans for the evening. This attitude is sickening, but all-too-common amongst professional athletes. After NC State beat Houston on the last-second dunk for the ’83 NCAA title, you didn’t see the Houston players yuk it up at midcourt — they were crumpled on the ground in tears. This attitude is a hell of a lot easier to root for.

  2. Good points Mr. Gunky!

    1) I think Clemens is the exception, most players aren’t as hated-loved-hated as him. Sometimes it’s like having Ron Artest on your team — he’s a complete headcase jerk, but damnit, he’s OUR headcase jerk!

    2) Caring – Sure, college kids care more. And that’s nice I suppose, but I’d bet high schoolers care even more. My 2-year old threw a tantrum yesterday when he couldn’t dribble a ball. Not really sure what my point is here… anyways, I think pros care every bit as much in the big games. You go to the Super Bowl or World Series, oh yeah, they want to win. They may not show it because, being older they’re presumably more mature, and being pros they’ve been in big games more, and are a little more jaded.

    Anyhow, I just don’t either of those two things are really that big a deal. What’s the glory in winning the NCAA basketball title, when it’s only because another school had two key players jump the ship to go pro? College athletics just isn’t as good as the pros.

    And the NCAA itself is so ridiculously corrupt. I don’t even need to convince anyone of that I hope.

    The only thing going for college sports, IMO, is the format of the NCAA basketball tournament. Now that’s a tournament! 64 teams, single elimination, anyone could win it! Sheer brilliance. But I’ll bet if you took that away, NCAA basketball would plummet.

  3. Lots of entertaining points about this in http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/050927&num=0

    “This is one issue you and I will never agree upon. I absolutely do not understand why you believe geography should have any significance on which teams you are somehow “obligated” to support…
    When people ask me who my favorite NFL team is, I always say, “The 1978 Dallas Cowboys.” I still have some interest in that particular franchise, but I don’t feel any loyalty to the organization; I mean, it’s not like I’m a stockholder. Nobody asked me about firing Tom Landry. Nobody consulted with me about the acquisition of Drew Bledsoe.”

  4. Pro is so much easier to follow than College, but people get tired of doped-up millionaire egomaniacs. At least College has some heart in it (not muuch – but more than Pro). I’m not a die hard College fan (I went to SUNY in NY) but I see the appeal of some better known College teams once you consider Pro crap like the strikes, rap sheets, doping, etc. Maybe the good middle ground is the minors. I used to go see a AAA baseball team in NY and it was loads of fun. I miss the days when ball players actually ran to 1st base.

  5. I don’t recall athleticism and fitness as part of the mission statement for a university. Touting an athletic program in a college recruiting pamphlet is like being told that a woman has “a great personality.” In any event, the rabid fan-dom you observe in any sport, even the unamusing (WNBA), is part-and-parcel of living vicariously in another’s glory or championship of a meaningless sport (WNBA).

    note: I would prefer to put golf (aka “X-treme billiards”) in the category of “meaningless sport,” but Muttroxia has already discussed the WNBA at length.

  6. Sadly, being told a university has a great sports program is like saying a woman is a drop dead knockout and drinks a lot to most prospective undergrads.

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