For the Love of the Game . . .
by Andrew Flynn
While talking to several friends this past week, they reminded me of the concept of final exams. Wow. It seemed so long ago, and yet, how could I have forgotten? The stressful yet tranquil period in a student’s life with nothing but a week to study for a few killer exams that mean the difference between success and failure in life.
The right grad school, job, career, marriage, family. All hanging in the delicate balance between cognition and recall, fear and arrogance, last minute cramming and rapid clocks, flimsy blue books and the ubiquitous Number Two pencils. All of this mixed with packing for the semester break, saying goodbye to cherished friends, mandatory “quiet hours”, and of course end-of-semester parties to allow participants to “blow off steam” (and studying). The professor saying, “Please pass forward the take-home portion of your exam.”
“Take-home portion of my exam? What take-home portion of my exam?” And then it hits you right between the eyes. This is a difficult week.
Want to make it more fun? More of a challenge? More of a logistical nightmare? Enough to give you cold sweats when thinking of future employers asking for your transcript?
Try being a college basketball player during this time.
That’s right. In addition to the horrors listed above, the college basketball player has to practice 2-3 hours a day, and travel for sometimes inconsequential non-conference games, which often are at tournaments in far-away locations. Add jet lag to the mix, along with checking in and out of hotels, unfamiliar food, beds, and sometimes up to 12 hours a day of travel.
And for what? Sitting on the bench with a menacing crowd in the row behind you. Helping the team during timeouts by handing towels to the teammates coming off the floor. Being the starting power forward – in practice as part of a scout team. Knowing you’ll only play minutes when your team is either up or down by more than twenty points.
Let’s face it. The average college basketball player isn’t a starter. With twelve guys on the team, the average player might be the sixth or seventh man. There’s the potential for some playing time, but it’ll be as a key replacement, or in the event of foul trouble for one of the starters.
These guys know that there’s no NBA dream for them. Out of the close to 4,000 Division I players, the NBA drafted 45 or so last season, two-thirds of which may stick to an NBA team. Possibly one hundred more will get a shot with a developmental or foreign league. Most of them knew it when they signed a letter of intent, or more realistically, signed up as a walk-on. There may be a scholarship to help with tuition and books, room and board, but not always.
In addition, the college basketball player has to face the double-edged sword of public perception. They are held to a higher standard, to which any indiscretion will be published in the newspaper, affect his playing time and alert the NCAA. Simultaneously, they are being held in lower estimation as a “dumb jock” that gets handled with kid gloves, causing envy among their classmates.
So why do they do it? Simply, it is for the love of the game. Given all the hardships and tribulations listed above, would you do it? Let’s remember that even though the vast minority considered to be the star players are getting some perks from college basketball as they prepared themselves for professional hoops, the vast majority are working twice as hard as the average student towards their goal: a college degree.
That’s just one additional reason to love college basketball during exams.