I hate college sports.
Wait. That’s too harsh. It’s not even quite true. I hate Hitler. But college sports simmers close to the top, right there with Grey’s Anatomy, backward parkers, and wind chimes.
College sports sorely displease me.
But much in the way that I am sorely displeased with Jessica Simpson – I still sort of want to hang out with her. You know. Because, you know.
I like Arkansas State football and basketball. (Go Red Wolves.) I went to college there, so that’s my excuse. I know people who are nuts for Duke, and they’ve never been within 700 miles of North Carolina. That’s just wrong. What has Duke done for you? Listen, Chief: Duke doesn’t care about you or your family.
That’s not where my soreness comes from. What chafes my privates is the Lie Of Big Time Amateur Sports. Bowling isn’t big time (a sport for which Arkansas State excels). Football, basketball, hell even lacrosse is big time, and there’s nothing amateur about it.
Ask somebody why they love college sports, and you’ll likely receive this vein of bullshit: “It’s pure! The kids play for the joy of the game!”
Joy? Maybe. The kids seem to like it. Pure? No way.
I lived in Knoxville for a year. It’s home to a college called The University of Tennessee. They love their college football team in Knoxville. (A squad called The Volunteers, which further cements the amateur myth.) The local economy relies heavily on the football team to have a good season. Fewer people spend money downtown during bad years. You can imagine how dimly the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce views a losing season.
Reportedly, there’s an airplane runway just outside the city limits. A booster of the football team is rumored to own it. If you are a high school kid, and you play football, and a rich guy arranges for you to fly into his city so that you might meet the coach of his favorite college football team, are you really pure anymore? Or are you wearing a new dress and riding in a limo with Richard Gere?
All right, maybe that’s nitpicking. I’m sure all-star English majors are flown onto college campuses too. But let’s explore the college campus more thoroughly. Generally, you find the football and basketball teams ensconced in finer quarters than, say, the engineering club. Class attendance is mandatory, but you know. Come on. Practice wipes a guy out, right? Somebody will take notes. And should your keg-and-stripper party get out of hand, the campus cops are more than happy to look the other way. After all, the chief has $200 on the game.
College sport fans are pretty good.
You know what? Big time college athletes deserve the perks. I’m sincere. After all, the universities that pamper the athletes are making a mint off them, too. The English Department isn’t filling up the stadiums. Somebody is getting rich, and the athletes are moving the turnstiles.
Should we just outright pay the”student” athletes? Yes, Jesus, yes! And then at least we won’t be hypocrites demanding that our “student” athletes make good grades and behave like temple virgins while we sell them out on t-shirts. So the game would no longer be played by math majors. Was it ever?
But now the game is pure. You bet.
It has been announced that the University of Memphis basketball club will be stripped of its wins stemming from it’s glorious 2008 season. The team won 38 games, went to the Final Four, and were defeated by an even bigger Big Time program, Kansas, in the final game. There was much cheering.
The media gushed. How did Memphis, a b-list player in the NCAA, suddenly manage to build a squad that rivaled the Dukes and Tar Heels and Longhorns of this world? The coach, John Calipari, was known to be an incredible recruiter, but come on? Memphis? Not exactly Georgetown.
I don’t know if John had access to a private airplane with a private landing strip, but he might have known somebody who would fraudulently take a recruit’s SAT test.*
Now University of Memphis fans are staggering around Beale Street, pretending that they never suspected that maybe, just maybe, John Calipari’s magic dust wasn’t 100% pure. I mean, why wouldn’t the country’s top prospects reject Louisville or UCLA or Florida for a school that hadn’t had much success in college hoops since, well, since the last time the school forfeited a Final Four season, 1985? Was the tour of Graceland really that overwhelming?
People love college sports. There’s a romance to the concept. We like the stories ESPN invents about the hardworking kids who “play the game the right way.” Exactly what that way might be isn’t very clear.
Not really interested in his ethics.
Call me callous, but give me the pro game. The game with the best athletes. The game that won’t break my heart, no matter how many felonies are committed. Give me the game that I don’t have to pretend is some kind of sanctuary for good sportsmanship, fairness, and (trying not to laugh) academic achievement. The game that understands that it is a business rather than some kind of church.
Pro baseball is Roid Ball. Pro football players are pot-heads who run over pedestrians with enormous SUVs. Pro basketball players aren’t much better. I know. But to tell you the truth, I’m not getting a better vibe from the “amateurs” either. Plus nobody waxes poetically about the pro players’ sterling love of the game and their fidelity for sportsmanship. We pay pros millions of bucks to play ball, and that’s it. No illusions here.
This year, like every year, you’ll find the Angry Czeck rooting the Arkansas State Red Wolves to its few but satisfying victories. In fact, I will follow the team closely and with great interest. I will hope that they somehow upset Nebraska and Iowa this year. If they do, I’ll become an insufferable braggart. And if they don’t, well, a victory over Troy State will have to do.
I am sorely displeased with college sports, but, well, you know.
* It should be noted that John Callipari, who now coaches for the University of Kentucky, has not been implicated in the scandal. Nor was he directly implicated in the scandal that stripped his University of Massachusetts team of its victories in 1996.