I went to an Ivy League school. I suppose there are students in Ivies who are willing to put up with subpar athletics, as long as their team does well in the Ivies. Ivy League schools only do well in two sports: hockey and lacrosse. That's because hardly anyone else plays these sports. I also went to a public school, Maryland, and they do better in lacrosse than the Ivy I went to.
Because of my lack of interest in college sports, most likely fueled by most Ivy students lack of interest in their own sports, I feel I have a decent perspective on college sports, at least, distanced enough not to be a raving fan.
Most universities, especially state universities, use the success of their college teams to keep alumni happy. Universities want alumni to donate money. Alumni want to feel a kinship to other alumni, and the way universities have done this is through college sports, especially football and now basketball. You would think that, maybe, education would be the link that alumni share. But, no, it's sports.
Sports are funny. If you talk to someone who avidly follows a team, you'll notice they use the word "we" a lot. "We played badly. We choked at the end. We didn't defend the pass. We had too many turnovers". Well, you didn't play. You watched. You think your cheers turned the tide?
OK, I'm willing to buy that athletes enjoy the cheers of thousands who simply want them to win. You know the old saying that goes "It's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game". The reality is "Winning is not everything. It's the only thing". Listen to George Steinbrenner who simply wants his team to win. That's all he cares about. Winning, to him, is everything, and he pays dearly to try to get his team to win.
Teams that win perenially, as they do in big-time college sports, lead to fans who go just to see their teams win. Fans are fickle. I'd rather see a fan who's there good or bad, rooting their teams to win. But fans invest way too much emotion in their teams. They see the success of their team as reflecting on themselves. A successful team somehow makes a person feel good about themselves, because the team is supposed to reflect who they are.
An unsucessful team means the fan is a failure, and the fan, who's invested this emotion, simply wants to criticize the team, because they've invested so much emotion on the team being succesful, that they can't imagine the team, and therefore, by extension, themselves, as failures. This doesn't seem to happen as much with fans of women's sports. Women seem to support other women who try, and can distance themselves emotionally. When their team does bad, they don't think it reflects on them.
I remember going to a Terrapins basketball game. Fans would tell a player not to take a shot, because they weren't talented enough to make the shot. They wanted the team to win. If the Terps were losing, the fans would want to leave, unable to bear watching the team perform less than winning.
I remember once, shortly after 9-11, when sports columnists like Wilbon said that sports were only a game, that it wasn't serious like events that happen to the US. Bullcocky. Sports are taken with far more seriousness than world events. More people know what happened in the NBA finals than what's happening in Iraq. Reality would be far too depressing if we actually cared about what's going on. Another suicide bombing? It happened over there. Americans lose their lives? It's over there. As long as it's over there, it doesn't count. That's the way people look at it.
Only when it became over here, as in 9-11, did anyone care. But sports? The worst thing that happens is a team loses. Or maybe a fight breaks out. A person can root for some other team, and you don't feel particularly upset. I dare say that Democrats feel so much enmity for Republicans (and vice versa), that the only thing close in sports is a Red Sox fan who hates the Yankees. Most people tolerate fans that support other teams, because they can gloat if their team wins.
If anything, fans are passionate about sports. They certaintly are far more passionate about the outcome of a game, than they are in their own jobs, which take, let's face it, work. They're more passionate about their teams than any hobby. If that passion could somehow be translated to something useful, then people could be successful (if success is what they're after). But being a passionate sports fan just requires you to show up, keep up with results, and cheer.
How much else in life is that simple?
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