Office Conversation

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By: Brian Laubscher
Sports Information Director

Looking back over it, I realized that it has been exactly 16 days since my last post to the sidelines blog.  I checked to see how long it had been hoping that this would give me some great epiphany of what I should write about today.  I guess I could write about how quickly time flies by or what it’s like preparing for the spring season while in the midst of the winter season, but frankly you’ve heard those tales already.  The last thing that I want to do is bore you with those thoughts.  It’s the middle of January and I figure most people who have faithfully read this blog have done so for a little break from their everyday routine at work or for some entertainment during their day.  So, how do I achieve bringing a little relief to your day today?

(10 minutes later) So I’ve finally come up with my topic for today.  Recently, Nate, Rachel and I have been having some conversations in the office about the absolute farce that is NCAA Division I.  Now like most people, I do enjoy watching college basketball and college football on TV.  In fact, this time of year my television rarely leaves ESPN or HBO or for guilty pleasures, the discovery channel on Wednesday evenings to see Man vs. Wild.

I am a Penn State football fan and a Villanova basketball fan and I must admit that currently life is good for those who follow the two programs.  It’s fun seeing them win (I did attend the Final Four last year in Detroit only to see the Cats fall to the college all stars that made up UNC’s roster), but I also know that as much as I want these programs to be clean, there’s no way they could be competitive without keeping up with the Jones’.  The numbers state that these two schools graduate their players, but I am always wondering if it is with a made up degree after funneling the players to “program friendly” professors.

Rachel provided some input on this subject after attending Marquette University and overlapping with some very good Golden Eagle basketball teams that featured the likes of Dwayne Wade, Travis Deiner, Steve Novak and Robert Jackson.  Marquette performed on the court by making a Final Four during this time, but Rachel admitted that the players in her classes sat in the back and rarely paid attention or did their work.  When it came time to have team projects, she said she prayed that the players were not assigned to her group.  The reason?  Because the player would be noticeably absent and you had to deal with their tutor, who would generally do the work for them.  Model students I suppose.

We got on this subject after the situation in Tennessee where football coach Lane Kiffin bolted town after one year to take the head coaching job at USC.  Nate and I had a discussion about whether Kiffin and his assistant coaches had been genuine and were doing a favor to the Tennessee recruits when they contacted them and told them not to enroll in school.  I guess this is a question that Tennessee, USC and the NCAA are trying to figure out themselves.  Our conversation advanced to talking about USC and some of their “alleged” violations (aka. paying players that probably shouldn’t have been in college to begin with) and the hypocrisy that is Division I sports.  The NCAA claims to be about “student-athletes” but let’s face it, Division I football and basketball has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with entertainment, money and free publicity.  As an SID, I understand the publicity aspect and the importance to schools (or else I wouldn’t have a job), but I don’t understand how these non-students end up passing classes they obviously don’t care about.  I’m fairly certain that University of Kentucky freshman John Wall is the best player in college basketball right now.  I also believe that Wall probably will not set foot in a classroom this entire semester.  After the fine academic advising staff at Kentucky have done their job of keeping him eligible through the first semester, Wall can live the good life for the second semester and then enter the draft in June.  I can’t say as though I blame him, but is this what college athletics was supposed to be about?  Maybe there was a time that it was about getting a free education, but the amount of money that is involved from ticketing, merchandising and television contracts has completely changed the face of Division I athletics.

As our conversations advanced, I pointed to the Tom Wolfe (W&L ’51) book I am Charlotte Simmons that dealt with a fictional university called DuPont University.  Though the book is centered around a naïve freshman named Charlotte Simmons, the current state of big-time college athletics even at a small prestigious university is at the forefront of the novel.  It clearly displays the view that Wolfe must have about NCAA Division I sports and the constant struggle between education and money that exists in that world.   I must admit that there was a time that I wanted to be a part of that world as an SID.  I’ve been at mid-major Division I schools and early in my career the dream was to work football or basketball at one of the “BCS” schools.  Fate led me to this tiny Division III school where academics mean far more than success on the playing fields and where money is spent to play, rather than gained from success on the fields.  While promoting these players and teams provides challenges where we must convince the media to cover us instead of vise versa, I now know that this is where I was always meant to be.  I know that we play for the right reasons.  I know that our athletes are real students and their accomplishments are just as important to those of us that follow their careers.  The general public may view Division III athletics as glorified high school sports, but I see it as the only pure form of college sports (at least for those Division III schools that don’t have the Division I mentality of trying to find a way to break the rules to win).

As we continued to talk, Nate brought up the life of Division I walk-ons and their roles on the teams.  Would these pseudo-players be better served being a glorified manager that may have that one shining moment in four years (Skylar McBee | McBee Video) or get a good education and actually play?  I guess it is a personal choice and if you want a glimpse into what it is like, I highly recommend that you read the blog by Ohio State senior guard Mark Titus entitled “CLUB TRILLION – Life Views From the End of the Bench”.  The kid’s got a sense of humor that will have you cracking up, but he also provides a view of what it is like to deal with some of these so-called “student-athletes” at the BCS level.

So perhaps this column ended up giving you a little respite from your day and was at least a little entertaining.  We all love sports or you wouldn’t be reading this.  However, think to yourself whether the schools have been straying further and further from their own missions as college sports continue to get bigger and bigger on the NCAA Division I level.  For me, it makes me even more proud to be a General.

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